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MOYA NKHABU: TRIBUTE TO A ROLE MODEL
Growing up in the old, subdued black South Africa, I could never see myself playing serious football in a formal club setting. From the point of view of personal drive, the game has never charmed me that way. I could never say whether or not my lack of success as a junior street football player was due to being untalented, or simply that my passion was never aroused strongly enough. I’m inclined to suspect the latter.
In the old, apartheid South Africa days, football talent groomed itself, and thrived on the township streets, and rural playing fields. It was raw, pure, and ecstatic. Paradoxically, it provided spaces for all the joys of a free childhood in a then tyrannical state. Moreover, my childhood street football reality provided escape from the attendant ills of poverty in many a black South African home: all round domestic violence, woman and child sexual abuse.
Like most South African township boy children, I imagine that the first expression of my active physical power, from the time I managed to stand up, balance, and walk, was probably to kick at something. I have been kicking for as long as I can remember. Ball control, reading the game, and stopping opponents from scoring against my street team were my forte.
Dribbling was never my inclination. But, I recall, even the very best of our dribblers during my street football active years, up to age 12 years old, knew well not to fool around with the ball around me. If I had any football talent at all, it shone brightest whenever we opted to play a rather rough version of the game. Often, if it’s genuine street culture, it has to be rough; it has to be tough, it has to break all the rules, like Rock & Roll.
Here, the object was not to score goals, but for the competing teams to incapacitate each other’s players until there was only one young man standing, with the ball. If the one team totally demolished the other, the winning team’s members went for one another, then. Thus, the last man standing outcome. It gave an unforgettable, ego-boosting adrenaline rush. Great, great fun, it was.
In this brutal game, we had to be subtle, but extremely effective. That was so that if any adults were watching us play, they wouldn’t understand that we were, actually, out to deliberately injure one another. A strict rule was “no ball, no attack”; meaning that we went for one another only to the extent that one side had ball possession. And, direct kicks to the legs above the ankle were not allowed.
The idea was to “slice”, or “chop” each other’s legs at the ankles, much like Karate players execute the devastating leg sweeping technique called “Ashi barai”. Serious injuries, necessitating hospitalization, often occurred here. I never got injured. Several casualties have pointed to me, though. In action, I can be light and quick on my feet. I developed this ability from this dangerous kind of football playing. I would, later, take the skill with me to Karate. Fifty years on, I’m still standing, rocking as if there’ll be no end to my rolling life. Truth is, I want to live forever. I am a dreamer, and so shall it be.
My street football career was much fun, whilst it lasted. It gave me lasting valuable life lessons, as well: street survival alertness (“Tsotsis”, violent street hustlers, didn’t play football!), and fierce competitive spirit, or killer instinct cultivation. Street football also afforded me the first real taste of leadership, going into puberty and subsequent young manhood. The leadership trial run would reward me with just as premier and unforgettable taste of the thrill of victory. That owing to the coaching my impromptu leadership role empowered me to do with my team, one day.
A team had challenged us from another part of our township, Thabong Location, Welkom. Our challengers were notorious for severely beating up their opponents when they, the former, lost matches. These guys were a little older than us, and they had some of their neighbourhood supporters following them everywhere they went. Our team, on the other hand, was, usually, an ad hoc affair. It spontaneously organized itself around whoever was available on our street, and wished to play, there and then.
Unfortunately, on the day of the challenge, whereas we had more than what we needed of potential players, no one wished to play. All were afraid of getting beaten up by the visitors, in the event of the latter’s loss against us. The problem was that the visitors were still going to be violent if we chose not to play. These guys, the challengers, were crazy: when they won, they still beat up the opponents, if only to teach the losers not mess with the bad guys! So, either way, we were in trouble. Catch 22.
I do not seem to recall what led to my team prodding me for a solution to the dilemma we were in. They even decided that I should be the team captain for the day. Because I had already started training boxing by then, a thought struck me that if I made my team believe we were strong as individuals and as a collective, we could win in such a way that the bad guys wouldn’t want to fight us afterwards.
How? Let’s wear them out, whilst we remain strong all the way, throughout the match. How? Let’s do what nobody else did at that time: do a pre-match, team spirit enhancing jogging and calisthenics session! It’s called warming-up these days. Doing that would also give us a psychological edge over the opponents. It worked like magic.
My team played with the intensity and unity of purpose that we had never thought were possible before. In my head, I still vividly see replays of the match to this day. Playing on what we, then, called the “12 hurra!” principle, we beat the bad guys 12-0. The loss, combined with my team’s upbeat, super confident mood, overwhelmed the bad guys so much that they left our zone running as if they had just seen snakes, or some scary monsters like that. Eventually transferred into Karate, I have enormously enjoyed sports leadership and coaching since. I’ve won, I’ve lost. I’ve been stupid, I’ve been wise. I’ve made friends, I’ve lost friends. I’m here. I live. I love.
