Remembering Eudy, KwaThema’s brightest, killed on its darkest night

“She started to kick the ball when she was crawling,” her mother told the Sowetan. As a toddler, she cried when the ball went flat. It would be years before Eudy had a regulation-size football, but, until then, starting around age five, she played street soccer with boys along a warren of alleys and side roads near her grandmother’s home.

Designers infused with idealism intended KwaThema to replicate garden cities in Europe and the United States with play areas and allotments on which families could grow produce. In reality, greenbelts sketched on planning documents became buffer zones to segregate KwaThema from Brakpan and Springs, coal- and gold-mining towns established in the late 19th century, and to limit blacks’ freedom of movement and access to opportunity. According to a history of Johannesburg-area housing, open spaces—only now being appropriated, here and there, as soccer fields as part of 2010 World Cup legacy funding—remained “undeveloped veld, dumping grounds for car wrecks and havens for vagrants and criminals.”

These brown stretches of Gauteng steppe, over which dust and haze hung low, formed the frontier of Eudy’s known world as a schoolgirl. Growing up, she stuck to routine, soccer filling gaps between school, study and sleep. Grandmother Elizabeth remembers that Eudy would present miniature match reports on return from football training. Eudy liked television and Rasta music, especially Bob Marley and Lucky Dube, a Mpumalanga musician himself murdered in 2007 in a Johannesburg suburb. Teachers at Qedusizi primary and Phulong secondary schools encouraged her athleticism. Photos from secondary school show Eudy with placid expression, hair trimmed, long-sleeve white shirt and vest covering a broad torso.

Mally and Khotso Simelane

Khotso Simelane (right) wears the Arsenal scarf Eudy brought from London.

She grew to be as tall as her mother, close to 1.75m, and stout, almost the prototypical South African woman player, according to national-team manager Fran Hilton-Smith. Eudy’s world expanded on her discovery by Joseph “Skesh” Mkhonza, a former player for Kaizer Chiefs with a history of developing women footballers, including Hilton-Smith, in Gauteng. For the national side Eudy was a central midfielder, positioned in front of the defense, “very strong, very good with the head, stable, lovely girl, quiet, pleasant,” Hilton-Smith recalls.

Eudy’s attachment to football did not make full impact on the family until she received her first call-up to Banyana Banyana at 21 and began traveling across the country, throughout Africa and to tournaments and friendly matches in Europe. Women’s football in South Africa suffered the same international isolation as the men’s game with the additional handicap of gender discrimination, writes Martha Saavedra in a 2004 survey. Amateur women’s sides played curtain-raisers as early as the 1960s, but a national program for women did not start until 1993.

Eudy’s parents never saw her play for the national team. Travel times and logistics, even to Johannesburg, are prohibitive given a lack of efficient public transit. But brother Bafana, also a footballer, accompanied her to training sessions and games. Father Khotso watched her play in school and township matches.

Until her death, even after being dropped from the national-team player pool as the result of a coaching change, Eudy played for Tsakane Ladies in a neighboring township. Her devotion to football did not lessen with age. She became one of the first women in South Africa to earn refereeing certification. Following from her practice of organizing impromptu girls’ and boys’ teams in her youth, Eudy helped Mkhonza with administration of women’s soccer in Gauteng.

She was the family’s breadwinner, its center. In KwaThema she provided HIV/AIDS counseling and also worked with the handicapped. In May 08, Eudy planned to start a job with a pharmaceutical company in Pretoria.

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