South Africa

VISUAL ESSAY

In Fateng-Tse-Ntsho township near Senekal, kids score a try by picking rugby over crime and drugs

In Fateng-Tse-Ntsho township near Senekal, kids score a try by picking rugby over crime and drugs
In terms of sport, townships are usually synonymous with soccer, but Fateng-Tse-Nthsho is also home to a group of girls and boys who are passionate about rugby. (Photo: Shiraaz Mohamed)

The message coming from coach Thabo Mokoena is loud and clear. Don’t get caught up in crime and drugs. Winners play rugby and don’t end up in jail. Mokoena is the coach of a rugby team in Fateng-Tse-Ntsho in the Free State. Lying between Bethlehem and Senekal, Fateng-Tse-Nthsho gained media attention after it emerged that the men accused of the murder of farmer Brendin Horner hailed from the township.

A passionate man about life and rugby, coach Thabo Mokoena always encourages kids to excel in life and used the arrests of the men accused of Brendin Horner’s murder as a perfect example.

Said Mokoena: “I use my life as an example. To be a gangster is not a good thing. One can end up in jail. Like when Brendin’s thing happened I told the kids, if you are not playing sport, this is where you can end up, in jail. I tell them when you play sport, you can go far and achieve many things. The choice is theirs. I have brothers in jail. When they come out of jail they say it is not nice inside. Most of the kids listen and I can see they are going to go far.”

In terms of sport, townships are usually synonymous with soccer, but Fateng-Tse-Nthsho is also home to a group of girls and boys who are passionate about rugby. Mokoena, who does odd jobs as a welder and electrician, gathers the kids five days a week where they train in an open field they share with cows that go out to graze.

Many of the players aspire to play rugby on a professional level. (Photo: Shiraaz Mohamed)

While the team managed to secure a sponsor for their jerseys, players are required to come up with their own shorts and togs. (Photo: Shiraaz Mohamed)

Being from an impoverished background does not deter these kids from playing rugby. Their parents are in full support of their choice of sport and despite not having money for basic necessities, at times they are able to provide their kids with transport money should they need to travel to play games.

They are part of a league, but since the lockdown was implemented everything was put on hold. It is only up until recently that they began practising again.

“This corona messed everything up for us,” said Mokoena. We had to stop playing. Apart from that, the other problem that we face is our league is not that big. I wish we could play in bigger leagues and also for bigger teams. Then the kids can get sponsorships. I want some of them to play for big teams. I believe that some of them can make it to play for the Cheetahs or Lions.”

Seventeen-year-old Refilwe Tshabalala beamed with pride as she described her passion for rugby. “I love rugby. Here in the township, everyone plays soccer. I don’t like soccer because soccer is boring. I don’t mind getting hurt when playing because it only makes me stronger.” 

Some of the players pose for an image with their assistant coach Ngqubuka Malefetsane (yellow jersey, centre of image). Malefetsane dreams of playing professional rugby and wants the whole of South Africa to watch him play. (Photo: Shiraaz Mohamed)

Being from an impoverished background does not deter these kids from playing rugby. Their parents are in full support of their choice of sport, despite not having money for basic necessities at times. (Photo: Shiraaz Mohamed)

Assistant team coach Ngqubuka Malefetsane described his feelings towards the two accused in the Horner murder and said: “They done bad and I don’t want to live my life like that. What if they spend their whole life in jail? That is why I choose to play rugby instead of getting involved in crime and drugs. I have a dream of playing professional rugby and I want the whole of South Africa to see me on TV.”

Malefetsane said Siya Kolisi is his favourite player.

A silhouette image of the team as they work on the lineout. The lineout is a means of restarting play after the ball has gone off the field of play at the side. (Photo: Shiraaz Mohamed)

Coach Thabo Mokoena uses his life as an example to steer kids away from crime and drugs. He has aspirations of playing for the Springboks and is inspired by Bryan Habana.(Photo: Shiraaz Mohamed)

Daily Maverick spoke to William Lekhoaba about some of the challenges the team faces. Lekhoaba is responsible for the team and is among the pioneers who introduced rugby to the township many years ago. 

“We were fortunate that the South African Rugby Union and the Department of Education provided us with training clinics. We need more of those,” said Lekhoaba.

“We also would like things to be made more accessible for rural areas. It is very difficult to access things when in rural areas. We also require removable rugby poles so that we can access the stadium that is used for soccer.”

Then there is a need for rugby togs, which the children now try to buy for themselves. “We got a sponsor for the jerseys,” said Lekhoaba, but the children still need boots, socks, and shorts. DM

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