South African veteran softball administrator, Mathew’s “Bra Tebe” Kuktumela has been inducted in the World Baseball Softball Confederation’s (WBSC) Hall of Fame at the 4th Congress which was held from July 5 in Taipei, Taiwan.

A total of 11 countries were represented in the Hall of Fame class.

It is by no coincidence the Kutumela is mentioned in the same sentence with Nelson Mandela. Hence they played similar roles in bridging the racial gap in South Africa.

While Mandela the political prisoner-turned statesman was building the Rainbow Nation, Kutumela the sport administrator was singing the gospel of unity among blacks and whites.

Kutumela was one of the pioneers of Ball Game in 1967 under the auspices of Northern Transvaal Softball Union (NTSU), a federation comprising mainly blacks at the height of apartheid and forged the historic revolution that transformed softball into a reckonable governing structure.

Walking down memory lane, recalling the journey he has travelled, Kutumela is filled with mixed emotions of hardships and greatness.

“In the late 50s and early 60s, blacks did not have associations. We only played among ourselves in friendly rallies. However, it was in 1975 when players from the former Transvaal provinces gathered in the Bloemfontein and played in a tournament became the springboard from where South African Softball Federation was launched. I became the secretary and the president was Ismail Kutwane. The federation was only for blacks while whites played in the Western Province and Natal. I became president in 1981. In 1989 when we heard that Mandela was about to be released, we started talks with whites and coloured who had South African Softball Association Whites and South African Softball Association Coloured, respectively. By 1993 we had an interim committee which did not have a president until in 1995 when we officially established the South African Softball Association. The same year we staged our combined tournament in East London and later in the year we attended our first meeting of International Softball Federation (ISF) in Michigan, United States. The following year, South Africa participated in its debut ISF World Softball Super Series in Michigan. It was then that former ISF president, Don Porter co-opted me into ISF. In 1997 I was elected vice president for Africa. As the most senior administrator in the continent, I was subsequently elected vice president for African Baseball Softball Association, presiding over both sporting codes.”

The living legend went on to say “It was in 2005 when I retired from active administration after a freak car accident that shattered my collar bone and my health started deteriorating. However, as Honorary President, I still serve softball on an advisory capacity. Softball is my life and I will serve it till God calls me to join other softball ancestors.”

Kutumela’s insightful leadership and transformation agenda earned him the status of Honorary President of his native country.

News of the first-ever African to be inducted in the Hall of Fame has been the talking point of exciting superlatives.

Former SSA President Guillo Marapyne said this recognition is long-overdue after African leaders, including Kutumela were previously overlooked.

He said “We have waited for this moment for far too long to see one of us being celebrated for his administrative excellence. During our era, we have recommended Kutumela’s name but sadly, he was overlooked. It was painful but thanks God that dream is now realized and we greatly appreciate that. The role he played in the racial unification of softball in South Africa is one of the memorable feats of sports in the country. As Africans we are truly privileged that someone from our continent is honoured while he is still alive. As Honorary President of SSA, most administrators can learn a lot from this gentle giant who genuinely loved softball and dedicated his life to the game.”

 

One of the administrators who showered Kutumela with praises was Pat Moyaha, the then Public Relations Officer of SSA during Kutumela’s incumbency.

“Bro Matthews deserves this award in many respects. During his leadership, he was a perceptive leader who was committed to the course. What made him stand head and shoulders above the rest was that he was an honest person who succeeded in steering softball towards the right direction while he was a family man who led by example. His entire family got involved in the ‘Ball Game. Kutumela led the national federation to unification with integrity equal to no other sport association when it was not an easy task in our country. We pull no cloves during negotiations despite threats of courts. Hence Softball is the only federation genuinely united, where quotas play no role. We want to state it categorically that softball unity did not come cheap but through the leadership of this man, we achieved greatly” said Moyaha.

Ntate Pila, one of the celebrated players of the Great North Softball era, has hailed Kutumela for his passion for development and women softball.

The veteran catcher said “When I first met Bra Tebe in the early 1980s, I just knew that I have met Mr. Softball. I have never seen a person in my life that was passionate about this game like him. Under his leadership, we played well-managed games including the Inter-Provincial Tournament and the inter-club competitions. When there were internal ructions within GRENSA, it was him who came in and helped us to navigate through murky waters until our differences were resolved. With such wise leadership, he became the father figure who was respected by their entire softball fraternity. In his approach, he was calm yet diplomatic. He loved the game to an extent of turning his household into a softball family. Bra Tebe ate, drank, slept, dreamed and breathed.”

The Hall of Fame inductee said he is in high spirits when he sees softball where it is in South Africa.

“It delights me to see how current president Mash Matsetela and his executive have raised the bar. The greatest moment was when softball scooped the Federation of the Year accolade during 2018 National Sports Awards in Bloemfontein. I was watching the awards ceremony on TV and when I saw a short man ascending to the stage to accept the award, I was overwhelmed by emotions. That auspicious moment really confirmed that softball is indeed in good administrative hands.

That moment was a historic landmark achievement for SSA president and the entire South African softball fraternity. One more thing that impresses me about softball at the moment is the live streaming of the Nation Provincial Championships. In my era, I wouldn’t have thought of that. The streaming of these games means softball games in South Africa can be watched anywhere in the word. From the bottom of my heart, I wish to thank softball administrators all over South Africa who are committed to take the sport to greater heights” Kutumela signed off.