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SiyaThemba means 'we hope'

The pitch, as it stands, in Somkhele, located in the Hlabisa municipality of KwaZulu-Natal. (Architecture for Humanity)
Somkhele, South Africa, 23 May 2005 | If there are doubts that we live in one world, consider the intercontinental connections involved in the design competition for a girls' football pitch, named Siyathemba, in this eastern, primarily Zulu province.

Marlena Buczek, originally from Poland, created the winning poster for the area soccer league.

Members of the Somkhele community—youth footballers, nurses and teachers—selected the winner from among nine finalists. The group selected Swee Hong Ng, 29, originally from Singapore and now working at EDGE studio in Pittsburgh. Staged by Architecture for Humanity, a nonprofit based in New York, the competition attracted more than 300 entries with finalists and honorable-mention submissions from Peru, Japan, Sweden, Mexico, Chile and Thailand. The facility, to be built beginning later this year, will become a youth center and venue for health education, aimed primarily at teaching students about HIV/AIDS. It will also host the area's first girls' soccer league. In Ng's renderings, the pitch is semi-enclosed with V-shaped terraces, covered in a canopy of native fabrics.

Update: View a video about the Siyathemba project, including interviews with Swee Hong Ng and organizers, at the Architecture for Humanity website (link opens QuickTime movie file).

'Tigers don't cry' in retirement

Soweto, South Africa, and Leeds, England, 28 April 2005 | The season of testimonial matches has begun. Sunday at Elland Road, Leeds United pay

Leeds rockers Kaiser Chiefs offer football-inspired merchandise. Radebe says he likes the group and knows some of their lyrics.
tribute to the man Nelson Mandela calls "Big Tree," Lucas Radebe. "The Chief"—who began his career with South African superclub Kaizer Chiefs—grew up as one of 12 siblings in the slums of the southwestern Johannesburg township. He survived the transition to England, mentioning the cold, Tetley's bitter and roast beef as especially harsh agents of culture shock. But he has endured 11 seasons, Leeds's financial ruin and relegation— enough to have inspired the name for a local rock band, Kaiser Chiefs, who recently made waves at the South by Southwest Music and Media Conference in Austin, Texas. "Great band," says Radebe. He adds of Leeds: "I love the club, the place, the vibe. . . . But when I leave here I have to be able to walk." Sadly for Kaiser Chiefs, they were pipped in September 2005 for the U.K.'s Nationwide Mercury music prize by U.S.-based Antony [Hegarty] and the Johnsons.

How tight to draw the drawstring

Johannesburg, 9 March 2005 | Perhaps we should just tune out the latest nonsense from women's football functionaries—this time from

South Africa's U-19 women's side. (safa.net)
South Africa—and concentrate on the positives. Ria Ledwaba of the South African Football Association's women's committee has echoed FIFA chief Sepp Blatter's call for tighter-fitting women's uniforms, commenting also on the need for South Africa's distaff players to participate in etiquette workshops: "We need to teach them etiquette and the importance of being a role model," said Ledwaba. "There are mothers out there who won't let their daughters play football because they think they'll start acting like boys." We hope this will not be a concern for the Somkhele girls football team. Team members, between 9 and 14, soon will be picking a winner of the international design competition for their new facility, the first for girls in KwaZulu-Natal. The proposals are featured in the current issue of International Design (Jessie Scanlon, "Playing for Keeps").

Add to Their Tallies the Nobel Prizes in Schmoozing
Tooting riotously on vuvuzelas, South Africans celebrated the World Cup finals that finally had come their way—four years later than expected ("Vuvuzelas Blare from North to South," Sunday Times [Johannesburg], 16 May).

