Friday, 16 September 2011

Courting Development

It is getting late, the sun already set. A wind sweeps across the Cape Flats bringing with it the ocean chill. She walks alone through the bushy field, pointed home. Then something moves, stirs in the dark. It frightens, but she has no choice but to push on.

Moments later a young, broken body lies cold and lifeless, alone. A colder man, stinking of rape and murder, creeps away like a ghost into the night.

Morning brings discovery, one that shakes the small community of Heideveld to its core. In particular, sixteen year-old Sadick da Silva is moved to youthful anger by the gruesome murder of his sister’s best friend.

Nellie Court in Manenberg where CFSD held clinics and a street tournament in early 2010.

Sadick and a group of friends take matters into their own hands. Borrowing tools from around the neighbourhood, they fall upon the overgrown bush, the murderer's nest, hacking away until is clear. Their actions cannot restore a life, but never again will the bush be an accomplice to such things.

The year is 1971. The young people’s anger gives new life to a space which becomes a communal field, a place where children laugh, play and grow in sports, particularly soccer. The field is reclaimed, transformed, and with it come other changes. Youth Action, an informal “social activist” groupis born.

Nearly forty years later the field is still in use, and da Silva’s life is still married to the beautiful game. Today, his Cape Flats Soccer Development (CFSD) is taking soccer to the streets across twelve Flats communities, each one battling unemployment, poverty, gangs, drugs and crime. This is CFSD’s solution for keeping youth away from negative social influences by engaging them through soccer, a vehicle for education and positive social values.

 “Development is not a moment, a fancy event,” says the soft-spoken Manenberg resident “it is an on going process”. 

Despite having been retrenched in 2008, da Silva has kept CFSD running together with his team of volunteers, many of whom are unemployed, out of the knowledge that these are their children, these are their communities.

“What happens with our kids out of school hours, on weekends and on holidays? This is when they are taking drugs, fighting in gangs and when their minds are bored and open to bad things…if I can keep a child busy for four hours during their free time it can mean the difference between life and death, literally!”

And while the World Cup is over a chance meeting with the Globe-Trotter team of World Tour in sOLidarity - an initiative of French first division club Olympique Lyonnais and its Foundation - has given CFSD a significant boost.

Despite having visited twenty-six countries across Asia, the Americas, Europe and Africa, it was sOLidaire’s time in South Africa during the World Cup, and their meeting with CFSD in particular, that was a highlight of the tour.

So taken with CFSD and its work, the team motivated for the creation of a special “Heart Award”. The result, a R40 000 prize which has been a lifeline and is being used to further the education aspect of CFSD’s work.

“What we are really about is a holistic approach to community upliftment. …It starts with soccer but its really about education,” says da Silva who is using the money to start an education center. They will assist those who did not complete their schooling to improve marks in the hope accessing tertiary education and becoming economically active. A feeding scheme and entrepreneurial training is also part of a future plan.

“We believe,” continues da Silva, “that if we can lift our community, pull it together and have it function properly, and if all communities can do the same, we can have a better South Africa.”

Laurent Arnaud, Secretary General of the Olympique Lyonnais Foundation, says that the award was given as “the mission of CFSD was entirely in agreement with our project: using football as a means of social integration and rehabilitation…we think that CFSD promotes a positive image of football”.

More than this, says globe-trotter team leader Gaspard Moreau, the visit to CFSD gave him an insight into the challenges facing soccer development, and South Africa in general, beyond the stereotypes. It also gave his team a sense of hope to see that so much is being done with so little.

“It was the best because it was an opportunity to see the hidden face of SA, the one that apparently, most of the tourists were not seeing… we saw that the stereotypes we have about some things or places are marginal realities, that there is another part, which is very these areas there are some people trying to live normally, despite of the challenges, and there are some people, such as Sadick, who are making positive action in order to give self-confidence to people.”

And the challenges are very real. One “pitch” (an old parking lot) used by CFSD in Manenberg is a stone’s throw from Die Hok, previous headquarters of the infamous Staggie brothers and their Hard Livings gang. This is symbolic of the reality faced by da Silva and his team as they compete with the full range of social ills that make their offerings less alluring.

The elaborate criminal economy on the Flats, most of which is linked to gang activity, is so pervasive and entrenched in all aspects of community life. A paper published by the Institute for Security Studies in 2003 on organised crime in the Cape Flats highlighted this situation:

“Crime bosses have been known to fund community centres that feed underprivileged children, sponsor local football teams and foot the bill for various community events…it is well known that many local football teams are sponsored by crime bosses who pay for the team’s shirts and training equipment, as well as paying for the upkeep of their sports fields.”

Despite the challenges, small battles are being fought and won. Da Silva tells of an incident when two rival gangs arrived at a venue during a coaching clinic for children, a fight seemed inevitable. The CFSD facilitators, locals with a deep understanding of such dynamics, ushered the children off the pitch and challenged the gangs to fight each other with the soccer ball. No blood was spilled that day.

"Humanity can be divided in to a minority of people who can do a lot with a little and a majority who can do a little with a lot."

Bigger than this, however, are the difficulties that face the organisation going into the future. A lack of local funding or institutional support can be the lifeblood or deathblow to grassroots organisations with limited access to resources and finance.

Da Silva asks what has become of “fly-by-night” soccer-related organisations and projects that sprang up just before the World Cup but who seem to have faded or closed shop to follow the FIFA money train to Brazil. He also asks what is to become the cup’s legacy as well as the near billion Rand given to SAFA by FIFA for local soccer development.

All this begs the question as to what meaningful soccer development should look like in South Africa and who its driving forces might be.

“We have had very little support or recognition locally so to have a foundation linked to a top French soccer team create an award for us is indescribable, its an honour. Personally, I now feel that my hard work of thirty-five years has not been in vain, I am lifted by this and can carry on doing this work to my dying day.”


Loraine Peters is a mother and resident of Nellie Court in Manenberg where CFSD held a street tournament last year. Like many mothers across the Cape Flats she is overwhelmed by the challenges and saddened at the state of affairs in her community. She is a spectator to the wanton violence that claims the lives of her children and their friends.

“These kids are not bad,” she says, “they are just bored. Circumstances at home are difficult with no jobs and family problems. They just need someone to believe in them so they can believe in themselves. Do you see how they shine when they get the smallest amount of praise?”

An example of a homegrown initiative, the CFSD is fueled by the passion of committed individuals with the desire and determination to make a difference, however big or small. After all this kind of development is not about policy documents and intellectual think tanks or high-paying jobs done by outsiders in foreign places but rather a priority that has immediate consequences, positive or negative, for all involved.

Da Silva sees soccer as powerful vehicle for social change, “If we can get across proper values, teach kids about the dangers of drugs, gangs, crime, teen pregnancy and unprotected sex, all of these things, and do this using soccer, then we can help them to lead better lives and change our communities forever”.

Published by South Africa The Good News:
2010 World Cup. One year on, was it worth it?

Wednesday, 29 June 2011

Tour du Monde en sOLidaire:

Pictures by Bram Lammers

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