On a dusty football pitch in Zandspruit, Roodepoort, coach Donald Rampya gives instructions to a group of eager young children. There’s a practice match on the go.
Some of the children are dressed in jeans, some wearing tattered old soccer boots, some with no laces. Some have outgrown their sneakers to the point that their toes push out the front.
Rampya Chiefs is one of eight soccer teams playing in Zandspruit, all registered with the South African Football Association (Safa).
Rampya, who works for the City of Johannesburg’s Jozi@work programme, started the team in 2013 because of his love for soccer, with the hope of uplifting and giving guidance to youngsters in the impoverished informal settlement.
He started small, with about 20 boys, but today he has around 60 children training with him. Each of the eight teams in the community have a similar number of aspirant footballers.
“The children here are very easily drawn to gambling, and from there they can be easily influenced by the wrong crowd into a life of drugs and crime,” Reajah FC coach Everest Mpasi, who is also from Zandspruit, explains.
There is one girl who trains with Reajah FC. “You’ll be surprised that some girls in the community are so hungry that they prostitute themselves just for a meal.”
“Soccer gives the children something else to focus on, and it keeps them fit and healthy. We are trying to provide positive role models for them.”
Among the 8 teams, the coaches have made a resolution that in order to play soccer the children have to attend school. “At the end of each term the children have to bring their report cards to me,” says Mpasi.
“I look at their marks to see where they are struggling, and offer help with maths or English as I am good at those subjects. Other members in the community also help with extra lessons where they can.”
A Safa requirement is that children play with soccer boots or sneakers. “This is a big problem for us. How can we turn kids away who sometimes don’t even have money for food?” asks Mpasi.
“I have committed every month to take some of my own money, earned from doing piece jobs, to buy at least one pair of soccer boots for my team.”
Mpasi explains that during a tournament children will often share boots, with one pair of boots sometimes worn by at least four children.
“We also use our own money to buy soccer balls,” states Rampya. “I currently have two soccer balls of my own.”
Mpasi adds: “We’ve learnt that if we buy R99 soccer balls, they don’t last long – maybe two weeks – keeping in mind that we don’t play in ideal conditions. Our soccer pitch is made up of dirt and gravel. And there are at times 60 boys playing with the ball everyday. The R250 soccer balls are better and last about three months.”
Aubrey Maanaso, father of three boys who play for Rampya Chiefs, appreciates what Rampya is doing for his children. “He’s been training my boys from when they were young. He is a very good influence on my children. My children are obsessed with soccer. They keep me awake late at night to watch these World Cup soccer matches.”
But pursuing their passion for the sport comes at a price. Maanaso is unemployed and runs a spaza shop from his home. “We have to by second-hand boots for my boys in the Joburg CBD, and those cost R250 per pair,” he explains.
Rampya Chiefs is part of the Mogale City Soccer League, which is made up of 15 teams.
This weekend, the team is playing in a tournament. Rampya has to collect a R20 taxi fare from each of the parents of the boys playing in the tournament to transport them to Kagiso. “Sometimes the parents don’t have the money to contribute, so I will pay for their child, or another parent will pay for two children.
“If the team wins, they will receive a trophy, medals, have their transport costs reimbursed, a full kit for the team, plus five soccer balls. If they don’t, each team receives two soccer balls for their efforts.”
* If you can help with new or used soccer boots, sneakers, kits or balls contact Donald Rampya on 072 732 9437 or Everest Mpasi on 073 351 4560, alternatively contact Michel Bega at firstname.lastname@example.org.