The World Cup in a township: Mini World Cup in Mitchell’s Plain
During his “normal” life Brian, one of our FIFA-volunteer colleagues, is working with kids and young football players in the area he’s living in – Mitchell’s Plain. On June 16th, the South African Youth Day, he’d invited us to accompany him to the “Mini World Cup”, where 16 high schools were competing with each other, each representing one of the World Cup teams! It was a great experience for us where we’ve learned a lot about the youth in a townhip.
Mitchell’s Plain is the largest township of Cape Town; almost 1.8 million people, mainly coloureds, are living here. When we entered the township via the Eisleben Road, coming from Muizenberg, we were surprised by the clean, wide avenue we were following, and the palms and nice houses along the road. We only had known Khayelitsha, Langa and Gugulethu a little bit, and this was quite different!
From Brian, who is a coloured, too, we’ve learned that there are different areas in Mitchell’s Plain, wealthier and poorer ones. The Mini World Cup was taking place in at the Portland sports field in Rocklands which belongs to the wealthier areas. After our arrival Brian introduced us to some people who had initiated the tournament, for example the former finance minister of South Africa and actual Minister in the Presidency in charge of the National Planning Commission, Trevor Manuel, and the coach of Santos, the professional soccer club of Cape Town!
The whole day we’ve been treated as VIPs; Brian introduced us to everyone, and during lunch time we even were guests in the VIP lounge! We hadn’t expected that… With us two other volunteers were visiting this event: Alejandro from Mexico, who speaks almost perfect German with a funny Swiss accent (he’d learned German in a Swiss school in Mexico City), and Adrian from Cordoba, Argentina.
An elderly woman told us that she was happy we were visiting this event, and she invited us to visit the people to see how nice they are. She explained that coloureds often feel like the spread in a sandwich between the blacks and the whites, but then – with a smile – she said: “But you know, the filling of a sandwich is the best of it!”
The Mini World Cup had started the weekend before, and the Youth Day was the last day with the Semifinals and the Final. The teams of 16 high schools had adopted the name and jerseys of one of the participating Soccer World Cup teams. They really looked like the originals, with the right colours and flags!
We met the teams of Germany (Oval North High School), Brazil (Westridge High) and England (Mondale) with their 15-18 year old players.
We followed the matches and saw excellent football. Eventually “England” won the trophy – a sign for the “real” World Cup…?
The players of the winning team got a special price they keenly fighted for: All of them got tickets for the next World Cup match in Cape Town, for the match Portugal vs. North Korea! This Mini World Cup really was a great idea!
During our stay Brian introduced us to some of the most promising soccer talents and the rising stars of the Under-20-South African football.
Westridge High goalkeeper Zane Gasnola (16 years old) plays in the Under 20-Youth of Santos, one of the professional Soccer Clubs in Cape Town. He is a rising star in the South African Premier Soccer League, and he’d already successfully replaced the first choise keeper of Santos during a match against Ajax Cape Town.
Ricardo (15) is a striker in the Youth of Santos and an artist with the ball. He studies at Mondale High and became the “man of the tournament” in this Mini World Cup!
Brian told us that of course a lot of kids want to become a soccer star, but they don’t have a lot of possibilities. Some schools even don’t have their own field to play soccer, and the families often are very poor. In the poorer areas of Mitchell’s Plain they have a lot of problems with drugs, and the kids have to be motivated to go to school instead of following the criminal way. In the afternoon we visited one of those poorer areas where another festival took place which celebrated the Youth Day.
The Youth Day has its roots in 1974, when on June 16th the Soweto riots had started and a black schoolboy had been shot by the police.
The sports field we entered had no community hall or VIP lounge. Here the parents had organized a small festival to celebrate the Youth Day. All food and drinks were given to the community as a gift, and so a warm pea soup could be served to the kids in a plastic cup.
A man told me that at this event they try to convince the children about the importance of education, and that they have to go to school to earn a better life. Drugs and gangs were a big problem in his area, he complained. And those youngsters who should listen to what the parents have to say were not here, he added disappointed. So it seems to be a long way to get rid of the influence of the apparently easy life under the influence of drugs and crime…
Here we met another up-and-coming soccer player, the only 14-years-old (but 20-years-old looking) Nishaat Wessels, who is a successful defender in the Under-15-Youth of Santos.
Everybody was friendly and asked me to take a picture of him or her, and I had a nice conversation with some guys sitting near the field. One of them could speak a little bit German, and he told me, that in 1985 they had to learn it at school! But today it’s different.
This was a very impressive day, and again we’ve learned something new about life in a township, especially the life of kids and youngsters. And this is very important to understand life in South Africa. So, if you are new to this wonderful country, please visit the townships, too!
This post is also available in: German