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Thobela Thoba is a finalist in The Herald Citizens of the Year Awards in partnership with Nelson Mandela University.
A passionate sports coach with an unparalleled desire to see the youth of Gqeberha and surrounds succeed on the field is setting the pace in sporting excellence.

Thobela Thoba, the founder of a nonprofit organisation with previously disadvantaged athletes at its centre, has been a foot soldier of recreational programmes in Nelson Mandela Bay communities for the past six years.

His efforts to mould and develop children from the age of seven, coupled with other private and social pursuits, saw him named sports category winner in The Herald Nelson Mandela University Citizens of the Year 2022 awards.

Kitted out in his usual coaching tracksuit, complete with a stopwatch, on the fields of Linkside High School, Thoba, 42, who heads Khulasande Sports Development, cut an emotional figure as he talked about taking local sporting talent under his wings.

He vividly recalled the birth of the NPO that has enriched 1,500 netball, athletics, soccer and rugby participants every month, among them provincial athletes, in Addo, Alicedale and Komga.

The programme runs weekly from Monday to Thursday, with 15 youth coaches overseeing the athletes at each site.

“We started in 2016 with two schools and 20 kids at each one,” Thoba recalled, saying he was lucky to get funding from a Khayelitsha education and sporting initiative.

“I started writing the programme on my own and submitting proposals to different people to do the work of developing kids at a young age.

“I was fortunate when the Grassroots Youth Academy Trust accepted my proposal.”

In the past four years, Khulasande has attracted interest from pupils and parents across the metro, investing in various campaigns to give more disadvantaged youth a sporting chance.

At the height of the Covid19 pandemic in 2020, the NPO launched its Wonder Kids programme to provide essential items to beneficiaries.

Khulasande launched the long-term athlete development programme to support talented track athletes by giving them access to professional coaching, training equipment, clothing and funds to participate in provincial and national competitions.

The programme has produced provincial champions and national athletics competition medallists.

Two athletes bagged bronze medals at the 2022 Athletics SA (ASA) Nelson Mandela Bay half-marathon championships.

“Khulasande was an opportunity for me to live out my dream of giving back to my community,” the Motherwellborn Pearson High School alumnus said.

“During my schooling days, I had all the chances to excel in sport because there was a teacher, a coach and everything I needed.

“But back home, my best friend, a great soccer player, had no access to resources at school.

“I’d travel to different parts of the province through my sport while he sat at home.”

Thoba said it was this experience of observing his then-fellow young athletes grappling with socioeconomic challenges that inspired the idea of starting the NPO.

He also runs a sports management company, offering fitness and personal training services while administering outreach community sports development programmes.

His Wonder Kids programme at Khulasande continues to propel young stars — 13 in the past 12 months — to the pinnacle of sporting greatness after competing at flagship athletics meetings.

“Our programme has evolved and now includes a group of kids from Addo,” Thoba said.

“We provide coaching for them, and through fundraising, we bring them to Gqeberha every weekend to run in Eastern Province athletics competitions.

“We had seven [athletes] representing Gqeberha at the ASA cross-country championships in KwaZulu-Natal last year.

“A further six competed at the SA schools athletic championships in Germiston [in March].

“So, Khulasande has become a vehicle to assist, particularly kids from Addo, to access mainstream sport, competitions and coaching.”

Thoba said he felt honoured to be recognised as a Citizens of the Year recipient, attributing the honour to his work ethic and love for youth sports development.

“I get a little emotional when I think about it,” he said.

“When I got the call, I hung up to compose myself.

“What went through my mind is just how hard I work every day to impact people’s lives.

“It is a huge honour for me. I’m driven to want to make my mother proud; she’s 72 years old.

“Her days are numbered, and in her last few years, I want her to look at her kids and feel pride.”

The top 10 category winners will be celebrated at a formal black-tie gala awards ceremony, which will be held on Friday September 9, at 6.30pm, at the Radisson Blu Hotel.

Corporate and single tickets are available for supporters who would like to join the celebratory event.

Contact The Herald marketing manager Berna Ulay-Walters to book your seat:


Contact information
Ms Zandile Mbabela
Media Manager
Tel: 0415042777