Goodbye to memory-filled Qokololo Stadium

2010-08-16 00:00

DRIVING past Qokololo Stadium on Moses Mabhida Road (Edendale Road), I suddenly thought of newspaper reports on the construction of a new mall soon to replace this historic venue.

Mixed emotions washed over me. Should I be sad or cheer the change? I started running through some of my best memories about the stadium and lessons learnt from it while growing up.

Back when I was a pupil at the once- dusty Esigodini Primary School, going to Qokololo Stadium to compete in Zulu dancing and drum majorette competitions was one of the trips I always looked forward to. It was like going on a trip to breezy Durban for a carefree swim. On these trips I was rarely found sitting down and admiring the view.

With my homemade fried chicken and polony sandwiches stacked in my backpack, my friends and I would cheer all the way from Esigodini to the stadium or to Durban.

We would sing, “We thish’uMtshali, wazithathaphi izingane ezincane ezishisayo? (where did the late school principal Mtshali get the young and talented pupils from?)

I remember one overcast yet warm day in the middle of summer when I was in Standard 4 (Grade 6). As my Zulu-dancing team-mates and I entered the stadium I was shocked to see how many people there were in that one space. There must have been about 2 000 people in the stadium. On my far left were drum majorettes from Sukuma Comprehensive School in their electric pink, blue, yellow and purple uniforms waving their balloon flags towards the sky. They gracefully stretched their legs wrapped in white silk stockings, making their way across the worn-out grounds.

Further down the field an annoyed-looking drummer from Edendale High School beat the drums to death, while Zulu dancers waved to the cheering crowds. “That means we are next,” I mumbled, and I could feel my heart beating in tune with the dying drums.

We changed into our outfits — brown miniskirts decorated with yellow ribbons, and multicoloured beads across our flat chests. We held hands, making our way onto the field barefoot. We could see fear in other children’s eyes. We could not blame them, as my school was known for winning.

Constance, the leader of my team started the song, “Umthakathi wenza njena owabulala ubaba (the witch who killed my father did this …) and we started clapping. Being the last group on the line, we were under a torturing spotlight. Everybody was staring at us. Some spectators were tired, singing along with us and others were simply making funny faces at us.

While clapping and singing I looked around the stadium and wondered what I was doing in front of so many people. “Hhayibo! Nqo”, I felt a slight pinch on my arm. That was my friend Ntokozo alerting me to join the group. So we started dancing. As the drums beat louder, Qokololo got smaller and smaller. Suddenly I was comfortable in front of the crowd and did my best.

The ground beneath my feet felt tender and moist, and the magic of the rhythm within the stadium fuelled our performance. Our breaths paced each other and we felt a connection with Qokololo. “Woza! Sise Qokololo futhi sizo wina la! (Come. We are at Qokololo and we are here to win) shouted Constance while dancing. I felt a humbling blessing from the stadium.

My older brother, Mnelisi, who was one of the drummers, beat one of the drums so hard that he bore a hole through it. That broke the tension.

“Sekuphelile (it is over),” I whispered to Ntokozo as we all gasped for air. Judges gathered for about five minutes and we were happily announced winners of the day in both Zulu dancing and drum majorettes.

The sun setting behind the horizon called on me to see my way home. I remember looking through the rear window of the moving bus and saying, “This is my Qokololo, the stadium that taught me patience, perseverance and team work.” A stadium that unites all children despite their background dilemmas and challenges they face back at home.

It is sad that Qokololo will not live to inspire my children and other generations as it did me.

If I had known there would come a time when I would say a poignant goodbye to my favourite stadium, I would have done things differently. I would have danced more, carried more fried chicken to share with friends and probably have held a meaningful conversation with God to keep it standing for other generations.

 

 

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