The University of Pretoria will see one of its long-serving members leaving towards the end of this month. Kobus van der Walt, who has been the Director of TuksSport since 1999, will be retiring after close to 18 years of service to the university, and is being succeeded by current High Performance Centre CEO Tony Sutcliffe. Perdeby spoke to Van der Walt to reflect on his tenure at what could now be considered one of the most recognised sporting institutions in the country.
Can you describe what it has been like working at TuksSport for nearly 18 years?
It was great to work here, I thoroughly enjoyed my time at the University of Pretoria. I enjoyed the students, I love working with young people [and] that’s why I am in this job and have been doing it. When I started in 1999, TuksSport didn’t exist as we know it today, it was a young, unstructured department. We had a good history in sport over many years but at that stage there were a lot of things that had to be remodeled, rebuilt [and] built from the ground. For instance the term “TuksSport” didn’t exist. All the clubs played in different clothes, the stripe wasn’t prominent, and we didn’t have one brand and one focus. So over time, that I think has been our most important contribution. The team I had with me all the way through were great people. I had good staff, good coaches, [and] good managers… I think the most important thing that we did is we created a pride in the university sport brand. Now as you know everybody is wearing the stripe. So it’s been fun and I really enjoyed it.
Can you explain some of the growth TuksSport has gone through since you started, up until now?
I think historically rugby has always been a big sport at the university. When I started here in 1999, we only had three football teams participate in the league and the residence league wasn’t even that strong at that stage. So that was one of the first challenges, and then we enjoyed it because I’d been in football administration before and Dr Rendani Mulaudzi who joined me in 2000 did a great job also helping me. So we have built up football from virtually a very low-key activity only playing in the local league. We started the junior programme in about 2000 and I think that’s one of our greatest success stories from a club management point of view: to bring it all the way through to the PSL. Unluckily we’re out of that, but then on the other hand the question is always is that the real place to be? Shouldn’t we only be focusing on Varisty Football, because at the end of the day we are a student organisation working for the students?
What would you say has been the most rewarding thing about working at TuksSport?
The people. It was always one of my biggest joys to see people when they start to perform on a national level when they come through and they are becoming the stars of the country. They win medals at the Olympic Games and I’ve seen them when they came in as skinny first years, young, inexperienced and now what we’ve created at the university has brought them through the ranks and helped them, supported them so that they’re not only good for the university, but eventually did perform well for the country.
Are there any memorable moments that still resonate with you?
There’s been many. In the early years, seeing how people on Main campus started to wear the stripe, the residences introduced the striped T-Shirt – all the residences. It really became the brand of the university, the social brand, the fun brand, the brand which the students enjoyed, and then obviously winning some of the big ones. The [title] of the NFD that we won to promote [Amatuks] to the PSL. Having cleared Coetzenberg stadium (in Stellenbosch) in 2012, when we beat Maties solidly and before the end when we saw all their supporters had left. Having won Varsity Athletics first two years in a row, [and] Varsity Football first two years in a row because that’s the modern, new hype in student sport. We have won a lot of titles. As we sit here today, the University of Pretoria has won more medals. That means first, second and third places in all the varsity sports competitions put together than any other university. I’m in sport to win, that’s what people do – you build everything towards success on the playing fields and yes there’s been great wins [and] been a couple of bad losses also along the way, but we enjoyed [it]. I enjoyed every time a TuksSport team took the field or the individual athletes did well. I was always proud.
What will you miss most?
You guys, the students, it’s kept me up. I think that working in the university environment one obviously must have a passion for young people, and to have done it before. [Before] I came to the University of Pretoria I was also at the old UPE (University of Port Elizabeth), [now] NMMU, for 8 years also as director of sports. I’ve been in this specific game for 25 years, and over the years I have seen great, great youngsters come together. They’re making a success not only of their sporting careers but also graduating, becoming successful business people and that I think is what I will miss. I will not miss coming to [the] office, I will not miss sitting in long meetings, but luckily sport is high profile so there will always be something on TV where I can see the people that I have been involved with at some point or another.
What heights do you hope to see TuksSport reach in the future?
Just to go from strength to strength. As it is, TuksSport is contributing with obviously the HPC as part of the double package at the university. [TuksSport] is producing some of the best national athletes for the country. We need to maintain that, we need to bring the youngsters through a system because I think we are in a better position than most other places, including other universities. There’s a lot of incredible youngsters in our system even at our own school now (TuksHigh), where we have two school kids who went to the Olympics last year. [In] the recent cricket series, [there were] two former Tuks cricket players and Lungi [Ngidi], so suddenly three new national players [representing the Proteas]. Our golfers are starting to make their mark internationally and even [on the] the pro circuit and that’s important, but then also very important is for the student community to come behind our sports teams to support them when they play.