Johannesburg - Proteas national netball coach Elize Kotze says netball in Africa has huge potential which is still to be unleashed.
“Netball in Africa is a sleeping giant,” Kotze said at the launch of the Diamond Challenge in Pretoria on Tuesday.
“African women are very strong, often surviving under difficult circumstances, and I believe we have so much untapped potential.”
The Diamond Challenge, an initiative of sports minister Fikile Mbalula, is a four-day competition between continental rivals South Africa, Malawi, Botswana and Zambia.
Malawi are ranked fifth in the world rankings, one spot higher than hosts South Africa, while Botswana are 16th and Zambia, an unknown quantity in the competition, are not ranked.
“Off the court you will be our friends,” Kotze said, addressing the visiting teams.
“But, unfortunately, between the four lines (of the court) you can’t be our friends.
“Then we really go into the war zone.”
Kotze said the teams enjoyed a healthy rivalry, especially with Malawi, but they should be under no illusions as the Proteas were aiming to knock them off their perch.
“I had the luxury of having the team in camp for a whole week to prepare,” Kotze said.
“This has never happened before so we worked in specialised areas and with specific combinations and it helped a lot.
“The players know exactly what is expected of them in each position and in all sectors of the game.
“We know we are ready for this challenge and we all know our goals.”
The Proteas will be captained for the first time by Zanele Mdodana, as regular skipper Amanda Mynhardt had returned to play club netball in New Zealand.
“It’s been great for us to have so much time to work together,” said the versatile wing attack who also plays as goal defence.
“Elize was able to concentrate on each position and we really worked hard and used the time well.
“We’re ready - we’re strong mentally, physically and spiritually and we’re looking forward to a great week.”
Malawi’s coach Griffin Saenda said his team were well-prepared for a tough contest.
“You will get to see one of our best performances yet,” Saenda said.
“We have a blend of youth and experience and look forward to the challenge.
“We have just finished our domestic competition and when we got the invitation for this tournament we also spent 10 days in camp.”
Zambian captain Annie Mukamba said she hoped the tournament would help put netball on the map in her country.
“We hope South Africans can help netball in Zambia to get the support in the same way football is supported in our country,” Mukamba said, issuing a familiar plea.
“You find that when there is a football competition, there are a lot of sponsors, but when it comes to netball, there is nothing.”
Botswana captain Kagisano Mawela fired a warning to the other teams and said her country’s abilities should not be underestimated.
“We have prepared hard for this tournament and want to improve our standings in the world rankings,” Mawela said.
“Our psychology is to win and we’ve come here to beat South Africa - that is what we’re here for.”
The Diamond Challenge gets underway on Wednesday at the Heartfelt Centre in Pretoria.
The first match is between Malawi and Zambia at 18:15, followed by South Africa versus Botswana at 19:45.