It was a commotion in the primary school hall that first piqued Azikile Makaula’s interest.
Curious by nature, the then Grade 6 followed the din to find her classmates excitedly jostling around a table that resembled a small tennis court.
The teacher in charge was nowhere to be found, but Makaula had seen enough – this was a sport she wanted to play.
A year later, she signed up for the school’s table tennis team and, a year after that, she found herself competing against the best young players in the country at the South African Junior Championships.
If ever proof was needed that passion and hard work can be enough for someone to reach the top, then University of Fort Hare student Makaula is it.
The 21-year-old, who is pursuing a qualification in library and information sciences at the Alice campus, is leaving for Cape Town today (Friday) to represent Team Eastern Cape at the SA Championships.
It will be her second appearance for the province at senior level, having first played at the championships in Mpumalanga in 2018.
At the time she was in matric at Joyi Senior Secondary School in her hometown of Mthatha.
Excited to be donning the colours of her province again after a half-decade hiatus, she believed she had the game to go further than the round of 16, where she was knocked out in Secunda five years ago.
“In August we played the provincial championships in Mthatha where I came second in the senior women’s category,” she said.
“That’s when I was chosen for the Eastern Cape team.”
Twenty-one players will do battle across various age categories for Team Eastern Cape.
Makaula’s love for her sport is palpable, so much so that it has even spilt over into her life on campus.
Earlier this year she put out a call for Alice-based students wanting to learn table tennis to join her for lessons – now there are five women and seven men in the weekly sessions.
“Fort Hare has provided us with bats, balls and tables. We practise every day except weekends,” she said.
“This year we also organised matches against teams from Walter Sisulu University.”
Makaula was proud of what she had achieved so far, particularly since table tennis lived in the shadow of sports like rugby, football, cricket and hockey.
However, she added that she had been fortunate to have the full backing of her family who had been “supportive since day one”.
“They try by all means to be there for me to make sure that I achieve my goals.”
That also applied to her studies and her other great passion, books.
“I opted for library sciences because I love books and love working with people,” she explained.
She admitted balancing her studies and chosen sport could be challenging and there were occasions she had to skip training due to academics.
Yet she continues to find a way.