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Soweto To Rio With A Spy On Your Tail

They were quick, young and talented; they all went to poor Soweto schools with little money and less hope.
Yet here they were boarding a plane and risking arrest to play football 8,000 kilometers away with Zico and the boys of Brazil.

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This was the bizarre tour of a lifetime, arranged by world football legend Sir Stanley Matthews for youngsters he had trained in Soweto in defiance of apartheid laws.

“At the airport I was riddled with nerves but tried to overcome them by busying myself shepherding my young charges and allaying their obvious fears. Large, forbidding men in light blue suits and dark glasses with inscrutable looks on their faces watched our every move but, uncomfortable as it was, they never approached us. At any given second I expected us to be rounded up, hustled into vans and taken away to one of South Africa’s infamous police stations but it never happened,” wrote Stanley in his autobiography.

“I couldn’t believe it and neither could Stan’s Men. We were on our way out of the country bound for Brazil, the first ever black football team to tour outside of South Africa.”

 

Yet, apartheid followed the youngsters to Rio de Janeiro, in the shape of an intelligence man who sat at the back of the plane.

This strange journey was the work of one of the greatest English players ever. Matthews was the first European Footballer of the Year in 1956, who played top flight football until he was 50. They called him the ‘Wizard of the Dribble’ and he was loved the world over.

For the love of the game Matthews came to South Africa and defied the country’s segregation law to turn township talent into stars. This story is to be told this year in a United States documentary, called Matthews.

In the summer of 1975, Matthews spent months scouting talent from schools in Soweto, Johannesburg’s biggest township, and formed a team called Stan’s Men which he took on tour to Brazil. It was born of a question from a youngster on whether Matthews had ever played against Pelé. This led to an unheard of trip from South Africa. Matthews used his influence to get sponsors in the shape of Coca Cola and the Sunday Times, as well as passports for the boys, against the norms of the time.

“Sir Stan was a brave man, it was unlawful for white people to be in townships at that time but he was in Orlando every week to train us. He would come to our home to meet with our parents. Initially the parents thought we were crazy when we told them about going to Brazil but because Sir Stan was known to them they soon believed we were telling the truth,” says Hamilton Majola, then aged 17.

“During those days, Orlando Stadium was our mecca of football. For the Brazil tour, it was not easy, we trained hard. There were hundreds of talented footballers from all over Soweto but only 15 could be selected. Dedication and discipline were key to Sir Stan,” says Isaac Masigo, another youngster who boarded the plane for Brazil.

March 21, 1975, was the first day of the month-long tour to Brazil. It had taken weeks of hard training that created a good deal of excitement.

“On that Friday, learning in Soweto schools was disrupted… learners were running mad, so many children were bussed to Jan Smuts (OR Tambo International Airport) for our send-off… I will never forget that day, it was surreal,” says Masigo.

On the Boeing 707, destined for Brazil, the lads were anxious and smart. They dressed neatly in tailored navy suits with a gold badge, with Stan’s Men printed on it, blue shirts, navy ties, with red and white dots, and shiny black shoes. Upon arrival in Brazil, they were treated like stars and journalists flocked around them. They felt like stars staying at the Hotel Regina, in Rio, on the famous Copacabana Beach. Most had never seen the sea.

They went to practise with Flamengo Football Club and met Arthur Antunes Coimbra, better known as Zico, who was to star in the World Cup for Brazil. This was one of the players they had only seen on the bioscope, a makeshift cinema back home; televisions didn’t come to South Africa until a year later.

“Carlos Alberto Pereira, who coached Bafana Bafana in the 2010 World Cup, I met him in 1975. We played and took pictures with Brazilian stars. We trained with big teams like Flamengo, Fluminense, Vasco da Gama and Americana. The culture there was different from what we know in South Africa. The clubs there had coaches for different departments, kit manager, physiotherapist and that was not the case in Johannesburg. We trained from 6AM to noon. There they start training you from childhood, in South Africa we are playing games,” says Masigo.

The first game in Rio was a huge disappointment. The youngsters played alongside their coach Matthews, then aged 60, the first game against Gama Filho University and were drubbed 8-0.

“That was embarrassing; their ball was different from ours. Our dribbling skills couldn’t get us anywhere. They man marked so tight that we couldn’t manage a single goal. Brazilians meant business; our goalkeeper left the field with swollen hands. He cried. If it was not for Sir Stan things could have been worse,” says Majola.

One of the spectators was the white South African intelligence officer who tracked their every move.

“We were followed but we couldn’t see. The security police followed us from the airport to Brazil, they couldn’t trust black boys… One day, on our way to the hotel, a white Afrikaner man shocked us: ‘Ja (yes), you blacks of South Africa, you stay nice here’,” says Masigo.

Although the boys didn’t do anything to warrant jail back home; they broke the rules of Matthews when he wasn’t looking.

