The Sunday News
Lovemore Dube, Sports Correspondent
THE rise of black tennis stars in Bulawayo in the 1980s was largely due to sacrifices by Larry Katz (pictured) and his family who founded and funded the National Tennis Development (NTD).
Many great players from Barbourfields, Gwabalanda, Tshabalala and White City came through the initiative. So successful was the effort that the first African to play in the Davis Cup, Patrick Mlauzi came through the ranks of the NTD programme which would go on to be a huge success with dozens of champions emerging through it.
A great number went on to be successful coaches, while foundation that stands firm to this day is still intact. Tennis marvels are still produced in the City of Kings and Queens with two players in the Davis Cup team, brothers Ethan and Mehluli Sibanda.
Katz, a pioneer in mass tennis participation and development in Bulawayo, whose feel and rub off effect was countrywide, died in Johannesburg, South Africa last Tuesday night.
In keeping in touch with Jewish tradition, he was buried the following day. Millie Milligan one of the players to benefit from the Katz family’s benevolence, confirmed that Katz who had battled cancer for almost a decade had passed on.
Katz was born to Basil and Pam in Bulawayo on 4 February 1957. He went to Carmel and proceeded to Milton High School. In 1982 he married Shana with whom he had three sons Daniel, Jonathan and David.
His family ran a business in Bulawayo but in 1995 he moved to Gaborone, Botswana to start a clothing factory which employed 300 people.
He later relocated to Francistown and closed the factory in 2002 and moved to Johannesburg where he stayed up to the time of his death.
He is survived by his wife, children and his mother. He had some iatrogenic mishaps that led to complications of his condition. He had been on life support since January 2019 after full organ failure a number of times. He died of septicaemia at the Donald Gordon Hospital on Tuesday night.
“A giant of a man has fallen. Rest easy Larry Katz. Larry founded NTD in the early 1980s ton develop tennis in the townships and which he actively mentored and funded,” said Milligan.
He said half of the tennis players involved in tennis as players and coaches are from the seed that Katz planted. Tennis Zimbabwe later replicated Katz’s tennis development blueprint with Harare and Chitungwiza, getting a big lift form the United Bottlers’ New Winners programme.
“Farewell to a pioneering man, a kind soul who selflessly devoted his life and time to social upliftment,” said Milligan.
Another former junior tennis player Vusa Mkhaya recalled how Katz would drive to Tshabalala in his Peugeot 504.
“I remember NTD in Tshabalala at the tennis courts. We always looked forward to the Peugeot 504 that brought tennis racquets and balls on Saturday afternoons,” said Mkhaya.
Jameson Gonese said: “He left an everlasting legacy which changed a lot of lives in the ghetto.”
Mahla John Maphosa said Katz’s gesture had taken a lot of kids off the streets. Mlauzi the first Black hit in the sport, recalled how Katz had helped him get to the US in 1987 on a scholarship. Dozens of Bulawayo kids from the townships would follow years later.
“I came to the US in 1987. Larry helped me secure a scholarship under a programme called ‘Academics for African Athletes.’ He paid all the fees for the programme and did a lot of co-ordinating for me to get to the States. He raised money for me to get here (US).
“I went to John Brown College and Larry told me when I left that he did not want to see me back until after I graduate. I studied accounting and business studies and I have been working for a top five bank in the world for the last 20 years. Larry’s effort changed thousands of lives, including the lives of my family. He funded NTD for years using his own money,” said Mlauzi, the brother of the late former Sunday News tennis correspondent Tito Asani.
At the time of his death Katz was one of the sponsors of Emakhandeni Tennis led by Witness Jiyane.
Babra Nkomazana said: “He financed Witness Jiyane to travel to South Africa in January last year. He was a role model to Jiyane who has been working on resuscitating tennis at Emakhandeni, White City and Tshabalala.”
Fortune Khuphe praised Katz for bringing international tennis to Bulawayo.
“He got in touch with International Tennis Federation to bring professional tennis to Zimbabwe. Only Harare and Bulawayo supported and undertook such an undertaking. Other cities did not adequate facilities. So Larry got in touch with Botswana and Zambia. ITF then agreed.”
Bulawayo and Harare then became regular hosts of international satellite circuit tournaments becoming a key leg of the Central and Southern Africa legs of the money circuit where budding stars accumulated points and money on tour.
“Katz planted a seed that mushroomed into a gigantic tree that shall forever live from generation to generation. If it was not for NTD, I am completely certain that I would not have had an opportunity to play tennis or develop a passion for it. Tennis has been at the core of my life’s success,” said Khuphe.
Two years ago, Katz met with some of the players who grew up into coaching in Johannesburg — a group that has committed itself to ploughing back to Bulawayo tennis.
Katz was himself a top star in Bulawayo and a regular feature in the singles’ last eight in an era dominated by former Davis Cup star Haroon Ismail.