As the throngs of soccer-lovers filed through the turnstile into the Sisa Dukashe Stadium on Sunday, a little boy stood alone at the gate. He had no ticket to get in.
He could not have been older than 10 years old. He was dressed shabbily, with his torn jersey hanging over his shoulder, and barefoot.
Fortunately for him it was a case of being at the right place at the right time. A colleague handed him their extra ticket.
You should have seen his eyes light up as he had the ticket scanned and quickly disappeared into a crowd. He vanished before I could ask his name.
As to why he was not in the care of an older minder is still a mystery. But to some extent I understood exactly why he was there. It’s not often that township folk get the chance to watch Caf Champion League winners, Mamelodi Sundowns battle Chippa United in their own backyard.
In fact, it was only the second time the Pretoria-based outfit had played in Mdantsane.
I’ll come back to the little boy later.
One thing is clear though, the events of this past weekend brought a lot of joy to soccer lovers in this region.
The clash between the two sides was always going to be a sellout. A crowd of no less than 15000 filled the stadium to the rafters. In their usual high spirits the crowd was divided into two distinct colours – yellow for Sundowns and the others in white/ blue Chippa shirts.
It was a truly festive gathering, more so after the final whistle sealed Chippa’s one-nil defeat of the highly-rated Pretoria side.
And while the battle was taking place on the field of play, another mini-skirmish was happening on the sidelines. It was a battle of banners.
The offence became so vigorously serious that the commentator had to appeal on the stadium’s PA system at least twice with the “Gauteng North” Sundowns branch to remove their banner, which had partially obscured Chippa’s own poster from the stands.
It was an understandable error given the rivalry that comes with the love for the teams.
This was evident in some of the outfits, which were so outrageous they would easily have given Lady Gaga a run for her money.
But back to the banners. If the banners were anything to go by in terms of spectator origin, then the match was attended by fans from as far afield as Pretoria, George, Port Elizabeth and other areas.
This is exactly why it is important for our city to continue getting top-flight football. The banners were proof that sports tourism is thriving in Buffalo City. Fans will indeed travel far and wide just to see their favourite teams in action.
This is what makes the decision by Buffalo City Metro to cut ties with Chippa United so absurd and so hard to accept.
Granted, R1.3-million sponsorship (for every game played here) is a lot of money. But why on earth end the relationship with Chippa instead of renegotiating the terms?
By now we know that BCM mayor Xola Pakati’s hand was forced by his caucus. Basically this means he’s lost control.
Another faction is now in charge and the decision to dump Chippa United was more about them flexing their political muscles than the interest of BCM.
Senior ANC councillor Sindiswa Gomba told this newspaper the city’s relationship with Siviwe “Chippa” Mpengesi was one-sided.
“Chippa United did not keep their promises to the city, there were promises of coaching clinics but that never happened but money continued being forked out.
“What they promised and what they did were two different things … When you give a sponsor there must be a return for it, but there really is no return in this partnership and that should shake our conscience,” Gomba told our reporter.
If this was truly the issue then it would strengthen BCM’s case. They should have put Mpengesi on notice – deliver or lose the sponsorship. But the reality is the internal squabbles within Buffalo City council have spilt onto the field – and in the process threatened an entire micro-economy which relies on these games and the greater sports tourism sector, which was beginning to gain muscle.
The faction led by deputy mayor Zoliswa Matana might have brought Pakati to his knees – proving the superiority of their numbers within the caucus. But they have clobbered the local economy and shattered the aspirations of the sporting fraternity as a result.
It’s not about a short-lived victory. It’s about mothers who sell vetkoek and hotdogs at every game. And the small B&B owners who are assured of bookings from visitors during the year – a welcome relief after having to rely on a seasonal holiday income.
It’s about the taxi owners who ferry fans to the stadium and the vendors selling vuvuzelas and other paraphernalia.
There is also an intangible benefit to having those games in Mdantsane. It’s about uplifting a large community, many of whom have lost hope – whose sons and daughters are enslaved to tik. These young people remain constantly “high” in order to escape their miserable and mundane reality.
Our Nobel laureate Archbishop Desmond Tutu reminds us: “If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor.”
In this case there might not be a tyrannical oppressor, but there is a dominant political faction motivated by the ridiculously myopic belief that by embarrassing Pakati – who openly declared his wish to turn the city into a “sports destination of choice” – they have somehow won.
On Sunday we printed posters in support of keeping the games in East London. We may be independent as a newspaper but we are not neutral. All of us benefit when our community is uplifted – be it through sports, infrastructure, jobs or any other form of development.
This is about giving hope to that barefoot little boy. It’s about investing in the idea that one day one’s life can be far better than it is now, that one day that little boy may also be inside the pitch donning his favourite clubs’ colours.
It’s about our community, our economy and our dreams.