“After the training, when Sir Stan was resting, we were free to go the clubs and beach. There was this Copacabana Beach, the best beach in the world. It was women galore, I sweated as if I was running under the sun,” says Masigo.

The Brazilian women in swimwear mistook the African boys, kitted out in red-and-white tracksuits, for Americans, laughs Masigo.

Majola knows Matthews, a teetotaller and vegetarian, did not approve of these outings.

“Sir Stan taught us life values; from the beginning he said we mustn’t go for girls because they would destroy our football future. He warned us against alcohol,” says Majola.

Soon after Brazil, Matthews returned to England but he left a foundation in Soweto. The team continued playing friendly games, outside the country, in Swaziland and Botswana.

“When we returned from Brazil, the Sunday Times, which was one of our sponsors, reported on our tour and one of the headlines read ‘They are now internationals’. There was so much jealousy from other local teams as a result we were not allowed to affiliate to the local leagues. We played friendlies. Things started to get unfriendly. We can’t be pointing fingers now, maybe it was God’s will. The fact Sir Stan left his country and family to share his football skills with us, we had nothing to offer him in return,” says Majola.

“I had seen and experienced what football could do for an individual and I wanted others to realize not only the possibilities that football can bring, but to get in touch with the possibilities that lay within themselves, irrespective of how hard and demeaning their lives were. If I could enjoy such benefit from football, I was determined to show others such benefits existed for them as well,” wrote Matthews.

“It would have been easy for Sir Stan to start a commanding club with us but he was threatened against doing that. Every big company wanted to sponsor our team. We were treated well, we had sponsored transport to all our matches,” says Masigo.

The team dissolved and many went to other clubs. One, Vincent Tsie, Masigo’s only schoolmate on the Brazil trip, found the country’s laws unbearable after the Brazil trip and took off.

“After he saw the life in Brazil he refused to stay in the racist South Africa anymore. In 1976, he went to exile in Canada where he died,” says Masigo.

“I was also tempted to leave but I couldn’t do it because I was the eldest of my siblings and couldn’t leave them. I knew what happened to Kalamazoo (Steve Mokone, the first black South African in the European league who died in exile).” Masigo, now a pensioner, still lives in Orlando.

At 50, Matthews played his last professional game for Stoke City, the town of his birth. He died on February 23, 2002, aged 85. In February, Matthews would have been 101 years old.

His contribution to African football is timeless and will never be forgotten in Soweto.

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Get Set Mo!

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Morongoa Mahope feeds her love for extreme biking with petrol and adrenaline. The funds for her pet passion come from her nine-to-five accounting job.

About 10kms north of the Kyalami Grand Prix Circuit in South Africa is another racetrack, where superbikes and sports cars are noisily revving up their engines, getting ready for a practice run on a cold Wednesday afternoon in Johannesburg.

At first glance at the Zwartkops racetrack is a melange of male drivers and mechanics.

But also revving up a superbike, the one numbered 83, is Morongoa Mahope from Mahwelereng in the Limpopo province of South Africa.

READ MORE: ‘From Zero to Hero’: The Queen Of The 800 meters Caster Semenya

She is about to clock 270kmph on her black bike, tagged #Mo83 in pink.

When she is not burning rubber on the racetrack, Mahope is an accountant working for an advertising agency in the city.

“When I started [superbiking], it was mainly only for leisure because I love the sound bikes and cars make. I’m a petrol head and just wanted it to commute to work,” she says.

Morongoa Mahope

Her journey started in 2013 when she convinced her husband and family about buying a superbike. Her family was initially apprehensive and viewed superbike racing as dangerous.

Her husband finally relented and Mahope went for a day’s training to see if she really would be interested in the bike before investing in it. The 36-year-old sports fanatic succumbed, and indeed pursued her wish.

“I still have my first bike; it’s a green and black Kawasaki Ninja 250cc. I was just using it to [go to] work until I met a biking club, the Eagle Bikers Club Limpopo,” she recalls.

Mahope was riding with the club, doing breakfast runs between Johannesburg and Limpopo; but, in 2015, they took a trip to Nelspruit in the Mpumalanga province of South Africa.

READ MORE: Making Up For Millions

Navigating the mountainous, curvy roads, Mahope was overtaking men with her small 250cc bike at the bends.

She was then goaded by her fellow riders to try the racing circuit.

“I went to the track and met a superbike racer; Themba Khumalo, and I started following his journey. I spent more time on the track, practising so I could start racing in 2016. The love for the sport was getting deeper and deeper,” says Mahope.

Khumalo, a professional superbike rider who has raced in the European Championships, says he met Mahope at Zwartkops and it was her first time at the track, and she was quite fast at the corners.

He went up to her to introduce himself because it was rare to see a black woman on a racetrack.

