Born in District 6 in Cape Town, Nadeema Khan has never known a life without rugby – or challenges.
The 67-year-old used to play in the streets that largely lay desolate today following the old apartheid regime’s decision to forcibly remove more than 120,000 households.
And that interest in rugby continued in the 1970s when, as a young mother of two, she was relocated to the out-of-town Surrey Estate, where her local club Rangers RFC is also now based.
“We were surrounded by rugby people and at supper time around the table, there was always rugby discussion,” she said.
“We are a rugby family. My cousins, my uncles, my father, my neighbours, my husband, my sons and my grandchildren all play rugby.
“I played rugby in the streets with the boys. You would fall on the pavement and pick yourself back up again and that is where the whole rugby bug got the better of me, and I have been involved ever since.”
Khan became Rangers’ third XV team manager when her eldest son started playing senior rugby, was then secretary for 15 years and has held various roles since including chairperson.
“It is all about rugby and the community for me, all the children that play for Rangers are ‘my children’," she said.
“I want to make sure they always feel welcome and they have a place to go to.
“You know some that come from a home where there isn’t always a meal, so I try to make it my duty on a Saturday, when we play at home, to cook a big pot of food and feed those people and the opposition, to ensure they have food on their plate before they go on the bus back home.”
By sitting on the Western Province relations sub-committee, Khan has helped to bring different factions together.
“I would go and watch games and observe the relationships between clubs. Because of the diversity of religion and colour, it was difficult, there was always animosity,” explained Khan, a Muslim by faith.
“There was always an ‘us’ and ‘them’ situation. Western Province worked very hard as a Union to bring those factions together so that everyone could have an enjoyable afternoon.
“It was good foresight to have the relations committee because it brought a lot of harmony amongst the clubs and people became more tolerant of one another and nowadays they are all friends.”
While as Ranger RFC’s club delegate on the Western Province committee, Khan broke down more barriers when she became the first woman to sit in the boardroom at Newlands.
She recalls the story of her first meeting as an example of how women as decision-makers in rugby were virtually unheard of back then.
“It is encouraging to see how many women want to get involved in rugby now. At Rangers, we sent a lot of them on coaching courses and made them managers," she said.
“It is not just us, other clubs have embraced the fact you need women involved and you need women on the executive.
“When I started out, I was basically the only one. When I went to my first Council meeting at Western Province and went to sign in, the man on the door told me ‘you’re in the wrong place’.
“I said, ‘no, I’m here for a meeting’ and told him my name. When he looked down at the list, he said ‘oh, we have got a Mr Khan’.
“A few of the people in the boardroom said, ‘you’re a woman, what are you doing here?’ But I stood my ground and said I’m not going anywhere so you might as well accept that I am here’.
DHL Western Province Women suffered their only defeat all season when they went down 24-15 against Border Ladies in the Women's First Division Final at DHL Newlands on Friday - https://t.co/X57HoKLEIp— WP RUGBY (@WP_RUGBY) July 16, 2021
Khan’s steadfast determination to not let anything stand in her way has only been for the betterment of women’s rugby in Western Province, on and off the field.
Western Province supplies a large contingent of players to the Springbok Women’s national team and is one of the dominant forces in the Women’s Premier Division.
The defending champions looked well placed to retain the trophy this year after finishing the regular season with 10 wins out of 10 but Border Ladies pulled off a major upset to beat them in the play-off final.
“I fight battles not only for myself but I fight battles for the players as well, they know that I will do that as an administrator,” she said.
“Did I ever think I would see the day when we had a women’s Premier team? No, it was like a dream. We were all hoping it would happen and here we are today.
“When I look at the seven Western Province players who play for the Springboks, one girl (Alicia Arries) made her debut against Boland this season, and today she is a Springbok. It shows there are opportunities out there if you grab it and make the most of them.”
Khan has certainly made the most of hers and is now heading up women’s rugby in Western Province.
“Last year it was decided that we really needed a woman to be in charge of women’s rugby,” she said.
“We have a female coach, a female manager, a female doctor, a female physio and two women who are selectors.
“That speaks volumes for Western Province in trying to bridge that divide. If we can roll that out across South Africa it would be brilliant.”