Off the Streets and in the Game
As boys' and girls' recreational clubs sprouted around Johannesburg in the 1930s, Andries "PelePele" Mkhwanazi and Bethuel Mokgosinyana, the founding fathers of Orlando Pirates, groomed their team for glory.
"The Boys' Club's main purpose seems to have been to keep its members physically fit while serving as an alternative to youth street culture... The club seems to have accommodated a few unemployed, non-school going youth, as well. Rankus Maphisa, a contemporary of the inaugural Pirates squad and a lifelong supporter of the club, recalls the impact the Boys' Club had on himself and his schoolmates:
"'[Andries "PelePele"] Mkhwanazi is the man who made us to be what we are. He taught us boxing, he built us up. Some became powerful gentlemen because of [the club]. Philip Mashego was a very educated man and a social worker. He wanted us to become united. He had the words of love and he could influence into goodness. He was concerned about young boys - you couldn't get wild when he was around, you couldn't be a tsotsi when he was there. He wasn't [physically] powerful but he could make you to understand. We Pirates were not very wild. Well, I was wild - but not very wild. Not that wildness...we were never arrested. This was because of Mashego and later [Bethuel] Mokgosinyana.'
"The late Thirties and early Forties were turbulent times for Orlando... Of course a township situation that is more tolerable than most still falls far short of ideal conditions to grow up in; the Boys' Club clearly had a role to play. What is of interest here is to what extent the Boys' Club did help mould the soon-to-be Pirates into the 'powerful gentlemen' Maphisa speaks of and what influences, if any, operated on Mashego's club."
"Kick Off magazine editor Richard Maguire writes that these questions point us to Mokgosinyana and his philosophy which - apparently rare amongst the game's patron managers - viewed the football club as a possible vehicle for social upliftment.
"During the Thirties a number of boys' clubs were set up in the Reef towns and townships, apparently as a continuation of the earlier efforts of prominent liberals... and missionaries... By the end of the war, 32 boys' and 22 girls' clubs were receiving training at the Wemmer Barracks, the Bantu Men's Social Centre (BMSC) or at the JH Hofmeyr School for Social Work.
"Involving children in organised sport was widely regarded as one means of countering the youth problem. It was a solution advocated by many sports administrators, including the first president of JBFA, 'Snowy' Senoane, who laboured tirelessly to help establish a variety of sporting codes in the Johannesburg area. Senoane was very popular with the administrators of the City Council whose initial support for the JBFA was prompted by a vision of using it to curb drinking amongst miners on the weekends. He also enthusiastically promoted various cultural activities such as traditional dancing, while his wife helped organise girls' clubs.
Whereas some of their peers might have turned to other forms of youth culture - such as the street gang - they settled for the Boys' Club's healthy combination of muscles and manners.
"Maguire writes that while it is 'mechanistic' and 'top down' to assume that Mashego, as an individual, could have had any great impact on the boys because of his social worker status (as he is 'after all remembered as a thief') it is surmised that his club, and the environment it provided, played an important role in young people's formative years. He furthermore writes that 'whereas some of their peers might have turned to other forms of youth culture - such as the street gang - they settled for the Boys' Club's healthy combination of muscles and manners'. Maphisa recalls:
"'The Boys' Club taught us to be united. We taught ourselves boxing; we became good boxers and we became united. The unity between us came like that: [Some of us asked] what are we going to do now? Our parents haven't got money; we can't go to school? People like Mashego came along and looked after us and [later] people like Mokgosinyana came and looked after us.'
"The case for Mokgosinyana's impact on the teenagers - who in many ways were virtually given up to his charge - is overwhelming. Above all his religion was football and he wished everyone to follow it. Shabangu recalls:
"'He used to say to people: "Football is the sport... If you let your child play, you will save him from trouble." He encouraged good habits. The old man held us very tight - not using force - he could make us understand. [We] who played under his supervision know what is right or wrong. All players of my generation have families... good families.'
"The young players themselves were of course equally responsible for building their world. They grew up together, kicking tennis balls around the neighbourhood and leather balls on bumpy school pitches. Most left school by the completion of Standard Six - usually because their parents couldn't afford to keep them in school or because their father had died. The players tended to share the little they had, and those who found employment were expected to help others get work. They would spend their free time at Mokgosinyana's house playing cards or kicking a ball. His house was, in effect, the clubhouse, where formal team talks were held on Wednesday evenings and where the players and their closest companions slept over on the night before a match. Mokgosinyana was a skilled carpenter and he built an extension to his house for this purpose and the players used to bed down on the floor."
Drum magazine, June 1980, pp54-55
The People's Club: A History of Orlando Pirates, by Richard Maguire (editor of Kick Off magazine), published by the University of the Witwatersrand Press, 1991