Adult club football was a different ball game altogether. I enjoyed watching this, not so much for the thrill of the game, but out of the fascination I had for those players that stood out as the best in the game, regardless of position played. The fascination was about the aura these guys seemed to carry, both on and off the field. They seemed to be ever so strong and happy.
It’s always been a great fascination for me as to how men, and women these days, running after, and with a ball could, at the same time, induce so much euphoria amongst the spectators. Off the field, the super star players seemed to wield so much power that it appeared, for me then, as if they could be rulers of the world. That was despite the fact that I, at that time, I had no real clue as to how gigantic and complex the world really was. They had all the beautiful girls. Attendant hyper fornication scandals I didn’t care much about. Rock & Roll is what it is: you burn, you burn. If the highway to hell is short, let it be. I’ll talk to Mother Mary another time.
One of those super star players was Abel Nkhabu, a.k.a. Moya, or Mgeu, late, 2017. May his soul rest in peace. I first came to personally know, and look up to him in the years 1972-74. Looking back, I like to think that, actually, this man was my first real-life, non-family Super Hero. He seemed larger than life, and, yet, he could touch me, ask me about my wellbeing, and encourage me to be good at school always.
There were also some of Mgeu’s generation of original black South African football mega stars around. By status, they were bigger than him by far; they have remained so, and are, today, living legends in their own rights. I still look at them with awe; still getting that tingling sensation in my hands and feet I used to get at their sight, on and off the pitch, in my early teens.
These men, in various capacities at club and national association levels, continue to steer modern South African football. They are doing so with the same inspirational class I recall from the early 1970s. In them, I still see hope for this troubled land of my birth, South Africa. However, these men are still far away from my immediate spaces. They have yet to touch me like Mgeu did. A consolation, though, is that, in my eyes, they carry on his spirit, and that of numerous other giants of the pre-1994 South African football scene.
Much of my desire to defy and beat the odds in order to succeed in life, be a super star, and live forever, is owing to these men of wonder in the history and development of this land. There is more to football than just seemingly mad twenty-two men chasing a ball around a stupid rectangular space limiting their freedom to run away with it, the ball.
Inspired by the big and strong, unbeatable Hercules in the bioscope, I liked making leather wristbands for my friends, my lebandla, my street gang, and me. The finest I ever made was of some fine, thick, nicely patterned leather piece from one of my mother’s old handbags. Mgeu liked that wristband so much that he borrowed it for a while. He wore it on several big matches he played, with Welkom Real Hearts FC.
“Monna, dude, I, actually, feel stronger and more courageous when I’m wearing this band. And, you, know, the other thing is that people on the field get afraid of me, believing that the band is a fortifying juju gear. I like it very much!”
I refused Mgeu’s offer to buy the wristband. Of course, I was taken by the symbolic power effect it had on him. I wanted to have the power too. When he, eventually, gave the wristband back to me, he was overwhelmingly effusive. An ordinary older South African man would have bullied me and kept it, anyway. Mgeu’s return of the band permanently cemented the bond that we already had. Before that, no other adult man had ever shown me that kind of respect for my personal integrity. It was gratifying for me to find that there, in fact, were still some grown up men one could trust.
As first-born child in my family, I was raised to love, protect, and support my younger siblings, that as a matter of course. My general love for children and youth derives from my upbringing values. From the time I became aware of my sibling position and role in the family, fondness and caring for those younger than me, to beyond my home, was something one just did without question. It was something I never put much thought to, even.
My younger, and last-born sibling, Lucy Dintletse’s birth, in 1974, brought the real intensity of my love for children to my consciousness for the first time. Lucy’s affectionate family nickname is Sonono, often shortened to Sono. The very nearly nine years of her life would thrust the love to heights I have yet to fathom. MHSRIP.
I see Sono in every child of the world. Whenever I see children of the world suffer under mankind’s proclivity to wars in outrageously vain attempts to impose peace upon one another, her sweet face emerges above the misery I see; the pain, the hopelessness I feel. And, then, faith that, someday, we gonna be alright, is rekindled. Through every child whose life I touch wherever I am in the world at any one time, my steadfast hope and wish are that, one day, these children will grow up to be conduits of love and peace for all mankind.
Mgeu was one of the pioneering black professional football players in South Africa, in the early 1970s. He made a dashing and influential figure, to his grave. His entire life, he was fiercely anti-apartheid and black people’s oppression. From Mgeu, I learnt that a man could be big and strong as a super star, but he could still have time and energy to engage positively with children and youth. This has remained one of the key defining moments of my life.
