Monday, June 21, 2010

C'mon Koman!

I spent my first full week in Johannesburg in the care of Sonja, Moiketsi and their family. On Wednesday I got to tag along with Sonja, her brother, and her mother on an interesting trip to the township of Westbury. Sonja’s mother, Sophia Williams-de Bruyn, was a founding member of the South African Congress of Trade Unions, an organizer with the Coloured People’s Congress, and a veteran leader of the anti-apartheid struggle and women’s movement in South Africa. She is currently an ANC provincial legislator for the constituency that includes Westbury and the surrounding areas. Westbury, the coloured township where Steven Peinaar grew up, has a reputation for being one of the toughest corners of Johannesburg. We visited a property next to Peinaar’s old primary school that is currently owned by the Anglican diocese, but has fallen into disrepair. The site is being considered for various projects, including a home for children. As a youth programming aficionado, it was amazing to stand in the space and appreciate its potential. With the right energy (and money!) the project could change the lives of a lot of kids, while having a positive impact on the surrounding neighborhood.

After leaving Westbury, we stopped by the Roodepoort Parliament Constituency Office. Then they took me on a tour of Kathrada Park, which just may be the illest case of urban poverty I have ever witnessed up close. Trust me, there is nothing like this, ANYWHERE in the United States. Named after Ahmed “Kathy” Kathrada, this neighborhood is the product of RDP, the ANC’s Reconstruction and Development Programme. Among other things, RDP sought to relocate millions of South Africans to “proper” housing. Unfortunately, squatters and improvised housing still permeate Kathrada Park, literally springing up in the open spaces between the small government-built RDP homes. Mrs. Williams-de Bruyn explained the challenges of distributing the country’s limited resources when it is almost impossible to ensure that they will have the proper impact. For example, she pointed out that some families apply for government housing, only to turn around and sell their structures once they get them. What struck me most was the extreme differences between one plot of land and the next, despite being built at the same time to the same specifications. These differences were clearly the result of how well people took care of their property, and whether or not they took pride in, or ownership of what little they had. It reminded me of the never-ending debate about the roles of parent involvement versus funding in public education.

On Thursday I took a stroll around Parkview, the Johannesburg suburb where Sonja and Moiketsi live. If you’ve been following this blog for a while, you know I could spend a whole day in a used bookstore, especially if they know a good book when they see one!

That night I headed to Bulldogs Pub to watch the Mexico vs. France match on the big screen with a friend that I meet during my first week in Cape Town. Tim, a recent graduate of the University of Connecticut, studied abroad in South Africa, so he’s been a good person to roll with. I must say, I've thoroughly enjoyed watching the French team collapse under the weight of their own pride. Especially when they’re demise comes at the hands of CONCACAF and CONMEBOL teams! I never thought I would find myself cheering for Cuauhtémoc Blanco, but he's earned my respect after his stint in the MLS. After the game, I headed over to Circle Bar with a group of folks that were staying with Tim at a local hostel. There was nothing special about the bar, but it was great to be with folks from all corners of the world… England, Mexico, Honduras, Slovenia, South Africa… and Texas!

Friday was game time again, so I headed to Ellis Park Stadium to watch the second U.S. match, this time against Slovenia. My company was Xathisa Somana, Sonja’s cousin.What an amazing game! The low-point was sitting right in front of two American fans that must have been directly related to Barney Gumble. The high point was definitely Landon Donovan’s goal (top 5 of the tournament!), even if it was followed by a shower of beer, sprayed courtesy of the Gumble brothers. As a ref, coach or player, you’ll never catch me blaming the referee for the outcome of a match… but, c'mon Koman!!! Absolute robbery! With all due respect to Mansu Musa, I'm just not feeling Mali right now. It was still the most exciting match I’ve ever watched in person. Better than Brasil vs Cameroon at Stanford in the 1994 World Cup! Better than Barcelona vs Valencia in the Camp Nou!

On Saturday I got settled in on the University of Johannesburg campus, where I’ll be staying for the next two weeks. I met with some the coaches of Wits University F.C. and the South African Football Association (SAFA) and watched their U14/U15 teams play a few matches. I’m looking forward to training some of their teams while I’m here, and swapping knowledge with their coaches. On Sunday I had the privilege of observing the Dutch National team’s training session at Wits University. Of course I saw a couple things that I plan on stealing and bringing home to the budding stars of the Burners Football Club!


  1. Your blog continues to amaze me, Andrew. You are such a wonderful, informative writer,,,and a great citizen of the world. I'm terrifically proud of you.
    Thanks for taking me with you!
    xxxxxxxxxx, Ma Nettie

  2. Reading your blogs really makes me feel like I am on this trip with you!! How wonderful! You get to experience all of these different cities, communities and people! I loved reading about the school site and the potential it has ... I only hope something comes of it one day!

    Can't wait to read more!!