26 January 2022

Launch of Africa’s first dedicated pickleball court

Submitted by Tranica Ramsunder

Pickleball Rewrites Memel’s Narrative

Memel.Global is gearing up to put South Africa on the map with the launch of Africa’s first dedicated pickleball court.

Are you a sports fanatic or a social butterfly? Then you should familiarise yourself with Pickleball venues as they are becoming modern networking platforms bypassing golf and other sport-driven VIP hubs. Pickleball is the fastest growing sport globally and is gradually making its mark in South Africa and the African continent. Your invitation to join the game of pickleball is only a few weeks away. https://vimeo.com/showcase/7018612

Pickleball is speedily gaining popularity among the community of Memel-Zamani, a small town located at Thabo Mofutsanyane district in the rural Free State. The court location is in Free State Memel a small town in the Free State South Africa, closely located to the provincial boundaries of Kwa-Zulu Natal and Mpumalanga. It sits in a lovely part of the Drakensberg mountains, only three hours south from Johannesburg and Pretoria and four hours from the coast.

Memel.Global L3C, an impact-driven grassroots development and social enterprise, is committed to transforming the future trajectory of Memel-Zamani and its inhabitants for the better. This year, Memel.Global is gearing up to put South Africa on the map with the launch of Africa’s first dedicated pickleball court. On Wednesday 6th April 2022, Memel.Global L3C will mark this year’s celebration of the International Day of Sport for Development and Peace with the official launch of a dedicated pickleball court in Memel-Zamani. This launch of the continent’s first court will bring together pickleball enthusiasts, community members including educators, captains of industry, government dignitaries, civil society, media, celebrities and sport luminaries to witness and celebrate this historic event.

Due to a lack of dedicated pickleball courts in many parts of the world, most picklers play on tennis courts to improvise. However, Memel.Global took it upon itself to pioneer the future of the sport in Africa by committing to invest in dedicated pickleball infrastructure for public good, working together with cross sector partners. Memel.Global initial plan was to build an outdoor public pickleball court, but work was derailed by the Covid-19 lockdown in 2020. The team pivoted to continue by building a pilot court on private land, kindly supplied by Drakensberg Club (DKBC), a residential retreat under construction for emerging Gauteng elite.

This pilot dedicated pickleball court in Memel-Zamani was hand-built by the local community members who are avid pickleball players, enthusiasts and ambassadors of the sport. In line with its innovative approaches to community development, Memel.Global employed the services of its club members who are residents of Memel-Zamani during the court construction process using the CCC/WPA model relied on by US President Roosevelt in 1935 to address the adverse impacts of the Great Depression on citizens of America.

The CCC/WPA was a massive jobs and infrastructure programme that gave unemployed citizens the opportunity to work on critical public infrastructure during that tumultuous period. Memel.Global unorthodox approach to the construction process managed to temporarily secure the livelihoods of its local pickleball club members during the COVID-19 pandemic by paying stipends and distributing food for their entire families in exchange for the work done on the court.

The strategy drove community participation, dignity, and a sense of ownership among the local pickleball club members. Since Memel.Global introduced the sport to this underserved community in the Free State four years ago, and formalised it by registering the Memel Pickleball Association of Southern Africa in 2018, the sport has impacted many people among the community and attracted numerous visitors. Memel.Global is the epitome of hope for people of Memel-Zamani. Its work in this rural community over the last two decades has brought about social cohesion, promoted unity in diversity as well as driven positive socio-economic transformation. Through pickleball, Memel.Global managed to break down boundaries of gender, race and religion including bridging the division between rural and urban as well as local and global communities.

According to Steven Ablondi from Memel.Global, pickleball began as a modest backyard pastime aimed at keeping children and family members entertained, but today is only a few advances away from becoming an Olympic sport. Memel Primary added Pickleball to the school curriculum in 2021. This is the first grammar school in Africa to play Pickleball. It was at the backdrop of Covid-19 restrictions which prevented leaners from traveling for intramural and inter-provincial games which led the school to take a decision to adopt Pickleball for all the children. The school which offers learning instruction in English with Zulu being the home language, has only 365 learners in grade R to 7.

Nonetheless, teams have been formed and they are competing against each other enthusiastically. “Pickleball is rapidly growing, currently played in 68 countries. Championships are held worldwide. The sport gained further popularity during Covid-19 as people looked for new ways to stay active during the pandemic, its participation increased by 21.3% in the US alone,” said Mr. Ablondi. “The court building process became a collective exercise which brought pride and a sense of ownership to everyone involved,” said Pule Setai, a new pickleball player and co-chairman of DKBC, which supplied the land. “Not only do community members feel proud to have contributed their efforts, but they also got the needed provisions to sustain the livelihoods of their families during one of the most devastating economic shocks in recent history.”

The biggest attraction about pickleball, according to Mr. Setai, is that it can be played by anyone, young and old. It is known to be a social sport that allows for safe indoor or outdoor play between friends, new acquaintances, and even strangers. Pickleball is having a moment right now. Memel-Zamani has a world-class army of pickleball players that has been championing the sport in Africa for the last four years.

About Memel
Memel is a small town in the Free State province of South Africa, closely located to the provincial boundaries of Kwa-Zulu Natal and Mpumalanga. It sits in a lovely part of the Drakensberg mountains, only three hours south from Johannesburg and Pretoria and four hours from the coast. While unemployment still plagues the town, the area is unspoiled and rich in aesthetic resources. Memel is the market centre for the many farms that blanket the region, serving as both an economic and social hub. Memel.Global is helping to shape the future and socioeconomic prospects of this beautiful forgotten region, its residents and its visitors.

For more information about the launch, Drakensburg Club, Memel.Global L3C or an interview opportunity, please contact:

Media Contact
Tranica Ramsunder
BooST Communications
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Published in Sports Range

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