Whereas my father remains the formidable force behind my formal dressing taste, my smart-casual dressing style has heavy Mgeu undertones. My father was laid to rest twenty years ago today, July 04, 2018. MHSRIP. I remember him with immense love with this article too: my father, the finest of gentlemen, my hero; the original Machona – (the) Emigrant, the traveller, the gypsy from the warriors of love mystics of my Tumbuka people, Eastern Province, Zambia. If you jump into Malawi, Tanzania, and, partly, the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), you’ll land into the midst of the extended empire of my people.
The one quality I’ve not quite been able to grasp, though, is the phenomenal “Ladies’ Man” tag Mgeu proudly carried to the very end. If we meet up again on the other side, I should ask him for specific coaching on this one; assuming that there’ll still be ladies abundance when I arrive there. But then again, we might find that the ladies on the other side are more work than what I have down here on earth. Nnnahhh, we let this one pass.
In the presence of Mgeu, I’d always feel like a 12-14 year old boy, if not even younger. In the photo accompanying this piece, we are meeting up soon after I had arrived in Welkom, from Norway, Christmas time, 2006/7. You know that sweet, loving feeling you get when you are with your favourite uncle, I had it at the time the photo was being taken; I’m feeling it as I write this article, at this very moment. Thanks, football, for one of the most significant men in my life!
I was fortunate enough to have had a few good men to relate to during my formative years. Many of those that were not so nice to me never lived to see the close of the 1970s. Good riddance. A lot of these not-so-nice men were generally unkind to youngsters. It’s just as well that longevity was never to be their gig. Morons!
In my dealings with children and youth, I endeavour to be, at least, as good as those adult males that have, each in their own special ways, contributed to my being the mad energy bundle that I am, now as a fully grown adult myself. I have never been able to think of a better way to express my deep felt gratitude for the presence of good men in mine, and other children’s lives.
In the early 1970s, Mgeu, together with a host of other first generation of black professional football players were organized under the auspices of the then National Professional Soccer League (NPSL). In my forthcoming 6th book, 4th novel*, read how these transformed the lives of the black people of South Africa, at a time when the then South African apartheid regime was at its most venomous. The NPSL effect is played out around a particular family’s life in Thabong, Welkom. Watch this space for more information about the impending book release. Coming soon!
SOUTH AFRICAN FARM KILLINGS: Another Perspective
I do not condone murder of any kind. Murder is murder, regardless of how it is classified on various platforms. No murder is worse or better than another. In the free world, we are all humans with infinite variable attributes, but equal in the face of the law of the land.
In the purest manifestation of God, we are all supposed to be equal because she created us that way, in her own perfect image.
Whilst I do not condone murder, left with no alternatives against any real, particularly unjustifiable, threat upon my life, or that of my beloved ones, including my lands, I could kill without thinking twice about it. In my world, there is no “turn the other cheek” contra injustice and evil intentions, or practices. If evil plucks out one of my eyes, I’ll pluck both of theirs, and more. It is what it is.
If I am a racist, it is more a circumstantially reactive tendency on my part, rather than it being an inherent disposition of mine. I hate racism with such passion I cannot help but want to give racists a taste of their own medicine whenever I encounter them in South Africa, and anywhere else in the world I find myself at any time; two eyes for an eye. Reconciliation modern South Africa style has its limits for me.
In characteristic, yet another demonstration of arrogance of power and privilege, a section of the white South African populace sensationalizes the killings of South African white farmers. As if these killings are a calculated, lopsided affair sponsored by the South African state, or some other organized, black peoples special interest entities.
As a humanist, whenever death strikes anywhere in the world, my heart ever goes out to the deceased and their bereaved families. The killing of a white South African farmer is no different from any other killing in the country, or anywhere else in the world. Therefore, I cannot feel relatively any more, or less empathy for the white South African farmer victims and their own … (Continued in the book: “MACHONA BLOGS – As I See It”. Order Simon Chilembo books on Amazon)
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November 08, 2017
THIS FREEDOM IS MINE TOO
Just had a Lafayette, SanFransisco, feeling this midnight hour: Not a soul on the streets; not even the midnight Black Cat of Suburbia. Only an accasional car this and that way. No police, no private security patrol vehicle on sight. But they are there. Press Panic Button, and they will appear as if from nowhere, in no time. Things money can buy in opulent society.
Strutting up and down, with two buckets as I chose to manually water my street side garden flowers and trees, I can’t help anticipating that from the shadows yonder, someone can throw a projectile at me anytime. If this is my night, they might even shoot, KABOOM!!! Goodbye, Ngamla. Welcome to Mzansi fo sho, land of the living dead.