READ MORE: Higher Revenues And Greater Optimism: Female-Owned Small Businesses Are Gaining Ground

“I then took her through the fundamentals of racing and the basics; the type of bike she would need and the equipment. I could see how committed she was and how quick she was learning, and her lack of fear. She was going farther than where she was,” says Khumalo.  

However, her male counterparts were not impressed with her pace on the track; they remarked negatively about her. But Mahope didn’t let the minimizing comments derail her mission.

Unfortunately, Mahope was involved in an accident during training on Valentine’s Day in 2017 and fractured her clavicle before her first race. That took her off the bike for six months.

She joked about the incident with friends, but they persisted and told her it’s an unsafe sport. That encouraged her even more; she wore her helmet and gloves, clocking higher speeds than ever before on her superbike.

Indeed, it was a learning curve. A few months later, she was invited to Bulawayo in Zimbabwe to race.

READ MORE: Shopping for ideas

Her first official race was the same year as the injury; it was a club race in Delmas, Mpumalanga, at the Red Star Raceway. She had never been on the grid nor practised how to stud, but for her, it was more about the experience despite the shivers and nerves.

“I finished the race and I was second last. It’s part of how you start but you will improve to be better. And now, I have lost count of the races I have competed in,” she says.

Mahope is racing in the short circuit series for women who use the 250cc, being the only black woman to participate. She also participated in the Extreme Festival tour series, a regional race in which she used her Kawasaki Ninja ZX600cc, racing men with bigger and louder bikes.

“I am the first black woman to be in the grand prix and the challenges that I faced were having to teach myself a lot of things. I had to learn how to ride on the track, the speed, the decelerating, all was new to me. I wasn’t helped.”

Mahope started at a late stage with the sport, and had to put in more time and effort in a short period to get to where she is currently.

READ MORE: Linda Ikeji : Nigeria’s Queen of content raking in millions

Today, she assists women who are starting with the sport.  

Sadly, in South Africa, there is no national league for women to race and represent the country despite finishing in the top three in the 2019 races.

With all her achievements thus far, Mahope’s salary sustains her motorsport passion.

“Racing is very expensive; the more you practise, the more you get better and the more you spend money. On practice day, I spend about R3,000 ($206) and would practise twice a week at different tracks. In total, I would spend R18,000 ($1,235) a month for the track excluding the travel costs to the track and race day,” she explains.These costs cover tyres, fuel and entrance to the tracks.

A sum of about R40,000 ($2,744) can get you geared up for the bike and track.

It just shows this daredevil accountant can balance both the books and the bike.

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Playing Two Shots Ahead

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The 16-year-old dreams of lifting the French Open title in the future, but also hopes to inspire a generation of black players to take up tennis.

Khololwam Montsi, 16, a rising star of South African tennis, recently broke into the list of top 20 junior tennis players in the world after an excellent year that has seen him take part in tournaments in Australia, Paraguay, Brazil, Italy, Belgium and Japan, as well as take the South African circuit by storm.

The young prodigy trains at the Anthony Harris Tennis Academy in Cape Town, the same facility that developed Lloyd Harris into a top 100 player on the men’s senior ATP circuit.

Montsi was not actually all that interested in tennis until his older brother, Sipho, took up the game.

“I was focussed on karate and squash, those were my two main sports,” he tells FORBES AFRICA.

“But when I saw my brother playing tennis, I also wanted to join in. You know what it is like when you have an older brother, you want to follow him and impress him.

“At that time, I was representing South Africa in karate, but I decided to drop the sport for tennis because I started to enjoy it more, was getting better and doing well in tournaments. It motivated me a lot.

“I come from a very sporty background, my father, Xolani, played rugby and soccer; my mother, Phumla, was a sprinter. When I was younger, I did everything – rugby, soccer, cricket, swimming, athletics, the lot. I just love to compete.”

Montsi has developed quickly and, despite his relatively short frame, excelled with racquet in hand to emerge as arguably South Africa’s leading young talent.

“For me, since I am usually always playing against guys bigger than me, my game is not all about power,” he says. “My strength comes from my mind, I feel like I’m smarter than everybody else on court. I can pull off any shot.

“I read the game really well for someone of this age. I play two shots ahead of my opponents and can hit the ball into areas where I know where they will return it to me. That gives me an advantage to be ready. It is the big strength in my game.

“I would love to win the French Open, I’m a big fan of clay courts, you get more time to play. It is better for me at my height.”

And as for his personal role model?

READ MORE: The Highest-Paid Tennis Players 2019: Roger Federer Scores A Record $93 Million

“I would take a few players and combine that. I love Rafa Nadal, he never gives up. I love [Novak] Djokovic, the way he moves across court and is super flexible. Then someone like [Gael] Monfils for the way he can pull off amazing shots.”

