I sometimes wonder whether SA’s contribution (with due apologies to all the Bafana Bafana) is not so much there is a national team but the essential subtext that football provides in that nation’s struggle against apartheid.
A few days ago, Sepp Blatter and his FIFA cronies set foot on Robben Island, a notorious former jail of anti- apartheid activists. Nelson Mandela spent a large part of his 27 years of imprisonment in Robben Island.
A subterranean football league developed in Robben Island in the 60′s to keep their spirits alive.
” For years, political prisoners had to fight for the right to play football on the island, with men secretly playing the game in their cells with balls made of pieces of paper, cardboard and rags held together with string.”
In 1967, the authorities finally relented and the Makana FA were born. However, Robben Island’s most famous inmate, Nelson Mandela along with Walter Sisulu and Ahmed Katrada were not allowed to watch a single soccer match.
The story of the Makana FA came alive in the movie “More than Just a Game” which premiered in 2007.
As Anant Singh, the producer puts it, “They all banded together and tried to survive, enduring some of the harshest conditions known to man, using football as a means to build moral and mutual respect.”
The film premiere was attended by the original five Robben Islanders on whom the film is based, namely Mark Shinners, Anthony Suze, Lizo Sitoto, Sedick Isaacs and Marcus Solomon. The premiere also saw Michel Platini, Franz Beckenbaueur, and the representatives of about a 100 football associations in attendance at Robben Island.
The present president of SA, Jacob Zuma was a Robben Island inmate and was also a referee for the Makana FA. On Thursday FIFA president Blatter “promoted” Zuma to be an honorary FIFA referee.
The Makana FA which now no longer exists was given honorary membership of FIFA in 2007.
However, their contribution to soccer was immeasurable. 42 years after what was considered a small inmate rebellion, the world’s largest spectacle comes to SA. The two are intimately connected.