But then again, I wonder, how free can I feel, and be free and if I go round paranoid of getting killed in my free land? In my world, freedom as a living sentiment in the whole of my being means that I will, and shall, defy death, as well as uncalled for death threats from societal deviants. Freedom is courage to choose to live, and victor over enemies of liberty for the free, the peaceful and peace loving, as well as the progressive. I did not fight for the freedom of my land for it to be enjoyed by criminals and gangsters alone, giving them the prerogative to decide when and how I shall die. Neither can they decide for me how I shall live, enjoy, and manifest uttributes of the freedom of my land. So, I shall water my garden in peace, anyhow, anytime I want to. When done, as I did this midnight in front of a recently planted flower, I shall perform my Tai Chi form powerfully with grace, in praise of Freedom, in profound thoughts of all fallen freedom fighting heroes for generations the world over. There are still beautiful things about South Africa. These are what I’ll take with me to Exile II.
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November 17, 2014
The humane and spiritual magnanimity of South African people regarding what they have had to give in order to facilitate the creation and sustenance of the relatively peaceful, and prosperous post-1994 democratic South Africa can only be fully understood by those who have felt the venomous bite of the fangs of apartheid in their bodies, minds, and souls. It’s not a thing just read about in books and research reports to comprehend thoroughly.
I guess the apartheid venom was so effective it made us, Black people, into huge, docile sponges you can pee and shit upon ceaselessly, and we’ll keep smiling, ever extending our hands out to evil-minded White supremacists people, begging for love, and peaceful co-existence. But then again, I fear there is a Black Cat in the hearts and souls of many a, if not all, apartheid survivors and their descendents. The Black Cat is on the run, quite, fluid, and purposeful despite all the madness around it. The cat does not want to die: Keep moving; endure the hurt, the pain, until …
As per the social engineering ramifications of obnoxious apartheid, there was no order, no law those days in the townships of South Africa. So, this stray Black Cat, like many other cats and dogs before it, appears like from nowhere. Lost. We could have been fewer, but in my child’s head I see about 15 children getting instantly delirious, as was usual in situations like this. Picking up stones, and other projectiles, we chase the animal. Kill the cat, children! When the stupid cat decides to run into a tennis court nearby, I thought, “Well, this is going to be easy game!”
There were now even more children in the only form of hunting adventure we knew in the townships those days. Stones, bottles, pieces of metal, anything, zooming onto the poor cat now hopelessly trapped in a cul-de-sac. In total exhaustion and pain, the cat finally falls off the fence it had been clawing in vain, hoping against hope that it could still escape, collapses on the tennis court floor. Momentary state of shock for all. Yet another projectile is thrown. The cat is hit. It makes a weak attempt to move. No good. Then, I still see the scene like in slow motion, it’s like there was dead silence for a while. The cat became smaller, is if air was being squeezed out of it. We are all mesmerized. Before we knew it, the cat had become, in my eyes, as big as a horse.
Standing on its hind legs, upright into a tennis court corner, fore legs raised kick-boxing guard style, the cat made the last snarl and flew at us. Pandemonium as we all, now 20 plus children, scrambled to come out of the tennis court gate simultaneously. Only now does it makes sense about the claustrophobia I quietly suffered from for many years soon afterwards.
When the time comes, heaven forbid, for the Black Cat in South African Black People’s hearts and souls to snarl, and retaliate, for “enough is enough”, evil-minded White supremacists will have nowhere to run. South Africa is the omega, you see.
Nelson Mandela did not sell South Africa to Whites. Nelson Mandela did not sell South Africa to imperialist capital. In line with the unique humane and spiritual magnanimity of South African people, Nelson Mandela chose to swallow camels so that you and I can be here today, living happily ever after in our beloved Mzansi fo sho, inspite of its imperfections. Remember, effects of apartheid venom include diminished sense of empathy, leading to extreme levels of selfishness, including loss of responsibility for one’s own actions as manifested time and time again in certain, and various leadership cabals in the country.
Thanks to Nelson Mandela, when the rest of the world will be left in shambles and rumbles, South Africa will still be here, standing tall. Unlike today, though, there won’t be much space for all, as South Africa will still be a peaceful sanctuary for the lucky few who manage to escape ravages of wars in their own countries of origin. The omega is like the last full stop of a great book. Very, very tiny point. At this point, it’ll be ON! with the switch of darkness. No more smiles, no more love, no more reconciliation. Bye-bye, beloved Bishop Tutu. Time for the Black Cat to rise and strike back.
I feel for the progeny of the short-sighted, evil-minded White supremacists people, who refuse to recover from their own apartheid venom ingestion symtoms. As I see it, their children’s future may be very black, indeed. But there is still time, there is still room for change. There is still, as it was in the beginning, hope. Democracy fixes most things, if given a chance.
Read also: A comprehensive guide to white privilege in South Africa
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October 14, 2013