CAPE TOWN - To fully grasp the spirit of the times, to understand the mood of an era, it’s always important to search for the answers in the past: because today is but the consequence of yesterday.
The build-up to the Soweto derby begins this week - and, in the same way, the fanatical appeal of the clash between Kaizer Chiefs and Orlando Pirates has its roots inextricably intertwined with the turbulent history of this country.
Already, as Chiefs and Pirates prepare to do battle at the FNB Stadium in Johannesburg on Saturday, it’s a sell-out. More than 80 000 people will pack into the ground to watch a football match deeply ingrained in our sporting psyche.
The origins of the obsession with this Soweto fixture traces back to the time when Chiefs chairman, the charismatic Kaizer Motaung, then a Pirates star, left to pursue a professional career in America.
On his return to South Africa, Pirates were in a state of turmoil and friction. As a result, Motaung formed his own club, which would eventually morph into the popular team we know today as Kaizer Chiefs, with the first derby between the two clubs taking place in 1970. Ever since, it has been the biggest fixture on the South African calendar, a game that provided succour to many during the cruel and oppressive apartheid days.
And, with the benefit of the oral tradition so endemic to humanity, stories, anecdotes and wonderful memories have been handed down from generation to generation. Because of this, the fascination of the Soweto derby remains as large as ever.
The power of the derby narrative nestles warmly and cosily on the souls of the current generation of football followers as they take their cue from the many dreamy tales of the greats who have gone before.
For Chiefs fans, the past will reverberate with names such as Patrick “Ace” Ntsoelengoe, Johannes “Ryder” Mofokeng, Leonard “Wagga Wagga” Likoebe, Jan “Malombo” Lichaba, Silvester "City” Kole, Simon “Bull” Lehoko, Zachariah “Computer” Lamola, Abednigo “Shaka” Ngcobo, Nelson “Teenage” Dladla and more. For Pirates, the names handed down will include Jomo “Troublemaker” Sono, Webster “City Late” Lichaba, Percy “Chippa” Moloi, Abraham “Mainline” Khoza, Johannes “Yster” Khomane and, of course, the brilliant Bernard “Dancing Shoes” Hartze.
The feats these players accomplished have been preserved in memory and visited upon the next generation - and the current players at Chiefs and Pirates need to understand that they shoulder the weight of this proud tradition and history.
Saturday will be no different. Both Soweto clubs have come through a period of struggle, but are looking a lot better this season. Under coaches Giovanni Solinas (Chiefs) and Milutin Sredojevi (Pirates), things have certainly improved - and, even more importantly, both squads are stronger than last season.
Soweto derbies in recent seasons, from a spectacle point of view, have paled in comparison to the entertaining duels played out in the past. But perhaps, just perhaps, this fixture’s glory days are on the way back.
Past, present and future, the Chiefs-Pirates derby will endure. Its history is the sum total of the memories of an older generation - and, now, a new generation of Chiefs-Pirates supporters are ready to make their own memories; and the circle, that interminable cycle, which keeps energising the Soweto derby will continue, long into the future.