For the love of the beautiful game

Bringing people together on dusty grounds and cement pavilions to hosting over 40 000 people at Orlando Stadium, the timeless tradition of soccer becomes more than a game but a way of life not only for players but for supporters too.

Alone black and yellow soccer jersey hangs on the laundry line, giving an indication this is the correct address. A man walks out of the house with a smile on his face and reaches out with a firm handshake. Sipho Nkosi, ‘Mr S’, is preparing to watch a soccer match with his brother and friends the following day.

“Tomorrow is a long day,” he says as he walked back into his house to collect a copy of the soccer newspaper, Soccer Laduma. “Look! There are five matches tomorrow. From half past three, I will be watching soccer. I am just getting my kit ready,” says the 31-year-old.

This Friday afternoon, October 27, in Orlando East is filled with people scurrying around Rathebe Street. The sense of community is amplified by greetings from both sides of the road as the ‘gents’ salute each other with handshakes and slang greetings. “Verder?” (How are you?) is constantly repeated as you walk down from JB’s liquor store.

Vegetable stalls, spaza shops and yard sales are not the only hype of the street on a Friday afternoon in the streets of Orlando. Worn with pride, soccer jerseys in all forms and colours are paraded on either side of the road. Black and white for Orlando Pirates here, Kaizer Chiefs supporters in yellow and black there, some faded and others crisply new.

Further down the road, where Herby Mdingi and Rathebe streets intersect, on the sidewalk of house number 826 sit two men on black and white wooden benches, which have been embellished with a neatly-erected wooden structure. A few steps away from the sitting area is a table with assorted sweets and cigarettes for sale. Next to the stall is a tall white board with black writing: “Orlando Park… The Happy-Peoples, 826”, flanked on either side, by an Orlando Pirates football club skull emblem.

Orlando Pirates supporter, Ace Mokoena, whiles away a Sunday afternoon in the park dedicated to his favourite football club.

Orlando Park was curated by 59-year-old Lazarus Mthe in 2016, in honour of Orlando Pirates Football Club, established in Orlando in 1937.

Offered a yellow vuvuzela by his brother, Ace Mokoena, who lives in the same yard, Mthe refuses to blow it saying he cannot be seen holding a Kaizer Chiefs vuvuzela.

Speaking in Zulu, Mthe describes his passion for Orlando Pirates as a young boy with a smile on his face. “Ngiyithanda ngenhliziyo yami yonke, (I love it [the team] with my whole heart),” he says bringing his hands closer to his heart. Mthe describes how he fell in love with soccer in the 1960s as a hobby that he was introduced to at Orlando High School when playing with friends during break times and after school matches in the streets of his hometown.

The park’s wooden structure which still needs restructuring, and another coat of paint to make it look “more attractive”, according to Mthe, is accessible not only to the community but anyone who wants to take a seat in the Orlando Pirates haven. “I made this for the people, especially for gogos who walk to and from the clinic. They can sit here and rest. People love sitting here. Pirates played at the stadium a few weeks ago and people from Vereeniging parked here and took photos and I told them it was sharp,” he says.

Mthe and Mokoena not only share a passion for soccer, but support Orlando Pirates religiously as a family. House 826 in Herbi Mringa Street is a compound filled with friendly and welcoming faces. In the yard stands a pink house, next to which are neatly corrugated shacks. Mokoena’s and Mthe’s shacks can be identified by the colours and “Up the Bucs” painted on the sides of their respective structures.

Mokoena recalls the last Orlando Pirates versus Kaizer Chiefs game he watched at Orlando Stadium a year ago, from the atmosphere before the game to how he felt afterwards. “Eish, that game! I have never experienced anything like that before in my life. It was packed outside. There was black and white everywhere,” he says, with an overjoyed smile on his face.

Before going to watch a game, Mokoena prepares by gathering his regalia. Shaking his body, he describes how he wakes up with the “spirit” for the game. “By the time I leave for the stadium, I am telling you, you will cry. I look good,” he adds.

Building the Pirates Park was an idea supported by Mokoena from the moment he knew that the park was dedicated to Orlando Pirates.

“My brother put everything together bit by bit. He got some stuff from people in the community and made it happen. When I saw them working with the paint and I saw that it was black and white, I was very happy. But what makes me unhappy is that people come at night and damage what he has made, as you can see it is open to the public and that is not nice. Yes it is attractive, but not like before because people damaged it,” says Mokoena.

