More than just a game

2008-02-07 00:00

When one speaks of games, the likes of dibeke, induku and mlabalaba might not readily come to mind. Not yet anyway. If Nathi Nyoka has his way, these indigenous games will be recognised as readily as rugby, cricket and even soccer.

Thirty-six-year-old Nyoka has dedicated most of his adult life to a major challenge; that of getting traditional games recognised and, more importantly, played regularly. It has been a trying and, at times, emotional journey for Nyoka as he has sought support.

“When I matriculated, a group of us from my home township, Sobantu, wanted to do something to help the community. We formed the Environment Club and tried to help initiate various community projects,” Nyoka explains. The group was initially a purely social endeavour, but as time went on, certain members tried to politicise it, which ultimately led to its downfall.

Nyoka had, in the meantime, attained a diploma in social empowerment and development through African Enterprise. During that stint, he met several people who planted the seed of passion for indigenous games. Nyoka saw it as a viable means to contribute to the community. His vision was not matched by sceptical Sport and Recreation department administrators however, and he was often a source of ridicule when he sought to reveal his plans at council meetings.

Nyoka briefly loses his bubbly personality as he recalls the abuse that he had to endure for trying to get support for his plans. “People would laugh in my face, asking me if I really expected to be taken seriously,” he says. “But I kept on hoping that the day would come when we would be recognised.

That day did come, and today Nyoka is recognised countrywide as one of the pioneers who have campaigned for the games to such an extent that the government has recognised their plight. This is not to say that it is all plain sailing. The father of two is not employed; he is simply an activity co-ordinator at the KwaZulu-Natal Department of Sport and Recreation, a voluntary position that, roughly translated, means that he wears a department shirt but still struggles to make ends meet.

He travels the length and breadth of the province, and South Africa for that matter, organising events and spreading the games’ gospel. He proudly reels off the districts in the province that have taken up the games, with such enthusiasm that KZN is the champion dibeke province in the country. Dibeke, the main game, is commonly known as “shumpu” and, as Nyoka explains, it has rules, referees and attire.

It is small things like matching kit that have helped to get the games accepted in communities. “Initially people thought that it was a waste of time and didn’t want to join. But when they saw the team in their kit, and heard murmurings of national events and a real team emphasis, the interest grew.”

The fact that dibeke stipulates that teams are made up of six boys and six girls encourages gender interaction. This has created a problem at times, with parents reluctant to send their children to competitions, worried about the consequences of boys and girls together. Nyoka explained that all he is providing is a means for these children to do something positive and bring pride to their family and community.

Having finally been recognised nationally, Nyoka and other administrators are now looking to broaden their horizons. “At the All Africa Games some of the events there are not particularly ‘African’. So we are trying to get incorporated in there somehow, because these games are entrenched in African culture and many of them are practised across the continent in similar forms.” He says that this venture was inspired by looking at American culture, where indigenous sports like American football and baseball are very popular and a source of great pride. “Why, then, not here in Africa, with our own games?”

South Africa is set to take part in an international games expo, tentatively pencilled in for this year, in Japan. Teams will demonstrate each of the eight games, with a view to selecting some international codes for a “world cup”. The excitement and fierce pride is evident as Nyoka contemplates how far his once far-fetched dream has come.

On the local front, Nyoka is keen to form a league for dibeke. To do this without a sponsor is a challenge, but Nyoka is optimistic.

As he heads off to the latest in a string of workshops to introduce the games to more people, the sparkle in Nyoka’s eye is distinct. It is abundantly clear that to him, this is not a game anymore. It is a way of life.

The eight indigenous games

• Dibeke (shumpu) — a team game, played on a large field.

• Induku — combat-style stick fighting.

• Mlabalaba — a popular board game.

• Khokho — a running game.

• Juksei — a target game.

• Inqathu — a skipping game.

• Incuva — another board game.

• Amagende — a township game, played with stones.

Dibeke rules

The game is played on a field that is 60 metres long and 40 metres wide.

The main playing area is a strip, similar to a cricket pitch, where the attackers score their points. The defenders are scattered around this strip. The manner in which you accrue points is similar to baseball and cricket, in that you are out if the defenders tag you with the ball.

Instead of a bat, as in cricket or baseball, the dibeke attackers kick the ball (a soccer ball) and defenders can use their hands to pass the ball to each other in an effort to tag the attackers. Once the ball is in play, the game is basically a challenge for the opposition to score as many points, up and down the strip, as possible. Once all the attackers are out, the defenders then get their turn to attack.

There is a time limit, though, with two halves of 40 minutes. If the attacking team is not dismissed, the remaining players can carry on attacking for the duration of the match, to be declared the winners.

Each team consists of 12 players, six girls and six boys.

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