This article was originally published in Grocotts Mail and has been republished with the permission of its author. This is the sixth installment in a series of monthly reflections on our city. The aim is to generate conversation about our place and its meanings.
Soccer takes away the pain. It is more effective than alcohol and drugs. And it does so without numbing the mind. We feel healthy, strong, and alert. We can displace ourselves freely with our toned muscles and strong hearts and lungs. Soccer allows us to feel the vitality of being human. This contrasts radically with the dreary lethargy of township life.
Soccer occupies the mind. But why do our minds need to be occupied? Because the pain would return were it not for the undivided focus on the beautiful game. Soccer, we know, is an opiate worth having. For without it there would be nothing. We play to remain whole. In the middle of the hurricane, we play.
Soccer has transformed our lives. We live for soccer and for each other. We are struggle companions in dark times. Together we can hold out against the surrounding nihilism. Together we are stronger. We are living for something greater than ourselves. We are the caretakers of beauty. Beauty is so rare, so precious, so very vulnerable. We are here to protect it and that makes us strong.
Soccer is a religion to us. Our playing is a prayer for a better life. Praying makes us whole, and gives us a sense of purpose. With soccer we can hope. Our sporting prayers make us creatures in time rather than remaining frozen in timeless dread, with shrunken horizons.
We are priests of the game. Our parents ignore us. They don’t care. They are busy dying slowly, madly falling into an internal abyss—edged along by alcohol—unable even to accept our offers of help. They are blind to us for their eyes are turned inward and sunken deep inside the skull. They have lost sight of the horizon of hope and have become obsessed with their own suffering, consumed by their private hells.
The fans are more like our parents than our actual parents. They are there for us, cheering at our victories and suffering with us in the face of defeat, telling us with every gesture that we count, that they care, that we are special and, hence, deserve to be.
Our community shows us respect even if our parents don’t. Tsotsi’s don’t mess with us because we are also playing for them. Our religion protects us, and it organizes our lives. Tsotsi lives are also organized to some extent, but not around beauty. We are the caretakers of the beautiful game whilst they are the caretakers of power and violence.
Soccer brings with it the structures of hope. It opens us up to new possibilities. We have to train for a tomorrow, for a possible victory. We have to work together for that tomorrow, and that molds us into a community of brothers working for a common end that fills us with purpose, working together for something that earns us the respect of our community and organizes our lives. And without this organizing activity, our lives would fall apart and our eyes would be turned inward, like those of our parents.
Because soccer brings hope it also brings meaning. We are the caretakers of soccer, of something that matters. We bring meaning to township life. The hurricane of poverty cannot destroy us.
To play soccer is to rebel. It’s an act of defiance against the given, a struggle against the horror expressed in the eyes of our parents.
This article is co-authored by Pedro Tabensky and Makana Pillars FC soccer club.
Series editor, Tabensky, is the Director of the Allan Gray Centre for Leadership Ethics, located in the Department of Philosophy, Rhodes University. Siyanda Centwa is a student of philosophy at Rhodes University.