A family tradition preserved for future generations

Julius Sono keeps the Sono home well maintained with hopes that it will be declared as a heritage site in memory of his father, Eric “Scarra” Sono.

Just two blocks away from the Pirates Park is a house with “SONO” written boldly on golden plates on the face brick wall. On the window facing the street is the reflection of a faded Orlando Pirates flag.

“Ekse bra KK” shouts a man walking past, avoiding stepping on the lawn as the son of soccer legend Eric ‘Scara’ Sono drills more golden plated letters onto the brick wall.

Eric ‘Scara’ Sono captained Orlando Pirates in 1957 and used football as a way of disrupting the apartheid system by bringing multiracial players to join Orlando Pirates despite segregation laws.

According to the official Orlando Pirates history, players Bernard ‘Dancing Shoes’ Hartze and Mannie ‘Al die Hoekies’ Davids were some of the players that Sono was instrumental in bringing to Orlando Pirates.

The left-footed soccer player died in a car accident in 1964 leaving a legacy of soccer through his family.

His sons, Jomo “Black Prince” Sono and Julius “KK” Sono, continued the family tradition of soccer.

The Sono home has been transformed and is managed by Julius as a business park that seeks to uplift and enable soccer talent within the Orlando community.

“I am following the tradition of my family of dealing and growing the community through the religion of soccer,” he says.

Affectionately known in the community as “KK”, Julius joined Orlando Pirates in the 1980s where he continued to play for five years.

He wears the Orlando Pirates jersey with pride as he walks around the home mowing the lawn and making sure that the Sono name stands firmly on the wall.

IN ACTION: Julius “KK” Sono playing for Orlando Pirates in 1980.

From his room, Sono brings out a collection of black and white photocopies of his family’s history in soccer. “Soccer was very political at the time my father was playing. I don’t remember much, but he had many friends of different races and the authorities did not like it,” he says.

The official Orlando Pirates history says that, “During apartheid, the black majority were withheld from public gatherings in fear of political discussions. Church and soccer were the only way to get together.”

Articles dated between 1963 and 1980 tell a story on their own, mixed with black and white photographs, spread on the glass table in the Sono living room as “KK” describes how fans adored his skills on the field.

“The supporters loved me,” says the 53-year-old. “They used to shout at the coach to put me on the field. I was dangerous because I played with feeling,” he adds, as he points at a picture of himself scoring a goal when he played for his brother’s soccer club, Jomo Cosmos in 1986.

Born and bred in Orlando East, self-employed soccer enthusiast Sizwe Nkosi sells clothes to support his wife and three-year-old son. Nkosi grew up playing township soccer before playing for the under-19 Orlando Pirates team. He recalls how on his wedding day one of his guests made a joke about how he joined the team. “The speaker told the people at my wedding that he met me at Pirates. He told everyone about how they bought me for R250 and they laughed,” he says, laughing.

Nkosi says that he played with Kaizer Chiefs goalkeeper Itumeleng Khune when he was younger, but people always question the truth of this because of his age. He stopped playing soccer professionally when his parents refused for him to lie about his age. “My wife did not believe me when I told her. I showed her some pictures but she still doubted. We bumped into Khune at the mall and we spoke, I could see she believed me then,” he says.

Turning his passion for soccer into fandom has given Nkosi the freedom to mentor, coach and host celebratory gatherings at his home. “You know, when you run away from a thing and it follows you, I don’t know if it is passion or what. I still play indoors and train some guys from here,” Nkosi says, as he explains how soccer remains close to his heart.

Nkosi’s contact list has a couple of popular soccer players. During the interview he received several phone calls from local football stars. Apologetically he says, “Everything is soccer. Sometimes I go to the grounds to watch soccer, but I always find myself analysing the game. If I feel that the coach must put a player in, I go behind the bench and I call the coach.”

Nkosi believes that “spirit” from both the players and supporters makes an enjoyable match. He keeps this spirit alive by hosting people at his home for post-match braais. “When I coached a team, and we were leading two nil, I called my wife and told her to take R2000 from my money for meat at the butchery. She told my brother to make the fire. We came back to my house to chill and celebrate after we won the game,” he says.

STAY GROUNDED: Soccer helps to keep children in the Orlando East community off the streets and out of trouble.

The soccer player at heart remains nostalgic for the days when Jomo Somo entertained supporters with “tricks” on the field. “If you watch the old DVDs of Jomo Sono, you’ll see a big difference. There was no money then, but people enjoyed football and the rules. Jomo used to stand on the ball but if a player was to do it now it is a yellow card,” he says.

