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How football kept the ANC leadership alive

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How football kept the ANC leadership alive


It can be seen through the haze from Cape Town and the glittering new Green Point stadium; Robben island, where the ANC leaders were imprisoned, most notably Nelson Mandela.

It was a place of torture, but also a place of football, and there was never any talk of politics being separated from sport here.

For years the beautiful game was the inmate’s only comfort. They fought for the right to play, and then set up the Makana football association that would become a vital part of their lives. Marcus Soloman was one of them;

“They said ‘Play soccer? This isn’t a hotel, this is a bloody prison, man.’ And of course among ourselves there was a whole debate – ‘must we ask them to really play soccer when we don’t have proper food?”

The first matches at last took place in 1969. The Makana FA was even able to set up a championship on FIFA lines, following its rules, and at its peak had nine clubs. Today apartheid is long gone, but Soloman says there is still a lot to do;

“There were people in there because of the struggle for a better world, and that struggle is continuing, because what we struggled for is not yet the reality in South Africa.”

With the end of apartheid many of the former players in the Makana FA went into politics. Jacob Zuma, today the country’s president, used to be the referee.

FIFA president Sepp Blatter has visited the island to meet former Makana FA players, and make the association an honorary member of the federation.

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