AmaZulu Football Club’s Sinenjabulo Zungu is a woman in a man’s sporting world and has more titles than most, writes Shirley le Guern.
On the corporate front, she’s chief executive of the oldest club within the Premier Football League (PSL) and daughter to AmaZulu “president”, Sandile Zungu – who purchased the club in 2020. Back home in Hillcrest, she is a single mother to lively seven-year-old son Lelo. On the practice fields in front of the Moses Mabhida stadium, coaches and players call her “boss lady”.
But whatever the big shoes she’s filling on any unpredictable day, this busy executive admits that she’s very hands-on and totally invested in ensuring that AmaZulu Football Club not only becomes a successful business –but also one that is respected locally, across Africa and abroad.
For Sinenjabulo, that means waking a sleeping giant.
An Umlazi girl by birth, she grew up in the burbs, finishing her schooling at St Mary’s –where she excelled at everything from drama and singing to netball and other sports. But, apart from a social love for the beautiful game, football wasn’t one of them.
She started out studying Business Science, majoring in finance at the University of Cape Town, but soon switched to marketing – which has been the thread throughout a diverse career that even included heading a forensics company. She completed her MBA in 2019 whilst confined in Spain during the pandemic.
Back home, she started working for AmaZulu as a consultant and was appointed CEO in 2021.
A woman in a man’s sporting world, she is happy to see women’s soccer team Banyana Banyana excelling. But she adds that it will only be when females play an active role in both playing and administering sport that they will receive equal recognition for their achievements.
“We have a responsibility to advocate for women’s sports and include more women at an admin level. That’s important because that’s where decisions are made,” she explains.
Sinenjabulo admits that although professionalising the club was a priority when her family took over, working within the culture of football became even more imperative. To achieve that, she had to play a far more operational role than initially envisaged. That meant juggling devising strategies and signing sponsorships at the Johannesburg head office, with engaging with supporters, attending activations and growing the team at AmaZulu’s home stadium in Durban.
“You have to immerse yourself in this so that you learn how people do things in football. For me to understand the nitty gritty, I had to do it myself first,” she says.
When spectators voiced their frustration that they couldn’t get football jerseys, Sinenjabulo set up the AmaZulu shop that opened at the stadium last September. The first of its kind in South Africa, it not only sells locally manufactured club memorabilia and leisurewear – but also acts as a meeting space for players and stakeholders.
So, what have been Sinenjabulo’s key learnings along the way? “That no woman is an island, especially in football,” she answers.
“You definitely need people in football and you need to be able to pivot very quickly. You must be prepared to ask for help and advice from people who have walked the journey and are more experienced. Fortunately, for me, we kept the resources, the existing human capital, so a lot of people are quite knowledgeable in this space – which has been great.”
At the same time, Sinenjabulo has also had to work hard to maintain that all-important work-life balance. That comes down to having good support structures both at home and at work.
“I do have a very busy lifestyle. My hours are long. But I was typically a child that was raised by the village. I was brought up by my grandmother, so those good family support structures stretch back to my childhood. Maybe that’s why I love what I do,” she smiles.
Her mother is now the very hands-on caregiver for her son, which helps as she spends a great deal of time working and travelling.