For Nkosi, local soccer traditions have changed drastically because of the continuous upgrades of soccer rules set by the International Federation of Association Football (FIFA), the international governing body of football.

He adds that he does not have anything against international football, but wants the township culture of soccer, particularly in Orlando to be upheld because it is what the fans want and enjoy. “Skill. Our strength is in the skill. Our players are creative. When a team is good with skills, you can tell by the supporters. Orlando stadium used to be full because Jomo Sono was doing his thing. People came because they wanted to see the skill,” Nkosi says.

Despite the ever-changing rules of football locally and internationally, die-hard fans like Nkosi still flock in numbers to watch their favourite players battle to win the hearts of the supporters. “All people want to do is enjoy the game. If you tell someone Soweto All Stars is playing at four o’clock, the grounds will be full because people know which players are going to play flair and freestyle,” he says.

With hopes to carry the tradition over to his four-year-old son, Nkosi is already grooming him. “I want my boy to play soccer. I guide him. I want him to start at an early age, even now I started telling him not to hold the ball in his hands. I won’t force him to play if he does not want to, but it would make me happy,” he says.

WATER IS LIFE: Orlando Sweepers Football Club players quench their thirst after an intense training session.

From giving up your yard in the name of fandom, to opening your home to celebrate with the community and preserve family tradition, soccer in Orlando East goes beyond the 90 minutes on the soccer field for enthusiasts.

As it remains a religion in Orlando, the loyal supporters make sacrifices by coming together to share the joy whether it is through providing space for rest after a long walk from the clinic, or an internet café to apply for a job, or just a braai after a soccer match.

Giving up something for the love of the game does not take away from supporters, but makes them feel like they belong to a team long after the 90-minute whistle at the end of the match.

FEATURED IMAGE: A football match between two clubs. Photo: Files.


Lifting the lid on silence

Local organization hopes to deal with the criminal activities faced by Soweto’s Orlando East. Young men such as Sibusiso Sithole intend to bring the change needed by the township through activism.

There is no crime in Orlando East. Tina Bhengu is emphatic.  No serious crime, she says. An hour-and-a-half later, it will become evident that she had been referring to visible crime, the kind that is easily identifiable through visible scars and broken property, unlike the crime behind closed doors which she goes on to describe.

The only people giving the community a hard time are the young men, many in their late teens and early 20s. “I don’t know what substances they are smoking, marijuana or whatever. Last week or two weeks ago, I had to start locking my gate because I found them inside my yard. Many of them are already in jail but many of them still come back and do the same things,” Bhengu says.

It is young men such as these that Sibusiso Sithole, the community programme manager at Isizinda Sempilosays the organisation is hoping to target through its workshops to deal with the gender-based violence (GBV) in Soweto.

It is a cold, grey Saturday in Orlando East, in a small, cramped living room of a house along Adams Street. Bhengu recounts an experience with an uncle who made sexual advances towards her and nearly molested her on multiple occasions during her teenage years in Spruitview.

Bhengu is a short lady with a firm voice and set facial expression that gives away very little, but is occasionally broken by a smile. She is a mother of one, and a grandmother of four, living in a small, dark house, in contrast to the many brightly coloured ones along Adams Street. Inside, the bright orange sofas and Bhengu’s four-year-old granddaughter liven the room as she plays loudly with everything in her sight and throws occasional tantrums that earn her a scolding from her grandmother.

“He would always ask the children – me and my cousins – to come and sit on his lap,” she says of her uncle. “He would even invite us alone to his house and I would never go because I did not trust him and I told my cousins not to go either.” She pauses briefly, sighs and expresses, regretfully, that she cannot reveal her uncle’s identity since he holds a prominent position in the society.

This uncle, she says, had raped his own children too. He continues to walk free because the family, including his wife, who are aware of this, do not want the negative attention that reporting his crimes would bring to them. Besides, his power and influence that extend to the police and courts in Orlando have made him untouchable.

END OF THE ROAD: Brothers for Life mobilises men nationally to contribute towards the eradication of gender-based violence.

The precinct of the square is buzzing with market vendors and hawkers braving the blistering heat, the consistent noise of taxis and pedestrians all bringing it to life. A railway separates this colossal site and the squatter camp on the other side, both appealing for distinct reasons to the tourists.

At the centre of the square is its most important feature, an enclosure with an opening at the top giving room for the sun to peak through and onto the engraved display of the Freedom Charter.

