NAMIBIA had its own share of exceptional netball players back in the days and Jacqueline Jacky Gawanas was undoubtedly one of them.
The athletic build former Black Africa and national team star certainly had sports genes in her blood because she is the daughter of the late former Windhoek-based Orlando Pirates FC legend Hendrick ‘Doc’ Hadley.
Known as ‘Samora’ during his days when he terrorised defenders in the lucrative former National Professional Soccer League, Hadley and former African Stars maestro Oscar ‘Silver Fox’ Mengo have divided opinion about who was Namibia’s best player ever.
But as for Gawanas, she was clearly a class above her counterparts in the heart of the Black Africa defence and she was the obvious choice for the number one defender in the land for almost a decade until her retirement from the game in 2006.
When the gifted defender joined the famous red and black from Otjiwarongo, where she matriculated from the Paresis Secondary School in 1995, Black Africa were just a mid table outfit before they went on to dominate the Khomas netball league for years.
It was only after young players like Yvonne Kotjipati, Rebecca Goagoses, Ouvrou Oliphant and Gawanas were drafted into the first team that Black Africa went on to become a formidable force that became the team to beat in the league those years.
“First when I came to Windhoek to look for work after I finished my matric at Otjiwarongo in 1995, I first went to the netball courts to see which team to join. Black Africa was not really strong but I felt at the time that they were the perfect fit for me.
“I was always a competitive person who always strived to be on the top of my game. Black Africa also had an excellent support system and they had a very envious administration system which made BA the team every young player wanted to play for,” Gawanas said.
Gawanas, who, in her own admission, started playing at the tender age of 12 while she was still attending the Roman Catholic’s St Francis Primary School at Tsumeb, was also a top notch athlete who excelled in the 100m and 200m dash she excelled in the long jump as well.
She used to come participate in the national schools athletics championships in Windhoek from Otjiwarongo but it was while she was in Standard 8 (Grade 10) when she discovered her love for netball and she chose to play netball more passionately.
“I always used to come run in Windhoek and it was during one of those athletics meetings that I made a conscious decision to take up netball more seriously. I just had this great love for netball and I was very determined to reach the top of my game.
“It was always my dream to come to Windhoek and look for greener pastures. I played so well in my first two games that the people were so impressed with my display that the people asked where I came from. Black Africa became the team to beat,” Gawanas noted.
It didn’t take long before she was called up to the national team and the rest, as they say, is history because she became an integral part of the senior national netball team.
The former Black Africa star, revealed that she set herself goals that she first wanted to get a good job, join a good club where she could further develop her netball career and get a good education to secure a good future for her children and herself.
Namibia never qualified for the World Netball Championship during her time but Gawanas represented the country during regional tournaments and international friendlies notably the historic match against the England women’s netball team, known as Vitality Roses in 1997.
The high octane encounter against the world’s third ranked nation was played at the netball courts of the University of Namibia in Windhoek.
Equipped with B Juris and LLB degrees from the University of Namibia, Gawanas is currently the acting commissioner at the directorate of customs and excise in the Ministry of Finance.
Explained Gawanas: “I report to the executive director of the finance ministry. This is a very key directorate whose primary function is to collect revenue on behalf of the Namibian Government through import and export levies.
“We have to ensure and facilitate trade while ensuring the smooth movements of goods in and outside the country. We must also ensure to protect our people against illicit and illegal importation of goods that could be detrimental to the health of our citizens.”
She describes smuggling and the evasion of taxes as the biggest challenges her directorate faces.
“This is a very complicated job which requires very special skill because our job is very special and dynamic. We are basically acting as gatekeepers and regulators of imported goods to the country and we have to make sure that importers conform to the regulations,” she notes.
Asked why she chose such a complex job the former star defender said that fate brought her to the customs and excise directorate.
“First of all, I love what I do and I am very passionate about serving my country and I am proud to be in a good position to generate revenue for my country. Just the thought that what I am doing on a daily basis adds to the GDP of the country is fulfilling.
“Just the thought that the revenue we generate enables the government to buy medicines for our health institutions and text books for our schools gives me joy. I am very happy to contribute to the economy of the country,” she enthused.
Gawanas started working as an assistant customs and excise officer as a 19-year-old and she remembers very vividly the days she was also asked to wash the walls. Working at the directorate is the only job she has ever known since.
Gawanas is a proud mother of three children. Her first born son is 22 while the second born girl and last born son are 11 and five years old, respectively.
The first born is doing internship at the Municipality of Windhoek, the second born girl is in Grade 6 while the baby boy is in pre-primary school. Of her three children, only the girl is doing sports and she is a very ardent swimmer.
She said that her day starts at 05h00 because she has to prepare her two small children for school.
She pointed out that due to the complex nature of her job she is reserving weekends to bond with her children by going on a walk and jogging a little.
Gawanas, who mentioned former Black Africa coach Carol Garoes and the late club icon aunt Riekie Fredericks as the two people who were very influential in her life, retired from playing netball but she is always willing to represent her former club during social tournaments.
She also coached the national under-20 netball team during the Ball Games in Windhoek and made sure that the team finished as runners-up behind South Africa in the tournament with Botswana taking the bronze medal slot.
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She was also part of the high profile netball team that went to engage their Malawian counterparts in an international friendly during that country’s independence day celebrations in Blantyre.
Gawanas revealed that discipline, her strong will to excel and a very determined attitude to always do good whenever she was on the netball court, helped her become one of the best defenders of her generation, adding that those same attributes helped shape her into the person she has become today.
And does she miss the gruelling training regimen and the packed netball courts?
“I miss my coaches,” she said. “I miss everything representing BA. The coaches, my teammates, the fans screaming when we were playing.”
Is she living your dream right now?
“There is still that one component missing. One day I want to go back to the structures of sport to plough back to the community even if it is in a coaching capacity.”
She pointed that she is constantly in touch with her former teammates via a WhatsApp group.
I miss the tough training sessions, the laughter and jokes of my teammates and the competitive edge of my teammates. I also enjoyed the mentoring sessions and the motivation from the bench during tough encounters and the encouraging pep-talks during the breaks,” she said when asked what she is missing from her playing days.
Her advise to young players?
“Be disciplined at training because the discipline you show during your younger days is what you portray in a working environment to excel in your work or even in a family environment. Always listen to your coach and captain,” she noted.