Enoch Nkwe: From 'quota' player to title-winning coach
A precocious talent for cricket and solid family values have helped Highveld Lions coach Enoch Nkwe overcome a sometimes traumatic childhood and reach a career pinnacle
By any standard Enoch Thabiso Nkwe's debut season as head coach of the Highveld Lions has been spectacular.
We meet at the Charles Fortune Media Centre at the Wanderers Stadium. Behind him are the three trophies that testify to his triumphs in his first stint in charge. The Lions have won the T20 series, the 4-Day Franchise Series and the T20 Mzansi Super League on his watch.
Not bad for a cricketer who in the 1990s was consistently selected as one of the two "quota" players (with his friend Thabang Moroe, now CEO of Cricket SA) for what was then still called the Transvaal provincial team.
In his one season as coach he has won more trophies than he did in his franchise playing career with the same team; Nkwe's first stint with the Lions was as a bowling all-rounder from 2004 to 2009.
He sports a sizable scar on his left wrist; a cruel reminder of how his playing career ended in March 2009. That's when he injured himself during a commotion after a family funeral in Limpopo.
"It's not something I like to reflect on," he says.
"I was around family when the incident took place. My natural instinct as a professional cricketer was to get away from everything. The last thing you want is to wake up in the morning and you're on the back page for all the wrong reasons. I tried to protect myself but I got into more danger.
"To this day, my brothers and cousins still ask why I was running away because we weren't in trouble. It was a case of the police arriving and people running away.
"As I was running away, I tripped, fell on a broken bottle and cut nerves and arteries. Fortunately, my uncle and brothers rushed me to hospital and I was stitched up."
Nkwe, originally from Diepkloof, grew up in Dobsonville. As a child he also spent several years with his grandparents in a village outside Mokopane in Limpopo.
"The three to four years we spent with our grandparents in Limpopo was the best thing that happened to us," Nkwe says.
"We could walk to school and back, but more importantly, it allowed us to learn life values. In my family, family values are paramount and my grandparents were strict and believed in discipline. We didn't have to worry about city life and we just played.
"Having value systems really strengthens you and they come into play later in life when you confront your challenges."
When he returned to Johannesburg in 1990 as a seven-year-old to attend school, tragedy struck. His father died after being attacked. Almost 30 years later Nkwe is still traumatised by this loss.
"The incident took place on Christmas Eve and it was tough. We found him at our home and he had been attacked. It was very tough. We had come back over the December holidays so we could go to school here and that's when the incident took place," Nkwe says.
"The three to four years after my father's death were really tough, but the value system I learnt on the farm in those years, even though we went through the thresher emotionally with not knowing what happened to our dad, made sure we stuck together."
The strong sense of family has served Nkwe well. His wife and their daughter are still living in the Netherlands, where Nkwe coached at the Haarlemsche Cricket Club for two years before he took up the Lions coaching job last year.
Nkwe says his young daughter found it difficult to adapt to spending time without him, but with the season now over, he'll be spending six weeks in the Netherlands with his family.
While he's got family and friends to lean on in SA, his solitary lifestyle has allowed him to be single-minded in his professional approach.
"We never knew how this coaching matter was going to pan out, but my wife and my family do understand. They all have an understanding of what is needed in the professional coaching environment.
"It's something that has been discussed at length and I received full backing from my family.
"In theory, it's easy to talk about the changes until you have to go through them. Being single-minded and not having family around has its pros and cons. There are fewer responsibilities that I need to worry about and you can fully invest in what you do.
"I would have loved to have my family here. Having been away for two years, I needed to re-adapt and re-adjust in a changed environment," Nkwe says.
"The Christmas I spent with them was special for us. My little one's got used to daddy being a professional cricket coach but that's something she didn't understand very easily.
"She knows I coach in SA and I'm winning trophies. That's something she enjoys and this success has been something that's been enjoyed by my family.
"It's given them a lot of peace and they're in a happy space because they understand it could've been different if we weren't doing well."
Being on his own is not a new experience for Nkwe, who won a bursary to attend St Stithians College private school in Randburg after excellent performances at a junior level.
Nkwe first played the game as an 11-year-old before travelling to the UK with the Roodepoort Cricket Club at the age of 12.
The trip was a dream come true - literally.
"The night before I received the call, I actually had a dream about going overseas. It was my first time on a plane and I had never travelled for more than 11 hours. I'd never been to Cape Town or Durban and now I was leaving the continent.
"I took home some serious life lessons, speaking English and also travelling with people I didn't know very well for an extended amount of time."
The staunch Barcelona fan understands the expectations he's created and the need to stay ahead of competitors.
"With the Lions having won the double and the Jozi Stars winning the Mzansi Super League, teams will realise they'll need to up their game against the Lions," he says.
"We know that and that's something we'll talk about in the pre-season and not take the foot off the pedal.
"We'll lose players to the national team but I hope we've put in the groundwork to offset these losses. We may not deliver the silverware but trophies are a bonus.
"Next season is going to be interesting. We have to live up to expectations."