All agreed that with Mandela at the fore, South Africa produced a spectacular bid.
Early analyses of the results from Switzerland credited the influence of the Nobel Prize–winning troika of Nelson Mandela, Archbishop Desmond Tutu and F. W. de Klerk and the emotional meaning that the world's largest sporting event would have for a nation once banished from international competition. Before a thorough discussion of why, on the first ballot, South Africa was able to garner 14 votes of FIFA's executive committee to Morocco's 10, however, the country demonstrated its relief:

Blaring hooters and firecrackers rocked the Five Roses Bowl in Mofolo, Soweto, as thousands of township residents and their white countrymen celebrated. Thrilled residents felt that the South African bid company, led by Irvin Khoza and Danny Jordaan, strengthened their presentation immeasurably by involving Mandela. "He held the ace for us. Mandela represents everything that is good and vibrant and positive about South Africa," said Gugu Sibiya. Mangethe Zwane, a former soccer player for Zola Young Stars, commended Khoza and Jordaan on a job well done. . . . "Doors are opening wide for every South African. A man in the street is guaranteed a job now." (Larry Lombaard and Gillian Jones, "South Africa Jubilant after World Cup News," Mail and Guardian, 16 May)

Mandela, by all accounts, made a poignant presentation to the executive committee the day before its award. Referring to South Africa's expulsion from FIFA in 1976 as well as his own imprisonment, the former president said, "It is 28 years since FIFA took its stand against racially divided football and helped inspire the final story against apartheid. While we were on Robben Island, the only access to the World Cup was on radio. Football was the only joy to prisoners. . . . I can confirm that we are ready, determined, willing and capable, as well as passionate, about hosting the World Cup. You, my friends, have it in your hands to make that dream a reality. As football generated hope on Robben Island, hosting this World Cup will give a certain meaning to this hope" (Grahame L. Jones, "South Africa to Stage Soccer World Cup," Los Angeles Times, 16 May). Others note that Mandela paid more attention to boxing and tennis in his 750-page autobiography, Long Walk to Freedom. Whatever. (For more on football and Robben Island, see the gleanings entry for 27 April 2004 below.)

Even with Mandela's presentation, though, the London Daily Telegraph reports that committee members required last-minute hotel-room schmoozing to seal the arrangement (Mihir Bose, "How South Africa Swung the Vote in Their Favor," 17 May). According to the Telegraph account, a block of four votes—three from the Central American, North American and Caribbean nations and one from Oceania— controlled by CONCACAF chief Jack Warner changed hands from Morocco to South Africa in a last hotel-room encounter, with Mandela waiting in his suite until 30 minutes before the final announcement lest he be publicly humiliated. That final swing means some 21 billion South African rand ($3.1 billion) in income, 150,000 jobs and untold residual effects (Rowan Philip and Andrew Donaldson, "Economic Cup Will Overflow," Sunday Times [Johannesburg], 16 May). One residual effect relates to Mandela himself: a 110-meter statue in the Port Elizabeth harbor mouth, called the Statue of Freedom, that could be fast-tracked for completion by 2009. On 18 July 2010, Mandela would turn 92.

South Africans Hope Freedom a Harbinger for Football
With awarding of the 2010 FIFA World Cup less than three weeks away, timing of South Africa's Freedom Day and the 10th anniversary of its first

Nelson Mandela with one of the supporters of South Africa's bid. (AP)
nonracial elections could not have been more fortuitous. Once viewed as a certainty, that South Africa will host the 2010 event has been cast into doubt by Morocco, whose bid is backed by Spain and France and is apparently favored by the United States. At the inauguration commemorating President Thabo Mbeki's second term, FIFA's delegation no doubt will have prominence among the 40,000 celebrants (Rory Carroll, "South Africa Rolls Out Red Carpet," The Guardian). Gaining the World Cup, Carroll notes, has formed a centerpiece of an HIV/AIDS-prevention group's billboard advertising campaign. "Separated by a football, a young man and woman gaze down with a simple message, 'Love to be there 2010.' Translation: if you want to be around to watch the matches, practise safe sex and avoid HIV." (Not to worry, though: David Beckham is on record backing South Africa.)

