Bongi Mokaba: The story behind the Joburg Open

Bongi Mokaba - Joburg Open
Bongi Mokaba speaking at the Sponsors' Welcome Dinner for the 2017 Joburg Open.

The 2018 Joburg Open is approaching at a dazzling speed and with it comes the excitement over the status of this tournament. The prestigious Joburg Open has been tri-sanctioned by the Sunshine Tour, European Tour, and Asian Tour. As a result, it has made SA golf history. In tracing the genesis of the Joburg Open, it was apparent that the conceptualisation of the event was infused with the passionate drive of a strong woman named Bongi Mokaba.

Bongi Mokaba is the Director – Event Management in the City of Johannesburg, and harbours a serious passion for golf. One glance at her social media profiles provides a visual display of her enthusiasm and involvement in the sport. When asked about her passion, Mokaba explained how her love for golf began:

“I have always had a passion for athleticism and throughout my life from primary school through to university, up to and within my professional environments, I’ve been involved in sport both from a practical and event management perspective. My involvement started with athletics, then netball and later, high jump. At University, I started playing squash and my baby sister was my squash partner. Sadly, she passed on in 2000 and her passing took away a part of me.  I remember this was a difficult period for me. I went for a consultation and my doctor said to me: You need to go to counselling and I kept refusing. I said to him, “I can’t tell my story and share my pain with a stranger, how is a stranger going to help me through the pain? Eventually we came to an agreement. He said to me, it’s either you go to counselling or I’m going to introduce you to a sport, which may do one of two things. You’ll either love it or hate it. If you hate it, you go to counselling and if you love it, it will help you deal with your emotions. And that’s how I was introduced to golf.

“I went to the World of Golf, got a Professional Golfer who taught me from the basics to where I am today. He did not only teach me how to play golf, he instilled the love of golf in me.” Through the brilliance of Rocky Thlabanyane the Pro, Mokaba now sits on an 18 handicap, and her putting and long game does not fail her. Her passion for the game has influenced and enhanced her work at the City of Johannesburg as the events she manages include the Mayoral Charity Golf Day and other City of Joburg flagship events. Her penchant for golf was also a driving factor behind the beginning of the Joburg Open.

Mokaba was approached by then Mayor Amos Masondo who asked her to meet Leon Plutsick and Moss Ngoasheng of Easy Golf. They wanted to meet with the City of Johannesburg to form a partnership that would include the Sunshine Tour. Mokaba’s aim was to investigate whether the proposal made strategic sense for the City. She came back from the meeting thrilled and submitted the report supporting the proposal because it provided strategic benefits that would position Johannesburg globally, contribute to the economy, increase tourism, and would help to create employment opportunities for a number of people. The report and partnership were approved by the Mayoral Committee and Council, and in 2007, the first Joburg Open was hosted at Royal Johannesburg & Kensington Golf Club.

Now, in 2017, the 12th Joburg Open is will be hosted by the City of Johannesburg in partnership with the Sunshine Tour on 07 to 10 December 2017 and Mokaba is still firmly entrenched in the planning process. .

The Sunshine Tour manages everything related to players, rules and tournament directors. Everything outside of that is coordinated by the Events Management office within the City of Johannesburg.

“From the time we decide which golf course to use, what infrastructure we need, how we want the tournament to be shaped and to look in a particular year, the whole event gets conceptualised and developed in the events management office I have to lead all the various activities,” said Mokaba.

The Joburg Open brings many employment opportunities to residents of Johannesburg. Mokaba believes that “people need to look at golf from a different perspective. You and I go to the office every day, whereas professional golfers and caddies go to the golf course to go and work.  These are not the only employment opportunities created, we have drivers for all the sponsored fleet we use for the tournament, the teams that put up all the infrastructure required for the tournament,  freelancers that form part of the television crews just to name a few. “Take for instance, at Royal Johannesburg and Kensington Golf Club, there is a small team of women who normally wash members’ cars. During the tournament last year, we gave them the business of washing all the tournament vehicles so that their business did not suffer any losses,“ explained Mokaba.

In addition to creating employment opportunities, the Joburg Open increases tourism to Johannesburg and positions the city as a world-class destination to a global audience. In the past, the tournament was covered in more than 35 countries and broadcast in about 500 million households. Now, with the tri-sanctioned status of the tournament and the inclusion of the Asian Tour players, the viewership and popularity of the Joburg Open is expected to increase on a massive scale, as it will tap into a new audience in Asia.

After realising the story behind the Joburg Open and the details around the 2018 tournament, there seemed to be only one question left to ask the leading lady: Who is going to win the 2018 Joburg Open this year?

Mokaba exclaimed, ”Shew! You know what? At this stage, I don’t know. I’ll tell you closer to the time… I can confirm thought that throughout the year, I monitor players who have participated in the Joburg Open over the years.  In 2013, I had an interview at 5fm and I was asked who I thought was going to win. And I said to the interviewer, Richard Sterne is going to win. The interviewer said George Coetzee would win. I said, ‘George is not ready. George is not there yet.’ Lo and behold, Sterne won. In 2014 with PowerFM, my prediction was spot on with George Coetzee who became the champion that year.”

A large contribution to Mokaba’s excitement regarding the tournament this year is Louis Ooosthuizen’s confirmation that he will be playing in the Open. She believes he may have a real hunger to win as all of his friends have won it in the past. But again, she insists she will tell Tee and Sandwedges closer to the time of the tournament who she thinks will take the Joburg Open this year.

Article by: Frew Murdoch