Fortunat Bagula

Basketball pushing Bagula beyond her limits

“You can never cheat the game of basketball”

I remember my first netball practice in primary school, I was in grade one at the time. A player passed the ball to me and I ended up trying to dribble. My teacher stopped me and pointed out that I was attempting to play a different sport. Though slightly frustrated, I acknowledged her words and stuck to the rules of the sport I had signed up for.

That moment although insignificant, was my short-lived introduction to basketball. I continued to play netball until my fourth year of university, after which I decided to challenge myself by participating in a different sport. My mother gave a firm NO about boxing, having spent a fortune on my braces, and so basketball it was.

I showed up to the University of Cape Town’s (UCT) women’s basketball team trials, nervous and excited about the new sport I would be partaking in. The trials, which incorporated fitness and basketball skills were gruelling, but I squeezed my way into the team. I remember coach Matthew Skade telling me I had made the team because of my fitness levels, and that if I wanted to maintain my place, I’d have to make some drastic improvements on my basketball skills.

Inspired by basketball
Fortunat Bagula wants use her profession and basketball as an instrument for change. Pictures: THE BTO

Though these words initially seemed harsh, they were exactly what my stubborn personality needed. They helped me push myself, acquaint myself with the fundamentals of basketball, and to fully love the game for its beauty, arrogant nature and fierceness.

I received a great amount of support from my teammates, who would help me practice certain plays and post moves outside of the formal practice sessions. Coach Matthew, at times annoying, helped me to not only understand the game, but also emphasised the need to work for what I wanted, through his favourite quote: “You can never cheat the game of basketball.”

After surviving six years at UCT in exchange for a shiny degree, I moved to Joburg where I currently practice medicine and are pursuing my post-grad studies in public health. I also joined the Jozi Nuggets, a team of fantastic basketball players, who amaze me with every game played.

My two years in Joburg are sadly coming to an end. I do hope to continue playing basketball socially once I return to Cape Town, where I will also be starting a non-profit organisation, Kuinua, which aims to provide health education, mentorship and various sports skills to girls aged 14-18.

I plan to complete my masters degree and embark on a career focused on healthcare management or policy changes in the healthcare sector. Yes, basketball has certainly introduced me to some of the strongest women I know. However, I still believe there needs to be a much greater effort made to advance women’s basketball in South Africa.

Grasping the fundamentals
Fortunat Bagula had to learn the fundamentals of basketball to maintain her place in the UCT team. Picture: Supplied

We can’t claim to want women’s basketball to be on the same level as men’s basketball, yet fewer resources are provided for the women’s game.

It’s not just South Africa. The world as a whole needs to increase resources allocated to women’s basketball on a greater scale.

Basketball has been and will continue to be a sport where I am continuously inspired, motivated and pushed beyond the limits that I have created for myself. A friend of mine once told me that to break barriers and achieve all that I can I should dream and believe in those dreams as if I was a seven-year-old child.

Therefore, I urge all basketball players and especially women basketball players to dare to dream and place action behind those dreams on and off the court.



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