Ongeziwe Mali grew up on a mission in New Brighton where her father was a pastor. While there was lots of support and friendship, money was often in short supply.
A lack of finances was never going to stop the determined young woman from participating in sports, which she discovered she had a passion for early in her life. From the age of 10, Ongeziwe participated in athletics, represented her school in hockey and at one point she even played soccer for a boys team.
"I’ve always played a lot of sport with my friends, even in the rain. I always loved it. But my parents battled financially, and so I didn’t have the things that I always wanted to have like sports equipment. My first hockey stick was from the lost and found at school. But this pushed me to work harder for these things, for myself and for my parents," Ongeziwe said.
After participating in the Investec sponsored tournament, Ongeziwe attended the Investec Hockey Academy where she was exposed to a high-quality training and tuition environment. Shortly afterward, she was selected to join the South African women’s hockey team.
Ongeziwe was the youngest player in the national side which faced Germany in the opening match of the 2018 World Cup in London.
The 18-year-old is currently studying occupational therapy in the United States and while the adjustment hasn’t been easy, Ongeziwe says she is a stronger person because of it.
"Through hockey, I got a bursary to study at James Madison University. It was a choice between studying microbiology and occupational therapy… I decided on occupational therapy as it let me be around people more, rather than in a lab looking through a microscope. Occupational therapy is also a way of helping people, and maybe even helping them with life stuff that we have in common," she said.
"The culture and the way things are in the US is very different from South Africa. While the transition was hard, it also made me mentally stronger than I was before. It made me grow closer to God and my South African culture – although I was far away from the country itself."
When asked what advice she would have liked to give to her 12-year-old self, Ongeziwe said: "I would tell myself to never give up, because there’s something that God has in store for me. It’s just a matter of being consistent. I would tell myself to just go out there and make the world your oyster. Don’t think that certain things aren’t meant for you, because then you think they’re impossible."
Ongeziwe hopes to be chosen to compete in the 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo and says she will work in the United States for a few years but will definitely be returning home to share the lessons she has learned along the way.