On the road from Johannesburg to Sharpeville you drive on Boy Louw Street, named for the man Danie Craven once called the greatest Springbok forward he had ever seen. You turn left at the sign that says “Sharpeville Struggle Route” and head into the township where, 53 years ago, 69 people were massacred and the world finally took proper notice of the atrocities of Apartheid.
Turn right off Mareka Street and you arrive at the Tsoaranang Primary School, where on Thursday 11 rows of boys stood in what Louw would have called, in his famously mangled English, “straight stripes”. They were quiet as mice, peeking shyly towards the big, white box that waited for each of the 11 schools. On each box was written, “Dreamfields project” and “Dreams in Transit”.
“Watch this carefully,” whispered John Perlman, the founder of Dreamfields, the NGO that has been investing in football equipment and facilities to townships and rural areas since 2007. “Watch the change in them.”
The boys listened impatiently to Thabang Ramaboya from Dreamfields as he was giving them and their coaches instructions for the launch of the Sharpeville DreamLeague. Then, finally, they cut the tape that sealed the boxes. The rows of kids compressed; they stood on tip-toes, leaning desperately forward. Inside each box was a Dreambag, with 15 sets of kit, including shorts, jerseys, socks, shinpads, balls, shirts for the coaches and, then the showstoppers, the boots.
“Oooohhhhhh,” they sighed at the white boots. The silence was broken, the burble of excited kids filled the air as they hugged, slapped each other on the back and fell in love with a pair of football boots. “This is my favourite bit,” said Perlman. “It never gets old. The power that kit has on the kids is amazing. It changes them totally. They go from these shy, almost fearful boys to believing in themselves a lot more. You can see the confidence grow.”
Since Perlman founded Dreamfields in 2007, they have distributed over 2 200 DreamBags, created 75 DreamLeagues, put on almost 200 DreamEvents, held numerous coaching events, built 16 fields, which can be number-crunched into an impressive investment of over R34-million in six years. All but three of the fields have been built in small towns and rurals areas. “We don’t build stadiums,” said Perlman, “we build and upgrade fields to be the central places for football to grow in communities.”
Perlman’s inspiration for Dreamfields was to create a legacy from the impetus of the 2010 World Cup. Perlman loves football. He has always done. He played it when he was younger, wrote about it and commentated on it as an adult. He knows the value of it as a force for the community. Perlman is still a little stunned at how the project has grown. When BHP Billiton and Old Mutual gave him the capital to first fund Dreamfields, he had no idea how to run a company, but a friend, Graham Bath, a business expert who has started and run several successful companies, guided him then and continues to help. There are now six full-time staffers at Dreamfields.
The football on show at Sharpeville was enthusiastic if lacking in finesse. Martha Ramasia, an assistant coach with Vukazakhe Primary, said that would change. As we spoke, a boy dribbled a ball through cones, wearing his school shoes, his laces untied. “Some of them cried because they didn’t get the kit and the soccer boots, but there are only a certain amount for the teams,” said Ramasia, who played football when she was younger. “The problem is that we don’t have balls at our school. Now that we have these now, we’ll practise more often. They need to get better at controlling the ball, like passing. They only have the little skills. I think they will get better at it if they practise at it every day. This is the only team we have at our school. We sometimes have friendly games during the week with others, but this is the big one for them. If it wasn’t for this we wouldn’t have football.”
For the boys from Sediba Primary, the boots were the prize of the day. They had had jerseys before, but no boots. They were going to win the league, which runs until June. “Who is the best player here?” I asked. Five hands shoot up. Then a discussion ensued, a vote was held, but they couldn’t agree on one best player. Could I define terms of what would make the best player, they asked me. They all supported Pirates, and their favourite player in the world? “Messi!”
On Thursday, Xolani Mkhwanazi, chairman of BHP Biliton, told the Sharpeville children they were already winners just by being there. There wasn’t a single dissenting voice from the boys. While many corporates, smaller businesses and individuals have donated money, time and services down the years, BHP Billiton were the first corporate to back the project with R6.5-million in 2007. They extended their commitment with a five-year, R15-million deal in 2010, and, in addition, have funded fields in Richards Bay, Kuruman and Mpumalanga. The leagues are run in co-operation with the Department of Basic Education.
