There are no miracles in baboons’ buttocks
Agood and conscious brother, Chris, tweeted his response to one of my previous columns, “To save SA we must learn to fly” (March 19 2017). Among the beautiful things he said was this sentence: “I assume a level playing field.”
Chris, my brother, the field is never level. It is always built on a slope.
I once saw children in Mumbai playing cricket on a sloping street. It left me wondering if that was not the reason India produced some of the world’s best players.
Back to Chris. His comment reminded me of a soccer field near Tlakula High School, situated in KwaThema township in Gauteng.
The pitch was reluctantly run by the department of bantu affairs and despite various setbacks, it contributed tremendously to the golden age of local soccer as this is where some of South Africa’s finest footballers, including Nelson “Teenage” Dladla, were shaped.
When it rained, the field retained water in the centre, creating shin-deep puddles.
When the water had dried, it exposed a knee-high water pipe that ran across the field, which the star players used as a prop to dribble against their opponents.
They would run towards the pipe, kick the ball against it and trap it on the rebound. Poor opposing defender, he would not know what to do, confused by the jeers of the jubilant crowds.
And then the football wizard would hook it above the defender’s head and jump the pipe, to the crowd’s wild applause.
By that time, the field was about 25% smaller as the frontline fans had stepped on the touchline, with those behind pushing to try to get a glimpse of the action.
When Tlakula High challenged the Mamelodi High team – then the titans of soccer in Pretoria – and humiliated them in their own backyard, riots erupted in Mamelodi township.
It was a question of time before KwaThema produced its own soccer team, Pilkington United Brothers, named after a local sponsor.
One year, the team reached the semifinals in a competition which had two legs to it. The venue was Soweto’s Orlando Stadium, at the time football’s most iconic venue. Pilkington lost the first leg. The next day, discussions were not about which players to field and which strategy to apply, but which witch doctor to consult. It was a toss-up between an old man who lived in White City – I forget his name – and Bab’ Mabaso, who resided in Highland.
The White City doctor gave the Pilkington team table salt to sprinkle on the pitch at Orlando Stadium, along with instructions to urinate on the goal posts just before the start of the match to expel any evil spirits.
Bab’ Mabaso had a different idea. He required the buttocks of a baboon. This would entail his having to go and hunt for the animal, kill it, singe it, skin it, cut out the buttocks, cook them and then get the players to spread the remaining oil on their faces like Vaseline. This, he said, would make them net the goals.
The problem was, there were no known baboons in KwaThema. Pilkington lost, and the demise of the team began.
That is what happens when team leaders have no vision – and that is what is happening to South Africa right now.
When a government minister says: “When the rand falls, we will pick it up,” and they do not say how they will do so, then you know they have no vision. They are seeking the buttocks of a baboon to perform miracles.
Chris, my brother, know that a leader’s job is to inspire his followers to prevail over the most challenging and unfair of circumstances.