Other sources on World Cup 2010

FIFA has posted its inspection group report on the five bidding groups (link opens PDF file), in which South Africa is rated highest. The report is not binding on the 24-member executive committee that, on 15 May, will decide who hosts the event. The International Herald Tribune calls the decision "one of the most significant votes in the history of sports." The body of FIFA's report is worth perusing, if only for small insights into the bidding process. The suits from FIFA, for example, attended a match in Morocco between Raja and WAC, both of Casablanca. "Even though this match was hotly disputed with some excessively aggressive play at times . . . , the crowd displayed remarkable compusure, and not a single object was thrown onto the pitch" (p. 48).

When football and Africa come together, race is central, nowhere more so than in South Africa. Curiously, part of the strength of South Africa's bid is its ability to represent black Africa, though its reacceptance into FIFA in 1992 followed some 30 years of exclusion for a refusal to field mixed-race international sides. Now the nation serves as a touchstone for forward-thinking conversations about race issues: "Many whites, I wouldn't say all, have a particular stereotype of black people," Mbeki told Johannesburg's Mail and Guardian in 2001. "They would deny it, but it's true. They see black people as lazy, basically dishonest, thieving, corrupt. 'They can't really govern any country. Look at what's happened in the rest of Africa.' That would be the argument" (quoted in Sharon LaFraniere, "After Reconciliation, Steering South Africa to a Reckoning," New York Times).

Interesting is to trace football's development through the apartheid era and its consistent importance to black communities. Football grounds were homes for political rallies; even on Robben Island, where Nelson Mandela, prisoner 466/64, was held for 18 years, football was played on Saturdays. "Football is one of those sports which used to sustain us," said inmate Patrick Mathanjana in History of Football: The Beautiful Game,

in terms of not thinking about home, not thinking about your sentence. . . . On [Saturday] each and every section must come with its own best team. Everybody is determined, he's ready. You know, he goes all out. They must win, these guys. And then we even go to the extent of buying books, so that we must know when they say a man is offside, how do they say so? We buy all those books, but only to find out when we buy that book, another one is going to tell us, "No, no! That book is an old book." So we've got to get a new book. It's quite a struggle. Days and days, months and months, discussing about this.

Mandela, although officially uncommitted, is believed to support Orlando Pirates, a Soweto side that includes on its website an account of the 1976 uprising and the Orlando township's involvement. Archbishop Desmond Tutu, along with Mandela, will be lobbying CONCACAF at its congress this weekend in Grenada. Archbishop Tutu also used the pulpit at Holy Trinity Cathedral in Port-of-Spain, Trinidad, to implore parishioners: "You can help us if you can make these people who decide the soccer venue. Tell them there is no other country really but South Africa to be the host of the World Soccer Cup" (Rob Hughes, "South Africa's World Cup Bid Gains Official Blessing," International Herald Tribune, 6 May). (For much more background on South Africa, the recent elections and race relations, see the BBC election site, National Public Radio's "Mandela: An Audio History," and chapter 14 of Simon Kuper's Football against the Enemy, "Mandela at Helderfontein.")

  • Swansea, Wales, and Isandlwana, South Africa | 15 August 2003 . . . Lest a perfectly good pitch go to waste, a Swansea University student is raising funds to move an astroturf field to a primary school in the Click for Isandlwana informationKwaZulu-Natal province ("Anna's Ambitious Pitch—Swansea to South Africa," News Wales). Anna Lane has approached the Royal Navy for help in transport, along with Zulu chiefs for permission to move the pitch there. The village, on 22 January 1879, was the site of a key engagement in the Anglo-Zulu War. "Tents were being struck, oxen hitched to wagons," according to one account. "At 12 o'clock the camp was attacked by 24,000–25,000 Zulu warriors, using the tactics of the horns of the buffalo. The Zulus . . . surrounded the camp[,] annihilating 1,329 British soldiers." | back to top