Not based anywhere in particular, PIPPA Francis writes the blog, Phambili. 
Her posts explore people, places and the politics of it all.

Velmah Mashego: the story behind the smile

Velmah Mashego: the story behind the smile

Velmah Mashego started working at Nelspruit Tennis Club on the first day in March, 2004. She remembers the year very well because she had just learned she was pregnant with her fifth child, and she was 41 years old.

Before taking employment as a general worker at the sport club, she had been working as a night shift cashier at a petrol station in the city’s CBD, where she experienced some unfortunate incidents.


“Thieves would come in wanting money, money, money. One night, I was hit over the head with a gun while on shift,” Velmah explains.

“The owners of the garage were very good. They always said we must just open the till and let the thieves take the money as long as we stayed alive, but it was still very scary.”

Velmah felt relieved when a tennis coach informed her that the Nelpsruit club needed someone to keep track of stock, work the till, clean the facilities and perform other general duties.


The now 54-year-old has been working there ever since, and there are dozens of club players who will not remember the tennis club before her smiling face. There are also many who will remember her remarkable way with children, sometimes their own children.

“When the parents go to play, I help look after the young kids. If they start crying, I talk to them and tell them that their mommy or daddy is playing tennis,” Velmah says.

“I have so enjoyed this job all these years. Everyone is good to me and all the club members say they are happy to have me here.”

Velmah works Monday to Thursday, and Saturdays. She much prefers her working hours to her last job;  there is no night shift any longer which is a good thing because she still has two daughters attending school in Kabokweni Thembisa Trust, where she also lives.

She moved to the Lowveld from Rietfontein, Northern Cape in 1980 to attend high school in Kabokweni, where her elder brother lived.
“I was number five of nine siblings. There were five boys and four girls. Sadly, three of my brothers have passed away now,” she says.

Thanks to her move as a teenager, Velmah can speak five languages; English, Afrikaans Sesotho, siSwati and isiZulu. She can speak to most people who arrive at the tennis club in their mother tongue.


She admits that she has always liked sports.
“I played basketball for many years while I was at school, and my brothers used to play soccer. I have always enjoyed watching soccer. The Kaizer Chiefs are my favourite team in the PSL, and I still wait up for the games late at night.”

It upsets her somewhat that only two of her five children are interested in sport.

“I am a little cross with the others because sport brought me so much joy as a young person.”

How does Velmah feel about tennis then?

“Some days I come early to the tennis club, and if I am alone, I take one of the old racquets and hit against the wall,” she says with a giggle.
“One day, a member arrived and asked where I had learned to play such good tennis. I told her I just copy the other tennis players. Then she said I looked like a tennis player. That made me proud.”

Velmah adds that her sister always said she would end up with a job at a sport centre one day.
“I used to laugh at her. But now that has happened, and I am happy here,” she says with a smile.

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