The organisation runs two major programmes dealing with GBV – Priority and Prevention as well as the Gender Norms programme. Sithole explains that, “The teams go out into communities and run these two-hour sessions and talk about the impact of gender-based violence.

They refer those who have been abused and need help. The second one, the gender norms programme, but the difference is that they come for two-hour sessions for ten consecutive days. They will sit down and face their own fears and then talk about them and then be referred to other psycho-social and other programmes.”

The target of these workshops are young men such as those that can be found playing soccer outside Bhengu’s house in Orlando East at 12pm on a week day.

They are held daily in Ward 31 Orlando East, are often found through word of mouth and the ground efforts of employees at the organisations. “The teams target organised groups. For instance, they will go to your churches and malls. Other times they would walk up to groups of young men sitting around playing dice and convince them to stop and attend a two-hour session.

Soweto, along with other socially and demographically similar areas of Johannesburg including Alexandra have been specially selected by the organisation for the roll out of its programmes.

The United States Agency for International Development (USAID), the primary funder of the organisation, chose these areas based on research they conducted around the country which identified them as areas in the most need of assistance.

The South African government provides some structural support. While GBV and violence against children are endemic in South Africa and not unique to Soweto and similar areas, they have additional socio-economic challenges including youth unemployment.

The most recent national annual report 2015/16 released by the South African Police Services (SAPS) recorded 33 613 arrests for sexual offences, an increase of 1 649 from 2014/15. The arrests for gender-based harm were 159 390, a decline of 1 268 from the previous year.

The police report goes on to outline four strategies to deal with the underreporting of crimes against women.

Among them are “Involvement of the community via community structures such as the CPFs and law enforcement agencies/force multipliers such as reservists, traffic police, etc. to join SAPS on patrols and to engage with communities to address contact crimes in households (domestic violence, rape etc.); conducting awareness programmes, encourage reporting by community.”

Nthati Phalatsi, a counsellor at a trauma centre, says that most of the victims that they encounter are children. In October 2017, an Orlando East school, a few minutes away from the Orlando East police station, was at the centre of national concern after allegations of sexual assault were made by over 80 pupils against a patroller at the school.

The man was arrested and charged with multiple counts of rape and sexual abuse. The trial which was due to start on November 1 was postponed till the end of November for further investigations.

Most of these are brought by concerned community members. In some cases, the children come on their own. Phalatsi was a victim of sexual abuse at the age of 15 at the hands of a stranger at a cousin’s house.

Years later as an adult, she would be subjected to physical abuse at the hands of her boyfriend and father of her eight-year-old son.

“I was beaten when I was pregnant. I was one month pregnant then and I thought that after that he would stop. I never laid charges against him.”

She goes on to provide a harrowing account of her ordeal with the calm and resignation of someone who has made some kind of peace with her past. She never thought to lay any charges against him.

She did not consider that a viable option despite being encouraged to do so at the hospital. “Now I’m able to tell people, ‘Why don’t you?’ because I’ve been there.”

The underreporting of crimes, Makhaya says, has also been one of the biggest hurdles to their work. “There is a feeling that nothing gets done and therefore people do not report and get the help they need,” he says.

He reveals that many victims of abuse that attend their programmes do not receive the necessary help they need after the workshops because they do not feel comfortable talking to professionals.

The organisation does not provide professional help for GBV. They recommend suitable candidates to the relevant professionals that some will forfeit.

The courts are where the final barriers to prosecution of these crimes lie, with many of the cases withdrawn before and during trial. In 2012/13, only 19 549 of the 92 161 reported domestic violence and GBV cases that were opened went to trial.

In 2013, parliament released its report on the ‘Statistics and figures relating to Violence Against Women in South Africa’ and identified the challenges to accessing statistics on violence against women.

“Statistics are almost impossible to access because domestic violence itself is not in itself a crime category.”

While the law requires station commanders, under the Domestic Violence Act 116 of 1998 to keep a special record of incidents in the Domestic Violence Register, this is not consistent across police stations. The register reports of each station are not accessible and not referenced in the national police statistics.

Bhengu reflects on the most personal witness of the human effects of a failure to report cases of abuse. Late last year, a friend confided in her about years of rape that she had been subjected to since childhood and throughout her teenage years that she had never reported and never confronted.

“One day she told me ‘I was molested me and raped at a time when I was still a baby.’ She said that this had been haunting her for years and she finally had to tell someone. I cried when she told me. She was my friend and an old woman like me, can you imagine?” Bhengu says as she tearfully reflects.

