Lessons from the playing fields

On Tuesday December 16 the country witnessed the birth of a new political formation known as the Congress of the People (Cope) after a challenge by the ruling party to have the name annulled because it infringes on the ANC’s right to the word “congress” and the phrase “congress of the people”.

But then a member of a congress of people wearing long robes and a wig, otherwise known as a judge, ruled in Cope’s favour.

The launch of Cope brought to mind a similar turn of events just less than 40 years ago.

In 1968 one of the then (and now) leading football clubs in South Africa, Orlando Pirates, sent one of its favourite sons, Kaizer Motaung, to the United States to play for Atlanta Chiefs. So proud of Motaung were the hordes of Pirates working-class fans that they contributed their own hard-earned money to buy him the best clothes for his trip overseas. This so that the Yankees could see that Africans, contrary to the fears that we lived among lions and cannibals, were not only human, gifted in sport and intelligent, but also wore designer labels of the day like Bostonian, Crocket & Jones and Ayers & Smith.

So our Kaizer was deployed to the US and he acquitted himself well. To quote the Pirates website, he set the scene alight becoming the leading goal scorer for his club and was voted Rookie of the Year 1968.

Back home, there was a broedertwis in the Pirates camp and, sooner rather than later, there were suspensions and expulsions of some of the members of the Pirates family because they did not follow the instructions of head office.

During a trip back to South Africa on holiday Motaung asked permission to use some of the suspended players for friendly games while Pirates were touring Swaziland. He named the team the Kaizer Motaung Invitational XI. Apparently the disloyal members of the Pirates family, let’s call them the counter-revolutionaries, started putting pressure on Motaung to turn his team into a permanent one, but it seems he took some persuading as he believed it would be an act of betrayal.

But Motaung and his invitational side had tasted success and fame and the temptation was just too strong. When he returned at the end of his contract with Atlanta Chiefs in 1969, he severed relations with Pirates and, with a string of former Pirates players, they formed what we today know as Kaizer ChiefsOn the Chiefs website Motaung himself writes that Chiefs were formed “at the right time” and that their dress code, slogan of love and peace and colours appealed to more people and emphasised friendship. The typical PR banter of a rebel.

In spite of at first being exposed to violent treatment by Pirates fans and scorn from loyalists like my father, Chiefs built themselves into what today is arguably the best supported club in South Africa. Pirates remain a force to be reckoned with and occasionally they beat Chiefs. Pirates still have loyal disciples like me.

However, the records will state that in the past 38 years Chiefs have had the better of Pirates more often than not and that Chiefs have won more trophies than any other club in the history of South Africa and Pirates are not even a distant second.

Mosiuoa Lekota is not Kaizer Motaung and the ANC can never be Orlando Pirates, but observing the turn of events in Bloemfontein this week, I have a sense that some political football history is in the making here.