Perlman has learnt much about negotiation, patience, problem-solving and economics these past six years. His daily show on Kaya FM aside, Dreamfields is his full-time job now. One of his favourite stories is of a team they took to visit Soccer City before the World Cup. “We told them the stories about the famous players who would play here, that they would sit on the same benches they were sitting on and use the showers,” said Perlman. “Then one of the kids sprinted into the showers and turned on the water with all his clothes on. We asked him why, and he said he wanted to be able to say he had showered where the big names had showered.”
A few years ago, at a launch, a coach complained to him that the boots were the wrong size. “He was making this scene in front of the sponsors and I was mortified that we may have got it wrong,” said Perlman. “So I asked one of the kids if I could see his boots. I reached inside and took the tissue paper out of the toes. They fitted perfectly after that.”
And what were Perlman’s first pair of boots? “My mother bought me a pair of leather boots that were proper ankle boots. They had wooden studs with hobnails in them. I remember the other kids sniggering at me when I wore them.”
In Sharpeville last week the kids gasped when the boots come out. Perlman and his Dreamfields team are making dreams come true.
*For more information or to donate to Dreamfields, go to www.dreamfieldsproject.org
On the homepage of the website of the Presidency of South Africa, just under a link to the National Development Plan leading up to 2030 and to the left of a link for the “Programme to Support Pro-Poor Policy Development”, is a “Call for Nominations: National Orders.”
A click on that link takes you to a page with no information, but there is a downloadable “National Orders Nomination Form”. There you are told “National Orders are the highest form of recognition that a country bestows on deserving citizens. The President, as the Grand Patron of the National Orders, awards these Orders, which are inclusive and represent all South Africans. The Chancery of Orders is inviting nominations from members of the public, non-governmental organisations, civic-based organisations and faith-based organisations for individuals deemed worthy recipients of the following National Orders.”
The headquarters of Athletics South Africa is in 11th Avenue in Houghton. It is a large building, in a prime position in Johannesburg, a facebrick, double-storey house that occupies a huge stand. On Friday, I was there to meet the latest Sascoc-appointed administrator. I have never been to ASA House to hear good news.
In 2001, the provisional team for the world championships in Edmonton, Canada was due to be announced at a hotel in Johannesburg. Absa were also going to announce a sponsorship of R1,5-million to Athletics South Africa, to enable them to send a full-strength team to the champs. Everyone arrived, except for Athletics South Africa. There was no sign of ASA CEO Banele Sindani and president Leonard Chuene. The two had been summoned to Cape Town, to the office of then sports minister Ncgonde Balfour after allegations had appeared in The Citizen alleging that R9-million in sponsorship money was unaccounted for.
Four hours, nine minutes and 43 seconds after the Boston Marathon had begun on Monday, 78-year old Bill Iffrig was metres away from finishing. Then came the first blast. His legs buckled as the shockwave hit him on one of the blackest days for sport, and he fell.
The man next to him turned to his right and looked at where the blast had come from, unsure of what had just happened. He kept on running, looking behind him all the while. Iffrig lay on the ground in Boylston Street, stunned. The picture of him looking up as four Boston police officers run around and to him, one with her gun drawn, another holding a radio and another looking shocked, is now the iconic shot of the Boston bombing. It was taken by John Tlumacki of The Boston Globe.
It takes a lot to become numb to the weirdness that is the administration of South African sport. Yet on Saturday, at Olympic House, the home of the South African Sports Confederation and Olympic Committee (Sascoc), it took on a weirdness that may have made the producers of the Game of Thrones look on in envy. Around every corner was a twist, in every dark nook a sharp knife and at the end of every fingertip a court writ waiting to be served.
Here’s how Saturday’s general meeting of the council, the federations of Sascoc, rolled.