CAPE TOWN – Ubuntu Cape Town is more than just a football club - it has, at its roots, a mission to transform, though football, the lives of kids in desperate need of guidance and direction. In a football landscape skewed towards always placing PSL clubs in the spotlight, the noble vision and laudable deeds of this new National First Division (NFD) club has, unfortunately, gone largely unnoticed.
But that’s the great aspect about a competition like the Nedbank Cup; it offers lower tier teams the opportunity to test their mettle against top-flight PSL clubs - and, in the process, receive much-needed exposure as well as recognition for their efforts. It’s this that has brought NFD rookies Ubuntu slap-bang into the limelight.
After eliminating PSL side Polokwane City in the previous round, Ubuntu now tackle AmaZulu, another top-flight club, in the round of last 16 of the Nedbank Cup in Durban tonight (kick-off 8pm).
While Ubuntu’s main focus is on their academy, they always knew that they needed a next step, something for their kids to aspire to. So they purchased the NFD franchise of FC Cape Town and started campaigning in the division this season. Coming in blind, it was a no-brainer that there would be an initial struggle - and they did.
For a long time, they were anchored to the basement of the standings, until the last few weeks when, finally, the penny dropped and things started to turn for the better.
One of the men behind the Ubuntu vision is American native Casey Prince, who comes with a strong football background. Originally from Raleigh, in North Carolina, he now lives in Ocean View, where he is deeply involved in the community and the Ubuntu development programme. He also doubles as the coach of the NFD side.
“It takes a time,” said Prince. “We went through an adaptation period, in that at the beginning of the campaign, we were doing pre-season training and having to play a match at the weekend. I think the team only started to get comfortable midway through the season. In addition, the signings we made and the loan players who came in were crucial, because they brought an extra layer of quality to the team. I mean we are playing three or four teenagers every week, and I don’t think any team in the country is doing that.”
Prince arrived in Cape Town in 2008 to work with an NGO in an HIV programme in the community. It was supposed to be a three-month mission, but it was during this time that he met Michael Jenkins (Ubuntu chairman). Jenkins had always had the dream to establish a football youth academy, which could change the lives of children through education. Prince loved the idea and the following year he was back in the Mother City, for good this time, to build the Ubuntu academy.
Much has been made about the launch of Ajax Cape Town’s soccer school, but Ubuntu have been running such a programme since 2012.
They have been mixing education and football for a while now, with little fanfare, and have their own school too. They draw on kids from Masiphumelele, Retreat and Fish Hoek and the surrounds - it’s a holistic programme, focusing not just on football but on on education and mentorship, with the ultimate objective of changing the lives of children from such disadvantaged communities. They send some of the graduates from the programme to universities in the United States and, now that they are in the NFD, they have a platform to further elevate footballers from their academy.
With a place in the last 16, which has garnered valuable interest and attention for the club, Ubuntu are highly motivated to continue their march in the competition. In AmaZulu, they are up against a tough opponent, but Prince is confident his improving team can put on a good show.
“We are obviously proud of what we have accomplished so far,” said the American coach, “and we are certainly not going to lie down and die. We are confident we can play at that level.
“We’ve been fortunate to have lots of material to study the way AmaZulu play; their games are on television of course.
“They are solid and don’t give up a lot of goals, and they are tactically sound.
“But we haven’t really focused on any of their individual players because they tend to change the starting team all the time. They are all PSL players, so they have to be good at what they do, but we are confident, and we are excited to travel to Durban and have some fun.”