Hildah Magaia’s star has been on a steady rise, with the talented South African footballer eager to build on a successful 2020 as she continues to catch the eye of powers-that-be with her impressive displays.
A student at the Tshwane University of Technology (TUT) in South Africa’s capital city Pretoria, the 25-year-old – who hails from the rural Dennilton Municipality in the country’s Limpopo Province – was last year included in South Africa’s student team which participated in the 2019 FISU World University Games in Napoli, Italy.
The striker featured in all four matches for the South Africans, who finished the tournament in a disappointing 12th place.
Nevertheless, Magaia’s notable performances saw her earn a call-up to the South African national women’s football team for the annual COSAFA Women’s Championship – a tournament involving 12 southern African national football teams – in August 2019, where she netted two goals en route to her side’s tournament victory.
The speedy forward continued her extraordinary displays for her club and university side TUT, amassing an incredible 36 goals over the 2019/20 season as her team finished runners up in the inaugural South African Women’s League.
Called up once again to the national team’s 2020 COSAFA Women’s Championship squad in November, Magaia took the tournament by storm, scoring four goals – including a hat-trick in the semi-final – as South Africa won a fourth consecutive title, with Magaia being named Player of the Tournament for her outstanding displays.
Despite being swamped with media requests following her brilliant performances, Magaia took the time to speak to FISU about her journey so far, her dual career as a student-athlete, and what the future may hold.
FISU: Hildah, thank you for taking time from your busy schedule to talk to us. Let’s first take it back a bit … what are your first memories in football, and what made you get into it?
Magaia: I’ve been playing football from a very young age. I was introduced to the game by my father and brother – we used to play in the backyard, up until I finally went to the field and joined the guys who played there. Then in 2011, aged 16, I played for a team called Brazillian Ladies, before I went on to play in Gauteng for the University of Pretoria up until 2017, when I joined Tshwane University of Technology.
What is it that you enjoy the most about football, and who is your motivation?
What I enjoy most about football is that it brings out the best in me personally, and it takes away all my worries. My motivation comes from following my icon Refiloe Jane (South Africa and AC Milan midfielder, and also a former FISU World University Games participant) – she inspires me a lot and pushes me to do well both in training and during games.
You recently completed your Officiating and Coaching Science diploma at TUT, congratulations! You are now, however, taking this course further … how have you found the challenge of balancing academics with playing football at such a high level?
Yes, I completed my Diploma last year, and now I’m busy with my Advanced Diploma in Business Administration. Balancing both academics and football has been a challenging yet simultaneously awesome journey. When you come back from a game or training, you are obviously tired and all you want to do is get into bed and rest, but when you look at your books you realise the real reason that got you where you are. For instance, I got to Gauteng because I wanted to complete my studies and get a diploma, so yes, it’s not an easy journey, yet it is an amazing one.
You were part of the South African student team that competed at the Universiade in Napoli last year. You’ve represented South Africa at international events before, but how did it feel being among student-athletes, and representing your country at a World University Games?
I can’t explain the feeling – it was amazing! Especially knowing that that I wasn’t only representing myself or my family, but the whole of South Africa. The feeling of travelling far as a student and getting to see different countries and meeting different people was incredible.
Many athletes don’t get to combine both their studies and sport at a high level. How important is it to pursue both, in your opinion?
For me, it is very, very important. As you know, not all of us can get that far with football. We are not getting a salary at club level, so at least if one has a qualification, something else can come up if football fails. Also, football is unpredictable – one can get an injury that can take up their whole football career, so if one has a qualification, then at least there’s a backup.
This year was your second time in the COSAFA Women’s Championship squad, where South Africa once again defended their crown as you were named Player of the Tournament for your performances. How did it feel to play such an important part in South Africa’s success?
The tournament was awesome! I really enjoyed myself, and I had a great experience, although it was a tough year for everyone, especially having to train alone at home in order to prepare for the tournament. But we did it and we won, and I’ve also got myself this individual award.
I have to first thank my coach for the opportunity. I believe I wouldn’t have done it without the team though; we’ve been united from day one until the last day when we lifted the trophy. Everyone was always hyped up everyday, positive energy was flowing all the time and we did it. Representing the country on its own felt like a dream come true and on top of that, I have now formed part of the history of this historic moment. So yes, it still feels like a dream and the excitement is still there that I was part of South Africa’s success in 2020.
You also played alongside some of your university teammates, as well as national student teammate Bongeka Gamede in this team. What was it like, playing with them for the national team?
You know, in the World University Games camp, we would always talk about being together in the national team and doing well for the country, and the same goes at club level with my teammates – we always made jokes and wished to be there together. So it was a marvellous feeling and yet another mission that we longed to complete together.
“In the World University Games camp, we would always talk about being together in the national team and doing well for the country.”
How has life been for you personally, following the COSAFA Championship victory? How do you feel with all this attention and interest surrounding you?
I’ve been swamped with back-to-back interviews, but life has been going well so far. Although it hasn’t sunk in that life turned out like this for me in such a short period of time!
I even met the winner of Miss South Africa, Miss Shudufhadzo Musida! I had always wished to meet 2019 winner Miss Zozibini Tunzi, but it didn’t happen … yet as soon as they told me that I’ll be in studio with Miss Musida, I was so happy and felt like jumping off my seat in studio! I feel blessed and honoured with all the attention around me at this point.
What would you select as the highlight of your career thus far?
Definitely being named the Player of the Tournament in the COSAFA Women’s Championship and performing exceedingly well in the tournament. That’s my biggest highlight at the moment.
Finally, what is next for you, in terms of your mid-term goals and targets?
I will continue being a hard worker, complete my qualification and hope to earn myself a contract abroad.
Remember the name – Hildah Magaia, a true football talent and inspiration for many student-athletes across the world.