Breaking new ground


Receiving the Woman of the Year Award at the 2020 gsport awards, she joined an elite group of sporting women. We catch up with Alberton resident Virginia Mabaso, the walking example of transformation for Rowing SA.

As a child, she wandered around in a small Venda village in Limpopo. But this all changed and today she has travelled the four corners of South Africa and she is well underway to get rowing to all the different districts in SA.

“I never thought that one day I will travel throughout South Africa, laying the cornerstones of development in 52 districts for Rowing South Africa.”

And in doing this she earned the coveted Woman of the Year Award for pioneering and driving transformation in rowing.

Humble beginnings

She was born and bred in the Mandala Village, situated between Thohoyandou and Makapa, learning the traditional ways of the Venda through the hands of her mother, Christina, and father, Douglas.

“It is such a spacious village in a lovely environment and kind people surrounding you, and of course we didn’t see a lot of water,” she said with a smile. “The only masses of water we have ever seen as a family was a very deep-deep pool with fast running water at the Mphephu resort where we would go.”

Her mother was the cornerstone of her life. She didn’t have much but gave her husband and children all she had.

“She decided that to earn more, the family must move to Johannesburg where she found work. I spent my first few years of primary school in Alexandra, then back to the village to complete high school.

“Our village was very small with very little for children to do. But because I participated in many things during my primary school, I then started drum majorettes in high school. Looking back at the drum majorettes, we had lots of fun with good laughs and it is one of the wonderful memories of my high school years.”

Climbing the ladder

After school her battle started by her trying to get bursaries for tertiary education. None was available and she had to make ends meet.

Her mother was working at a clinic in Yeoville and Virginia was offered a temporary job as cleaner for two weeks.

“I had to clean the floors of the clinic from corner to corner, but I did it and went to Parktown College for a diploma in marketing management.” she said.

This cleaning job went over into a volunteer work for three months with training in counselling given. “After that I applied as a receptionist at Care Head Quarters and could then further my education.”

She studied for a diploma in business administration and management and then for her diploma as financial analyst.

Within five years she was promoted to accounts officer and left the company to join her big venture, Rowing South Africa where she started as an accounts officer/administrator and later held the position of a coordinator. After 14 years at Rowing SA, she was well established as the development coordinator.

“I am a walking example of transformation for Rowing SA,” she said with a beaming smile.

Grab opportunities

Coming from a small village to the cunning waters of the country, she realised that there were bigger things waiting for her. She grabbed this with both hands and gave her heart and soul to develop rowing.

“First of all I had no experience and did not even know what rowing was all about. I vaguely saw rowing on TV for one of the world championships, and that was it.”

As development coordinator, she had to establish rowing representation in all nine provinces, and started her work in the bigger ones such as Gauteng, Tshwane, Western Cape, Eastern Cape and KwaZulu-Natal.

She has now almost fulfilled her dream to get rowing to all 52 districts with 27 developed districts who are fully operational.

“We give them the training and coaching methods and leave them with a well-established core where they can build from. The government is very supportive of us as well as the National Lottery, where we receive funds from to operate.”

Family life

At Rowing SA they have already set their calendar for next year and know exactly when and where they are off to.

“We don’t have a lot of weekends off and we are busy throughout the year. So, I really do love my December holidays where I spend it with my family. Having one brother and two younger sisters, and all of them within reaching distance, I particularly enjoy going out for an evening at the movies and eating out with my sisters.

“If we go out as a family we love going to Alberton Mall and do some of the shopping there and also at some of the other nearby shopping centres.

“I love going to the parks around here and we often go out as a family to the one in Alberton to have a workout. We also love hiking and one day I would like to go on a safari.

She also enjoys the atmosphere at Wemmer Pan and Germiston Lake where she hosts many of her camps.

Virginia is also a fashion designer, which she mentions is one of her hobbies. “I have my own range which is called, Funi_M designs and I make evening dresses – but only on request as the rest of my range which is on pre-order.”

* Text and photo: Annette van Schalkwyk