South Africa’s World Cup untold story

Reading time 6 min.

Less than seven miles from the carefully crafted glitter of Soccer City, the host complex for the World Cup, two legendary South African football players told fascinating often fearsome stories that powerful people want suppressed.

Two days before the World Cup championship match won by Spain “Smiley” Moosa and Nkosi Molala spoke at a community center in Soweto discussing their lives under apartheid and that ugly era’s lingering legacy on South African society.

Moosa and Molala – of Indian and African descent respectively – both made their marks on South African soccer in the 1970s. South Africa’s then rigid racial categories barred these talented players from South Africa’s whites-only premier squads including the national team.

Moosa holds the distinction of being the first non-white ever to play for an all-white soccer club in South Africa. Moosa’s skills and light skin color earned him that short-lived elevation where he was forced to use the name Arthur Williams to further disguise his ethnic identity.

Current discriminatory practices caused Moosa to file a lawsuit against horse racing authorities in South Africa where he now works as a race announcer.

Molala, lauded for his fancy footwork, holds the distinction of being the first South African soccer star ever imprisoned for anti-apartheid activism.
Molala spent seven years in the infamous Robben Island prison that held Nelson Mandela, South Africa’s first black president and Jacob Zuma, that nation’s current president.

Molala lost an eye during an assault by South African soldiers a year after his 1985 prison release while leading a funeral service for people killed by police during an anti-rent boycott in Soweto.

Incredibly, despite their once star-status Moosa and Molala both said they have been excluded from the World Cup spotlight that has raised the international stature of South Africa, the first African country to host the Cup since the inception of that international event in 1930.

“We are the pioneers and we are pushed aside,” said Moosa, whose professional soccer career – including play in England – began at age 16 and lasted until he was 39. Molala noted philosophically that, “History is always the history of those in charge. It is so political.”

Moosa and Molala, both in their late fifties, remain active in the sport that defined their lives.

Moosa coaches and often plays soccer outshining players half his age. He is a critic of the caliber of soccer today in his homeland. South Africa is the first World Cup host nation whose team lost in the first round of play.
One of Molala’s many endeavors is training inmates to be soccer referees, an anti-crime initiative for both the prisoners and the underprivileged youths they would work with.

Moosa and Molala both spoke on a panel entitled “Football, Sport, Memory, and Apartheid” one of a series of forums sponsored by the Khulumani Support Group examining how the mega-bucks benefits from the World Cup were by-passing impoverished South Africans. The Methodist Central Mission in the Jabavu section of the sprawling Soweto Township located outside Johannesburg served as the site for these forums.

South Africa’s Minister of Finance, Pravin Gordham, boasted in a widely published June 2010 newspaper commentary that low-income families received wages totaling 7.3 percent of his government’s $227-million investment in projects upgrading transportation and telecommunication infrastructures for the World Cup “…therefore contributing to reduction in poverty.”

However, according to another panel participant, Gordham’s view is challenged by people on the lowest rungs of South Africa’s economic ladder where many non-white communities ringing urban areas like Johannesburg remain without electricity and rely upon communal toilets.

“The World Cup has robbed many of us. It only speaks to a selected few. South Africa’s Soccer Team players get [big salaries] while people in the streets need food and money for electricity,” said Tapuwa Moore, an actress, gender activist, poet and former coach of the Chosen Few Lesbian Soccer Club.

The World Cup sparked euphoria across South Africa caused many inside and outside that nation to view the Cup as a catalyst for sustaining improved interracial unity in the post-apartheid era but some like Moore are skeptical. “If this unity can stop discrimination then soccer will be beneficial.”

That World Cup engendered euphoria did not dissipate increasing concerns that post-apartheid economic and social benefits have fallen far short of expectations.

Two days before that Soweto forum, anti-apartheid icon Bishop Desmond Tutu criticized South Africa’s power structure, particularly its ruling elite, during remarks to those attending the Highway Africa Conference and the World Journalism Educators Congress at Rhodes University in Grahamstown, located nearly one thousand kilometers from Soweto in South Africa’s Eastern Cape region.

“The powerful today are un-white and they do and say things that are totally invariance with the things that drove [our] struggle,” said the Noble Peace Prize winning Tutu urging journalists to “speak truth” to those in power instead of trying to curry favor.

“We can’t afford the levels of poverty in this country that we know people are enduring. It’s subversive,” Tutu noted. “We can’t afford bad schools. We are sitting on powder keg. I’m not trying to scare anyone but our country deserves better.”

South Africa’s ruling African National Congress (ANC) factored into remarks of the fourth presenter at that Soweto forum when referencing an effort to honor the anti-apartheid hero highlighted during that forum, Dr. Abu-Baker Asvat.

Asvat is lauded both for his medical generosities to the impoverished and his activism that included efforts to reduce racial barriers in sports during the apartheid era.

Ironically, implicated in the brutal 1989 murder of Dr. Asvat was anti-apartheid luminary Winnie Madikizela-Mandela, a close friend and patient of Asvat.

While Mandela, currently an ANC official, vigorously denied any involvement in Asvat’s murder and was never charged in that crime officially captioned a robbery-gone- awry, she did tell Asvat’s family during her 1997 Truth and Reconciliation Commission appearance that she was “deeply sorry” for things that went “horribly wrong.”

Soccer writer Teery Jeevanantham said the ANC opposes the effort to place Dr. Asvat’s name on a road between Soweto and Lenasia – black and Indian townships respectively during the apartheid-era.

“Dr. Asvat is a hero who sacrificed his medical practice to protest. The ANC wants to name that road after someone else,” said Jeevanantham, a former soccer player like the three other forum participants. “There seems to be a blind spot in this country when it comes to sports.”

Hassen Lorgat, moderator of the panel and organizer of the Khulumani series, framed the “Football, Sport” presentation by reminding those in attendance that people used all kinds of weapons to battle against apartheid.

“Some people fought with rocks and guns. Some fought with music and poetry. Some fought with football,” said Lorgat, a respected soccer player during his youth.

People inside and outside of South Africa supported sports boycotts as a method to pressure that nation to end apartheid.

FIFA, the international governing body for World Cup competition alternately supported and opposed apartheid.

“Football is no different from difficulties found in other sectors where there are fights for democratization,” pointed out Nkosi Molala, whose affiliations include a ranking position with the politically active Azanian People’s Organization (AZAPO).

The Other Afrik  The Other Afrik is an alternative and multi-faceted information source from Afrik-News' panel of experts. Contributions include : opinions, reviews, essays, satires, research, culture and entertainment news, interviews, news, information, info, opinion, africa, african-american, europe, united states, international, caribbean, america, middle east, black, France, U.K.
Linn Washington Jr
Linn Washington Jr is an award-winning journalist who writes a weekly column for The Philadelphia Tribune. A graduate of the Yale Law Journalism Fellowship, Washington writes regularly on issues involving law, the criminal justice system, news media and inequities involving race and/or class. This ’information junkie’ teaches multi-media urban reporting at Temple University in Philadelphia, Pa. He lives in New Jersey and frequently travels abroad.
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