At the heart of Bhengu’s descriptions of the perpetrators is the common thread by which they are tied – “ordinary”. Ordinary or as Bhengu refers to them, “mediocre men from middle class families”.

“When this rape started, all the people who were doing it were mediocre men, people who were educated!” she says, almost in disbelief. Common, unexceptional, regular men. Fathers, uncles, teachers.

Men with no known criminal past for which they would stand out. Men who are aware of the advantage they had, that they were trusted. “This thing is so difficult because even real fathers do it. We have to be careful.”

However, she says, working mothers, by no fault of their own, cannot always keep track of and notice unusual behaviour in their spouses and children. She remembers a case that she dealt with during her time as a trauma counsellor when a child had been referred by a teacher on suspicion of some form of abuse.

This was not unusual. She had to explain to the child’s mother, an alcoholic reeking of brandy that morning that her husband had been responsible for abusing her child. The woman was initially in denial but gradually put the pieces together, breaking down in tears.

For Sithole, it was concerning that there were “not enough men’s programmes and information targeted towards men” in these communities. While that has improved in the years since he joined the organisation, he does not believe that nearly enough has been done to address the issue.

Like the people at Isizinda Sempilo and Phalatsi, Bhengu believes that it is crucial to have people in the community talking openly.

She believes that family and societal secrecy as well as the failure to effectively address the behaviour of young boys, are what have allowed this violence against women and children to continue in Soweto. She believes that many families are complicit. Often, she says, families prefer to keep these cases behind closed doors.

“In most cases here, if a child gets raped, they call it a family affair. The elders will get together and demand money from the man to keep quiet about the cases,” Bhengu says.

“They never used to talk about it but we have to. It has to get better”.

FEATURED IMAGE: Community members fight against high crime rates in the city. Photo: Files.


Down Vilakazi street with the sons and daughters of Mandela


In living colour: A portrait of late president Nelson Mandela on a side-walk inVilakazi street, Soweto, Johannesburg.                                                                                                  Photo: Mfuneko Toyana

Nelson Mandela’s former home on the famous Vilakazi street in Orlando West, Soweto, was a powerful  magnet today, attracting hundreds of people hoping to celebrate the life of the former president and pay their respects to the late icon.

Although entry into the pristine red-brick house, now a museum, was temporarily barred, many people milled around its gates taking pictures, signing messages on a large portrait of Mandela hanging from the fence. Visitors also laid flowers and lit candles at a steadily growing memorial under a sign reading “Goodbye Tata.”

ANC Mkonto weSizwe Miltary Veteran’s Association (ANCMKMVA) member Oupa Mabe, who first met Mandela on Robben Island in 1987, described the atmosphere as “ambivalent” while struggle songs rose up from the streets outside Mandela’s former home.

“People are having mixed feelings about this … Others are sad and others want to celebrate. If you say we should be sad then you are trying to undermine the contribution of a legend, what he has left for us a unifier and as a great leader.”

Mabe, dutifully signing coordinating the signings of the large portrait-print of Mandela and handing out markers to children eager to pen goodbye messages to the late president, recalled that the first thing Mandela said to him on the first day of his 28-year sentence: “Young man go and learn. Go and educate yourself so that one day you can lead.”

Former press secretary for Winnie Madikizela-Mandela, Rose Nkosi, echoed Mabe’s sentiments as she haggled with a vendor over the price for a book of portraits of Nelson Mandela.

“I am disturbed as our father has passed away.” Nkosi said despite this sadness that we were feeling, Mandela’s passing was an opportunity to renew faith in the principles, especially education, which he lived for.

Rubbing a hand over Mandela’s face on the cover of her newly purchased book, Nkosi said the written word and pictures provided a powerful tool for teaching future generations about the man and his “dedication to education”.

Letlogonolo Mogapi, a Unisa student from Pretoria, dedicated her pursuit of an engineering degree to Nelson Mandela.

“If it was not for Mandela we would not even be in school right now… [pullquote]Ga ne re gola, if you were black, it was either you studied nursing or you were a teacher.[/pullquote] You would never find an engineer back then. He was not struggling for freedom [alone] he fought for education and we thank him for that.”


Teach One: Letlhogonolo Mogapi and Thutelo Refilwe came from Pretoria to say goodbye to Mandela.                                                                                                                                                                    Photo: Mfuneko Toyana

Even as the rain clouds gathered and threatened to unleash another violent Highveld storm, the singing and dancing in celebration of the life of Nelson Mandela continued on Vilakazi street.