Hero herdsman helps kids to give drugs the boot in Eastern Cape village
Sibongile Mankayi is giving his young charges reason to dream big amid a drug scourge in Twecu Locality outside East London.
They are barefoot, rescued from drug dealers who wanted to use them as runners, or from becoming addicted to drugs. They are coached by their village’s herdsman and they have already won three soccer tournaments in Eastern Cape.
They call themselves Bakania Football Club and their trainer and founder, Sibongile Mankayi, has great hope for the future of his charges. The youngest are under 10.
They never get a day off from training and the hard work is paying off as the team is winning.
Mankayi lives in Twecu Locality, near Tsholomnqa outside East London, and was appalled to see youngsters selling drugs on the local streets, but saw hope in that they were also playing soccer with plastic balls. He was born in Lesotho but has been living in South Africa for more than a decade. He decided to do something about the situation and started Bakania Football Club in May 2021.
“What I love about this is that even my bosses understand what I am trying to do in this community; and even the parents of these kids are supportive,” says Mankayi.
Though he still spends most of his time looking after 22 goats, 34 sheep and 35 cattle, his spare time is spent on the soccer field.
He expects his players to train every day after school and on weekends. “The children must be kept busy all the time.”
There are 15 children in the squad. Some play barefoot.
From the money he gets for his herdsman services Mankayi buys soccer kit for his players, and has been known to spend up to R2,500 at a time.
“I bought the kit with my own money because I am tired of seeing them wearing this senior team’s [hand-me-down] jerseys. It is not good for them. I want to instil confidence in them,” he explains.
“I do not want to see these kids struggle or end up being herdboys like me. Instead I want them to excel in school and sport, in order for them to have success in the future.”
After hearing about the team, the prestigious Grey High School in Gqeberha donated five pairs of takkies so the children could continue to train properly even if they did not have soccer boots.
‘In good hands’
Phumza Manzi, the guardian of 10-year-old Onaso Thunywashe, applauds Mankayi’s efforts in uplifting the local community.
“We do not have any stress now because we know where we will find our children. Our kids are in good hands with Sibongile,” she says.
“We really appreciate his efforts because in our area we have a challenge of young people who are using drugs at a young age. Here in Twecu we were facing the challenges of these kids camping outside the local spaza shop because they did not have anything to do after school, and many ended up using drugs.
“Substance abuse is really killing our children, so having people like Sibongile is really assisting us,” says Manzi.
One of the rising young stars in Bakania Football Club is Siyonele Myokwana (12), who is in Grade 6 at Monnie Primary School. He is very grateful for the coach’s efforts.
“I’ve been hungry for something like this,” he says. “I want to see myself playing on TV one day. Coach taught us many things and my wish is to get more sponsors to assist the coach with training resources.”
Another promising player, Esethu Jack (13), says his dream is to make it into the Orlando Pirates development team one day.
“Our parents are aware that we are here with the coach, the coach is engaging parents for everything.
“Coach bought us a new kit with his money. He assists us whenever we want to play a match and I am hoping that one day I’ll reach my dream,” says Jack. DM168
This story first appeared in our weekly Daily Maverick 168 newspaper, which is available countrywide for R25.