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Reality, Sport

The Little Kings

by Samora Chapman additional reporting by Luke Mason / 29.03.2010

Last week Durban hosted the first ever Street Child World Cup. The initiative united street children from around the world in celebration of their love of football. But it also served a greater purpose; to give the children a platform to be heard, enabling them to establish their rights and to inform and drive policy on how to deal with street kids, through a set of conferences. The overall idea is to empower the street children and give them the knowledge they need to make informed life choices and become leaders amongst their peers.

The conference produced a charter called the ‘Durban Declaration’, identifying the key issues; home, protection against violence and access to basic services. The declaration challenges the power structures responsible for the inhumane treatment of street children around the globe, and lays out a new blueprint, based on social engagement, to resolve the issue of street children and return these kids back into productive members of the community.

Here at Mahala, we’ve run regular reports on the Durban Metro’s strong-arm approach to street kids in the build up to the FIFA 2010 World Cup. However, it would seem that the Street Child World Cup and the consistent engagement of Umthombo around the issue, has resulted in a sea change from the Ethikwini Municipality. Finally all parties are engaging and dealing progressively with the issue of Durban’s dispossessed youngsters. The Durban Mayor even held a a reception for the Street Child World Cup at the newly finished Moses Mabhida Stadium, that had Umthombo’s Tom Hewitt smiling broadly.
“The Mayor’s reception for the Street Child World Cup marks the beginning of a new era in Durban that will see city officials and NGOs, such as Umthombo, working together to develop a city wide strategy that empowers street children to be able to leave the streets and return to community life.” He said.

Watch this space for the full, in-depth, follow-up story. But right now the focus should be on the select few champion street kids, from around the world who danced in the spotlight with a football magically attached to their feet, and in so doing, shifted the whole paradigm forward.

I arrived at the Street Child World Cup and strolled directly into a conversation of ‘one-bounce’. No introduction needed. A lanky fellow wearing a pair of golden J-lo Gucci sunnies was bouncing a ball in the shade of a gnarled umdoni tree. He moved slow and kinda lazy in the heat like a praying mantis. He stalled the ball in the curve of his foot, then sent it my way; looping through the air like an invitation. I received it with a tap-tap-tap, dancing the soccer dance, awkwardly trying to demonstrate some white-boy prowess whilst juggling my camera and notebook. A conversation without words, soccer truly is a universal language. We jammed for a while, until the sound of drums and vuvuzelas summoned us to the indoor arena, where the real skills were being flaunted. The Street Child World Cup was on!

I entered the arena and was smacked in the psyche by a pack of riot police in Darth Vader suits. I will never get used to the sight of fire-arms. Their shiny uniforms of death seem to have a will of their own, like they could possess the humans inside, on instruction, and wreak havoc at any moment. Happily, their presence had nothing to do with the street kids, whatsoever. The Durban University of Technology had been closed most of the week due to student strikes. Violence and chaos had reigned for the past 48 hours. But today the riot police were glued to the pitch waiting for the game to begin, their gats hanging limp at their sides. Their weapons were nothing but forgotten fashion accessories as they grinned through their perspex visors and jostled with one another to get a better view of the football. I joined in the excited hustle for a view of the proceedings, mingling with a tasty cross section of beings; some drunken students, a midget, a bunch of school kids and the regular journo-vultures. The Umthombo crew were beating djembes and dancing in festivity, getting hearts pumping in anticipation for battle. Hand-painted national flags draped from the roof; the electric scoreboard quivered at zero-zero and the announcement rang out over the loudspeaker: ‘India versus Ukraine!’

Enter the little superstars in their shiny kit and odd-socks, beaming with pride and butterflies. Handshakes and flags exchanged, it was time for the game to begin… at that moment Ethikwini City Manager Mr Mike Sutcliffe made his entrance, and showed his support, looking cool as a ninja in a satin white shirt, despite the steaming afternoon. But on this day the politicians and the media did not have centre-stage. Mr Sutcliffe stood in the bleachers and joined in with the rest of the chanting crowd, as the Ukraine kids tumbled haphazardly around the pitch like a pack Yo-landi Visser clones. Short fringes and flowing mullets seem to be all the rage in Eastern Europe. India was supremely calm and elegant, stroking the ball around with composure. They scored an 8-0 victory and showed the kind of class that would see them become the ultimate champs at the end of the tournament.

In the next game the tiny Philippines took on the Brazilian giants. The Phillippino kids kicked ass, their playmaker a little Bruce Lee reincarnate slicing through the air like the kung-fu legend himself. Brazil failed to live up to their reputation, save a few Ronaldinho-ninho’s who tore up the dance-floor. It was like a school-yard battle scenario, with big gangly 6 foot kids, versus 3 foot ankle snappers and a couple of lurkers who looked like they got reluctantly roped into the game, but would rather be chasing rainbows. 6-2 to the kung-fu kids in red! Tanzania vs England was an epic clash of the titans. A tight competition ending in a 1-1 draw. Team England strutted around the stadium to scattered applause like veterans of stardom. But it was Tanzinia’s brilliant skill and teamwork that would win them an overall silver medal at the end of the tournament.

I didn’t get to see South Africa vs Brazil on Saturday, so we dispatched Luke Mason to report.

Two powerhouses in street children’s soccer square off. Both countries are power houses in street children, only the latter in soccer. It’s South Africa vs Brazil, and a strange sight it was.

These were not street children. This was no street. Where were the dustbin goals? Where was the plastic packet ball? These are just regular children, in shoes and washed clothes, eating good food and drinking Coca-Colas out of frosty bottles. Something was amis.

They were trying to trick the journalist. Trying to get him to believe that those grubby little fuckers that are always at his window, those retched creatures with their rehearsed desperation and needy eyes, those rapscalious knaves were just – young, scared children?! Cunning Mr activist. Very cunning.

The journalist looked on as these indoor-sports-facility-children sped and bent like normal humans of that particular age bracket. There were some talented little players. Strange images of football scouts prowling the backstreets of the inner city, looking for the wiriest, the toughest, the fastest street child football prodigy, briefly entered his mind. Publicity opportunities were captured and launched into cyberspace by the media battalion, while the small crowd cheered.

The South African fans vacillated like South Africans. Booing our team, chanting “Brazil”. But the real Bafanas took the lead in fine fashion and Brazil was suddenly forgotten. When the final whistle blew our boys and girls were given a hero’s ovation. The little kings did a victory lap, supported, as usual, in only the fairest of weather.

As I looked down at the game, I saw strong brave kids playing their hearts out in front of a booming crowd. In the heat of the game all else is forgotten. These kids were the heroes of the day. At the heart of it, what the Street Child World Cup has done is empower these children, by returning to them some semblance of pride and humanity. It has given them a new identity as leaders and champions.

All images © and courtesy Samora Chapman.

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