South Africa: The Ugly Underside of World Cup Soccer Mania
Soweto, South Africa – Less than seven miles from the carefully crafted glitter of Soccer City, the host complex for the World Cup, two legendary South African football players told fascinating often fearsome stories that powerful people want suppressed.
Two days before the recent World Cup championship match won by Spain “Smiley” Moosa and Nkosi Molala spoke at a community center in Soweto discussing their lives under apartheid and that ugly era’s lingering legacy on South African society.
Moosa and Molala both made their marks on South African soccer in the 1970s.
Under apartheid’s rigid racial categories Moosa carried the classification of Indian while Molala was African – designations barring these talented players from South Africa’s then whites-only national team.
Moosa holds the distinction of being the first non-white ever to play for an all-white soccer club in South Africa.
Moosa’s skills and light skin color earned him that short-lived elevation, later snatched back by apartheid restrictions. Continuing discriminatory practices caused Moosa to file a lawsuit against horse racing authorities where he now works as a race announcer.
Molala, lauded for his fancy footwork, holds the distinction of being the first South African soccer star ever imprisoned for political reasons.
Molala spent seven years in the infamous Robben Island prison that held Nelson Mandela, South Africa’s first black president and Jacob Zuma, that nation’s current president. Molala lost an eye during an assault by South African police following his 1985 prison release, effectively ending his soccer playing career.
Despite their once star-status Moosa and Molala both said they have been excluded from the World Cup spotlight that has raised the international stature of South Africa, the first African country to host the Cup since the inception of that international event in 1930.
“We are the pioneers and we are pushed aside,” said Moosa, whose professional soccer career began at age 16 and lasted until he was 39.
Molala noted philosophically that, “History is always the history of those in charge. It is so political.”
Moosa and Molala, both in their late fifties, remain active in the sport that defined their lives.
Moosa, a critic of the caliber of soccer in South Africa today, coaches and often plays soccer outshining players half his age.
One of Molala’s many endeavors is training inmates to be soccer referees, an anti-crime initiative for both the prisoners and underprivileged youths they would work with.
Moosa and Molala both spoke on a panel entitled “Football, Sport, Memory, and Apartheid” one of a series of forums sponsored by the Khulumani Support Group examining how the mega-bucks benefits from the World Cup are by-passing impoverished South Africans. The Methodist Central Mission in the Jabavu section of the sprawling Soweto Township located outside Johannesburg served as the site for these forums.