South Africa has lacked a black player on the singles circuit and Montsi is hopeful he will break the mould, saying he takes great satisfaction from being a pioneer.

“I want to lift up tennis as a black boy. We do not see tennis as a big sport in South Africa, barely any black kids play. I don’t want to put pressure on myself, but I do feel a responsibility to help black tennis players get opportunities.

“I play for myself, my family, my coaches and for black people. I would like to help grow the game in South Africa for them. It would be cool if I could help get more people to start playing tennis.”

The obvious question is how he juggles traveling the world and his school work, but Montsi has found a solution.

“I do online home-schooling, which means I can do all my work at tournaments, anywhere in the world as long as I have my laptop. It is tough to balance the two, it takes a lot of discipline.

“I do sometimes think, ‘I’m tired today, I won’t do it’ and I was behind for quite a while, but with the home-schooling system, it is perfect, I have caught up quickly.”

Montsi is preparing for the Australian Junior Open in January, the start of a busy year that will hopefully also see him take part in the senior ATP Tour at some stage.

“To be the first black African to win a Junior Grand Slam would be amazing for me,” he says, adding his future success may depend on funding.

“To become a successful tennis player, you need financial support to get to tournaments. I am being helped a lot, but things can change quickly. I do see myself playing on the pro-circuit, that is my dream. I feel like I can keep my tennis up, but if the finances aren’t there.”

By Nick Said

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30 under 30

Applications Open for FORBES AFRICA 30 Under 30 class of 2020

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FORBES AFRICA is on the hunt for Africans under the age of 30, who are building brands, creating jobs and transforming the continent, to join our Under 30 community for 2020.


JOHANNESBURG, 07 January 2020: Attention entrepreneurs, creatives, sport stars and technology geeks — the 2020 FORBES AFRICA Under 30 nominations are now officially open.

The FORBES AFRICA 30 Under 30 list is the most-anticipated list of game-changers on the continent and this year, we are on the hunt for 30 of Africa’s brightest achievers under the age of 30 spanning these categories: Business, Technology, Creatives and Sport.

Each year, FORBES AFRICA looks for resilient self-starters, innovators, entrepreneurs and disruptors who have the acumen to stay the course in their chosen field, come what may.

Past honorees include Sho Madjozi, Bruce Diale, Karabo Poppy, Kwesta, Nomzamo Mbatha, Burna Boy, Nthabiseng Mosia, Busi Mkhumbuzi Pooe, Henrich Akomolafe, Davido, Yemi Alade, Vere Shaba, Nasty C and WizKid.

What’s different this year is that we have whittled down the list to just 30 finalists, making the competition stiff and the vetting process even more rigorous. 

Says FORBES AFRICA’s Managing Editor, Renuka Methil: “The start of a new decade means the unraveling of fresh talent on the African continent. I can’t wait to see the potential billionaires who will land up on our desks. Our coveted sixth annual Under 30 list will herald some of the decade’s biggest names in business and life.”

If you think you have what it takes to be on this year’s list or know an entrepreneur, creative, technology entrepreneur or sports star under 30 with a proven track-record on the continent – introduce them to FORBES AFRICA by applying or submitting your nomination.

NOMINATIONS AND APPLICATIONS CRITERIA:

Business and Technology categories

  1. Must be an entrepreneur/founder aged 29 or younger on 31 March 2020
  2. Should have a legitimate REGISTERED business on the continent
  3. Business/businesses should be two years or older
  4. Nominees must have risked own money and have a social impact
  5. Must be profit generating
  6. Must employ people in Africa
  7. All applications must be in English
  8. Should be available and prepared to participate in the Under 30 Meet-Up

Sports category

  1. Must be a sports person aged 29 or younger on 31 March 2020
  2. Must be representing an African team
  3. Should have a proven track record of no less than two years
  4. Should be making significant earnings
  5. Should have some endorsement deals
  6. Entrepreneurship and social impact is a plus
  7. All applications must be in English
  8. Should be available and prepared to participate in the Under 30 Meet-Up

Creatives category

  1. Must be a creative aged 29 or younger on 31 March 2020
  2. Must be from or based in Africa
  3. Should be making significant earnings
  4. Should have a proven creative record of no less than two years
  5. Must have social influence
  6. Entrepreneurship and social impact is a plus
  7. All applications must be in English
  8. Should be available and prepared to participate in the Under 30 Meet-Up

Your entry should include:

  • Country
  • Full Names
  • Company name/Team you are applying with
  • A short motivation on why you should be on the list
  • A short profile on self and company
  • Links to published material / news clippings about nominee
  • All social media handles
  • Contact information
  • High-res images of yourself

Applications and nominations must be sent via email to FORBES AFRICA journalist and curator of the list, Karen Mwendera, on [email protected]

Nominations close on 3 February 2020.

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