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Heroes of Khayelitsha: football from the townships 1

CAPE TOWN/JOHANNESBURG – “There is much excitement amongst our boys. The World Cup is taking place for the first time in Africa and is something every South African can be proud of, especially for young people”. Siphe Dlala is an extraordinary trainer. He isn’t in charge of the big players who will step on to the football fields; he is in charge of boys who come from Cape Town’s largest township, Khayelitsha.

As he talks he keeps one eye on the artificial grass field where two 11 player teams are challenging each other in a friendly game. FIFA exists here too, with its signs and sponsors but Khayelitsha’s sports centre is part of the federation’s social programme, Football for Hope.

The only fully functioning one so far, even though FIFA expects to build twenty of them five in South Africa and another 15 in other African countries. Inaugurated last November it consists of a brick building right in the middle of the township. It is the  centre in which educational activities for young people take place both on the normal football field and on a second dirt field.

“The centre was financed by FIFA but it belongs to the city of Cape Town”, explains Xolani Magqwaka, 28 years old and manager of Grassroots Soccer, an NGO funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation that promotes projects in several African countries that use sport as a means for social change. This organization manages the centre “as if FIFA had provided the hardware and we the software” says Xolani, with a masterful grasp of Microsoft’s language.

“During the centre’s six months of existence 500 boys have passed through here; we try to involve them in different types of prevention programmes, from drugs to violence. We regularly organize junior and senior tournaments, together with the township’s other football leagues, and other sporting events; always with the aim of using football to pass on a message. AIDS is the biggest challenge”.

It is estimated that in Khayelitsha there are 80 thousand adults with AIDS and South Africa takes the unfortunate world record of having the largest number of HIV positive people, around 5.7 million.

“People are reluctant to go to clinics to be tested for HIV because it is like admitting that they may have a problem”, explains Xolani. “So, during some of our tournaments we create a friendly atmosphere in which to be tested, right next to the field where the matches take place When the tests are positive, we immediately put the person in touch with health structures to start the treatment. But so far this hasn’t happened very often. The main aim is to encourage them to stay negative and to be responsible for their actions”.

Along with the sporting activities, Grassroots soccer has set up a course in citizen journalism financed by Sony.

The workshops are carried out in one of the centre’s classrooms and seven young people follow the course, all of whom had to go through a selection process.

“The lessons teach them the basics of journalism and photography”, says Xolani, who adds that “the next step they have to take is to go back to their communities and find out what its needs are, tell the township’s stories. Their perspective is certainly a different one to that which an outside reporter may have. We hope that these skills will help them to find a job in this field of work”.

A boy wearing a red shirt has, in the meantime, performed an astounding sequence of tackles. About a hundred children have surrounded the field and are watching the game. For now, their heroes are here.

By Emanuela World Cup correspondent

Visit the photogallery about Khayelitsha Football For Hope centrePictures by Emanuela Citterio

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  1. siphokazi says:

    It is nice to see that there is still people caring about the future of the children growing them into sport. I m also one of the people who is doing all that but im struggle to get sponsor for these young stars cause i just started a team in Khayelitsha about 6 month from now .Ireally need help.Thanks

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