THE SKY’S THE LIMIT
In Photos – Young pigeon fancier gives wings to new enthusiasts through inclusive approach to racing
Having established a pigeon racing academy to encourage township communities to take an interest in pigeon rearing, Lodumo Nkala hopes to establish a new, more accessible era for the sport.
Pigeon fancier Lodumo Nkala established Community Lofts — a pigeon racing academy in Centurion, Gauteng — in 2020 to draw other aspiring pigeon enthusiasts into the industry. The 19-year-old’s academy provides mentorship, educates community members about pigeon racing and aims to provide enthusiasts with opportunities to enter the sport.
Nkala also wants to open communal lofts in different townships across South Africa to help would-be fanciers reduce the cost of keeping and breeding pigeons. Nkala’s goal is to enter races in 2023 with some of his mentees and other new pigeon fanciers.
Pigeon racing is a multimillion-rand sports industry. Enthusiasts of the sport breed homing pigeons, fit them with lightweight, detachable electronic rings which measure flight speed, distance, and the time the birds take to fly home to their lofts when released from distant locations. The fastest pigeon wins.
Access to pigeon racing equipment, however, is costly. Rings, timing devices and clocks that document the birds’ flight data are vital to fanciers intent on entering races. But the cost of this equipment is a significant obstacle for many people wanting to enter the sport. Cost of feed, medicine and travel are also preventing many people who keep and breed pigeons from racing their birds.
“You are everything to the birds, their doctor, their trainer. You have to identify when the birds are not well,” said Nkala when asked about the challenges and responsibilities pigeon breeders face.
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There are other challenges besides. The sport is not very diverse and often only Afrikaans is spoken.
“As a young black man, there are not many like me in the sport. In this industry, I am often the only black person in the room. Through Community Lofts, I am looking to enter a new era of pigeon racing by allowing those who are faced with financial and time constraints to compete in the sport,” Nkala says.
One of the youngsters Nkala is mentoring is Grade 11 pupil Tadenda Gwaze (17) from Pretoria. Both young men became interested in the sport after noticing flocks of pigeons flying close to their homes. Nkala’s grandfather used to wake him up early so that they could watch a neighbour’s pigeons fly together.
“I used to dream about doing that myself one day. It also gave me something to connect with and spend time with my grandfather outside,” said Nkala.
Gwaze used to frequently sit outside his home in the morning before school and watch a flock of pigeons flying in circles. He eventually located the owner who lived in the same area. He was surprised to find out that the owner knew the name of each of his almost 40 birds. He also gave Gwaze his first pair of birds.
Gwaze saved all his pocket money to build a loft for his pigeons. He has since built and acquired more lofts to house his almost 20 birds. He has given them all names, such as Naledi, Spot, Sunflower, Raven and his favourite, Vanilla.
Reaching for the sky
In mid-2021, Nkala attended the AfrikaPro Premier One Loft Series launch in Bela-Bela, Limpopo, which afforded him the opportunity to connect with some of South Africa’s top fanciers.
“It allowed me to network with the top fanciers in the country and receive even more information and tips from those with proven results.”
Nkala wants to implement changes that make entry into the sport easier. These include lower entry fees for clubs, racing fortnightly instead of weekly, shorter races, and basketing (when birds are checked in on the timing device before a race) on Saturdays. At the moment, basking takes place on Thursdays which excludes school learners and people with weekday jobs. Nkala believes changes will allow entry for people who just want to enjoy the sport through participation rather than committing to it on a full-time basis.
“It will allow new blood into the sport.” DM
Follow @communitylofts for more info.
Alet Pretorius is a freelance photographer, lecturer and visual artist. She focuses on photojournalism and story-telling in different environments (media, corporate, personal and social). She has more than 19 years of photojournalism experience which included a position of picture editor at Beeld newspaper. She is currently part-time lecturer at the University of Pretoria, Market Photo Workshop and Boston Media House.