The Imbali soccer boys

2012-01-28 00:00

ALL the years of going to (and sometimes missing) funerals finally hit home recently when I was having beers with some buddies. They were close friends my age and younger, but one of them, who is about 35, stood alone. His best friends, who like him used to be known sportsmen in our neighbourhood, were absent and I knew why. They are dead.

We started talking about the way things are in our community. If you know where Sukuma Secondary School is, you may know the wall across the road from the school that is covered in graffiti and is meant to fence a stadium but actually fences nothing but grass.

Before construction on the stadium began, the original stadium was demolished. I was a child when it existed but it was a vibrant place and I snuck in there when I was 10 years old to see Harry Gwala speak.

When I was a boy I would hear about soccer tournaments being held there but I went to school in town from the time I was eight so I was never a part of them. Coaches would try to recruit me but my mom feared the violence of the time so I played street soccer closer to home when I was not playing at school. Many players who made it to national prominence started out playing at that stadium, but one day it was gone. That is when the transition from political violence to peace took another negative turn.

Many of the people who played soccer and other sports turned to alcohol or drug abuse and sometimes both, and they did not go far in life. Some turned to crime and some became victims of it. Some are in jail and some have died. The neighbourhood has moments when it seems oddly quiet, as if everybody is on holiday or on a sports tour, as used to be the case.

We spoke about the priorities our government seems to have, like the bonuses on top of incredibly high salaries of some, and the renaming of existing buildings and streets, instead of building new facilities that could take those names. We said a lot of things that would offend our leaders and we ended the conversation by shaking our heads, smiling and taking sustained, introspective sips of our beer. It is strange to see everyone celebrating so often. There is way too much partying and not much really to celebrate, except being alive, I guess.

To keep us humble, Ma sent us to schools outside the township so that we could return and make a difference once we were educated. But where does one start when our mighty government seems at a loss itself?

We see communities that are functioning simply because they are well thought out, and because of the same teamwork you learn in sport. Schools and parents ensure that there are extra-mural programmes that keep the pupils busy in the afternoon until the parents finish work. These programmes spill over into weekends, and sometimes become careers. All this happens within the same surroundings. They do not have to leave to find better places to play. Even spectatorship is trained, as other children have to support the teams. It is a platitude, but a healthy body leads to a healthy mind. We need attention in Imbali.

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