Without an iota of doubt, the game of netball put Namibia on the global map just shortly after the country attained her democracy in 1990.
The ladies discipline was the first sporting code to represent Namibia at the world stage when the national senior netball team competed at the Netball World Championship in Sydney, Australia, in 1991.
Four years later, Namibia was among Africa’s only three representatives alongside South Africa and Malawi at the next World Netball Championships in Birmingham, England (United Kingdom) in 1995.
Namibia ended in 14th place overall ahead of incumbent African champions Malawi at the prestigious global showpiece. That particular tournament unearthed a number of fringe players, who rose to prominence raising their hands for inclusion in the star-studded starting line-up. However, no other player rose above the young gorgeous Black Africa playmaker, Helen Oliphant.
The latter was literally thrown into the deep end when she came on as a second-half substitute against world powerhouse New Zealand in the group stages.
The athletically built wing attacker announced her arrival at the big stage with a near faultless display and never looked back.
In today’s edition of your favourite weekly sports feature, “Tales of the Legends”, profiling the untold journey of local athletes, past and present – New Era Sports unpacks the netball safari of Helena Oliphant, better known as “Ou Vrou” among her circle of friends.
Carlos “CK” Kambaekwa
Windhoek-Born Helen Oliphant on April 4, 1973, in Namibia’s commercial capital, Windhoek, it was only fitting that young Helen would become a netballer of note since sports ran in the family genes.
After all, her granny Margaret Mosiane, was a formidable tennis player who rubbed shoulders with tennis greats such as Vorster “Oom Vossie’ Moetie, Aunt Rickey Fredericks, Daniel Tjongarero and Tommy Akwenye, among others.
Helen’s old lady, the departed Europa Oliphant, was a noted netballer herself while elder sister Annie Mosiane-Kalomoh ranks among the finest netballers the country has ever produced pre- and post-Independence.
Unlike many of her peers, who started rattling the hoops at high school, Helen took an interest in the ladies game at an early age while attending school at MH Greeff Primary School in Khomasdal.
“I started playing netball at a very young age because the game was almost part of our daily diet at home. I played for the school netball team and took a keen interest in taking my game to another level,” reveals Ou Vrou, whose house name is in stark contrast to her gorgeous baby face.
Apart from playing netball, the cat-footed athlete whose squeaky clean and shining white teeth can only be found in toothpaste advertisements also excelled in athletics notably in the short races – the 100 and 200-metre sprints.
“I did athletics at primary school but quit when I went to high school at Concordia and Immanuel Shifidi.
A product of the notorious Gemengde section, north-east of Katutura township – Helen teamed up with friends from the neigbourhood and joined local club Golden River from the adjacent Ovambo location.
However, their lodging with Golden Rivers did not last too long, as the streetwise lasses developed itchy feet after a disagreement with club honcho teache Shilongo.
“I cannot exactly recall what transpired but vaguely remember him (Shilongo) disturbing us with his out-dated management style. So, we all decided to leave and joined forces with Black Africa where our services would be more valued.”
Helen arrived at Black Africa alongside the accomplished trident of elder sister Annie Mosiane, Moeddy Gontes and Melody Mogane (Rusten’s sister).
“In those days, the game of netball was very competitive and we were obliged to undergo trials. We passed the marathon with flying colours and were thrown in the first team straight away.”
The tireless wingback would go on to represent Black Africa with distinction, forming the backbone (spine) of the untouchable Black Africa netball side to be christened “Aunt Rickey’s Babes” by the author in the intervening years.
She made her debut for her country in 1991 at the World Championships in Sydney, Australia.
Often called “The Smiling Assassin”, the humorous cat-footed wingback was a valuable squad member of the Namibian senior netball team that represented the country at the quadrennial All Africa Multi Sports Games in Harare, Zimbabwe, in 1995.
When Namibia made her second appearance at the World Championships in Birmingham, England (United Kingdom), the same year – it was only obvious that Helen’s name would crop up among the selected final squad.
The European safari would turn out to be just what the good doctor has ordered for the “Silent Assassin”. An incredibly intelligent impactful player, Helen was drafted in as a late substitute when the Namibian amateurs found the going tough against world powerhouse New Zealand in the group stage.
She played a blinder in that particular encounter changing the entire complexion of the match with excellent play in the middle of the park.
Blessed with quick hands and amazing speed off the ball, Helen possessed vision second to none and could easily read openings between the lines supplying accurate passes to her equally dangerous sibling Annie with great aplomb.
When the Tracy Neville (twin sister of Manchester United legend Phil)-skippered England team arrived in Windhoek for a number of exhibition matches against the Namibian Invitational team – Helen was among the few stalwarts left from the world team and played a blinder against their more fancied opponents at a packed to the rafters UNAM netball courts.
“That was definitely one of my highlights in my entire netball career. Rubbing shoulders with such high profile athletes at first gave me goose bumps but later I gained more confidence as the game progressed.”
She also represented Namibia at the 7TH edition of the quadrennial All Africa Multi Sports Games in Greater Johannesburg in 1999.
This was followed up by countless appearances in numerous regional competitions, as she formed the spine of the all-conquering national senior netball team that was ranked second on the African continent behind elder sister South Africa, back in the day.
In her own words, she enjoyed her telepathic partnership alongside elder sister Annie and the legendary lanky basket rattler Emsie Esterhuizen.
The netball-crazy gorgeous lass retired from competitive netball in 2015 at a fairly advanced age of 40. She still plays the odd game in the popular social netball league comprising teams from the business sector.
Daughter Kgomotso is following in mom’s footsteps and also plays netball for Black Africa.