For many, Magdeline Moyengwa’s name will forever be etched in the annals of Botswana sport and weightlifting history. She is the first local weightlifter to represent the country at the Olympics.
A closer look however shows the diminutive athlete’s pioneering spirit extends even beyond the sport fields. Her journey to the Tokyo Olympics defied cultural stereotypes and is likely to open doors for other talented young women like her to actively take sport.
Speaking to Tsoseletso Magang in the monthly ‘open discussion with Tsosi’ recently, Moyengwa candidly revealed the hardships she endured on her way to sports stardom due to her cultural belief.
The 20-year-old is of the Zezuru culture; a tribe unscathed by the ‘trimmings’ of modern life because of a proud lot who obey God and cherish their culture.
The Zezuru culture does not hold going to school or taking part in things out of their culture of importance, however, for Moyangwe she had already gone against her culture by going to school. School participation led to her introduction to sport which was also not allowed in her culture.
“During my junior certificate years, I studied Physical Education in which during form two my teacher advised me to join weightlifting which I did and somehow I became good at it,” she said.
Furthermore she said as a Zezuru girl going to school or even playing sport is not allowed as in her age she should be married with children doing house hold chores. But Moyengwa’s path was to be different.
“When I started weightlifting my family was against it. However, my father saw my capability in the sport during the time I competed at the Weightlifting- Africa Junior Championships in Uganda in 2019,” she says.
For Moyengwa, culture has and is still playing a vital role in her growth in sport. Dressing code in sport most especially in weightlifting is very tight and body hugging.
“I have to expose my body during tournaments which is not allowed in my culture. Our dress code in Zezuru is not revealing like in sport,” she said.
Reminiscing of her journey, Moyengwa said qualifying for the Olympics was a rollercoaster of emotions. “All along I was competing without anyone knowing or seeing me but only my family knew. But now I had to compete at a world-wide event with all eyes watching including people from my culture. During this time, my moral went down due to the thought of knowing that people in my culture who are against what I am doing will be watching,” she said.
Now having braced the cultural storms, Moyengwa is ready to inspire the girl child. However, most communities especially rural areas still have a strong influence on the role of girls and women.
Today, just as in the past, females still have fewer opportunities as compared to their male counterparts.