Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Luckiest Man Alive... Pt. 2

My new friend Jerry from Soweto told me that in Africa, getting stung by a bee is a sign of good luck. I told Jerry, "that's the kind of saying that people who have next-to-nothing invent." He laughed. I tried to laugh, but my arm was KILLING me. Later that night, I thought about Jerry's wisdom and decided that there may be some truth to it. After all, we've already established that I am the luckiest man alive (see earlier post). Plus, I've been stung by a bee three times, in some of the most unlikely places possible. The first time, when I was just a wee lad, I got stung on my tongue. The second time, it was in between my fingers—possibly the single most irritating experience of my life. This weekend, she got me on the right brachialis, dang near in my armpit. Not as tricky as the first two, but enough to make me feel special.

Honestly, I have better reasons to believe that I am the luckiest man alive, and last weekend that list of reasons only got longer. I finally got to spend some quality time in the North West Province of South Africa, home of the Royal Bafokeng Nation. Back in April, when my friends, Schyleen and Ron, heard that I was going to South Africa they made it very clear that visiting RBN was a must. It's true—there is so much going on under this one roof that is right up my alley.

The The Royal Bafokeng Nation is the ethnic homeland of the Bafokeng people, who settled in the Rustenburg Valley during the 12th century. Just to put things into perspective, the Republic of South Africa was only formed in 1961. During the 19th century the Boers began to settle in the valley, encroaching on Bafokeng territory. Over the next 150 years, the Bafokeng people would struggle to retain control of this land—miraculously, they were successful. Remember, land rights of Africans, with or without title, have often been completely ignored throughout history. In the 20th century the South African government designated ten areas as "bantustans" with the goal of restricting/relocating blacks to specific areas. As my friends back home in the U.S. shake their head in disbelief, I ask them to first remember the Homestead Act and the creation of Indian Reservations.

The Bafokeng people took extreme and creative measures to retain control of this land. Money was pooled in community funds used to buy the land that had already been occupied for centuries. In some cases, sympathetic white groups were used as "fronts" who could buy the land on paper to protect it from being stolen by unsympathetic whites. Ultimately, the efforts to hold onto the land would reap huge rewards. At the end of the 19th century the Bushveld Igneous Complex was discovered. In plain English, the Royal Bafokeng Nation sits atop one of the largest concentration of platinum deposits in the world.

No, the platinum is not the part about this place that is "right up my alley." I don't do jewelry. The exciting part is what RBN has done, is doing, and plans to do with this serious cash flow. As a real-life case study, RBN represents a unique chance to for me to observe massive urban planning (my undergraduate major), sports development (my profession), and youth education (my raison d'être), all in one place. With an emphasis on sustainability, RBN has laid out a master plan "aimed at creating an environment in which people live with dignity and have access to facilities – health, education, recreation and employment – thus enabling them to maximize their abilities and talents." Economically, the goal is to wean the Bafokeng community of 300,000 people off of the mining revenues before the ore deposits run out (are you listening, Saudi Arabia?).

Like I said, there is a whole lot going on at RBN, and I was only there for a few short days. On my first evening in town, my host, Sue, brought me along (willingly) to her yoga class. Ironically, I've lived in the Bay Area for almost three decades, but I had to travel to Africa to try yoga for the first time. I loved it, and can see myself doing the downward dog a lot more in the future.
On my first full day I visited Royal Bafokeng Sports (RBS), a division of Royal Bafokeng Holdings. Many of you may recognize the name Bafokeng because the stadium was one of the ten sites to host World Cup 2010, including the USA vs England and USA vs. Ghana matches. The world class training facilities made international headlines because England's team was based there during their short stay at the tournament. What is even more impressive than the World Cup headlines is the impact that Royal Bafokeng Sports is having in the local community. Currently, almost 20,000 kids are participating in RBS programs, including soccer, rugby, athletics (track & field), martial arts, and netball. The soccer program reaches 5,000 kids, not including the the competitive U13, U15, U17, and U19 teams. On Friday I observed the training sessions, which are run by a team of Brazilian and Irish coaches. It was especially nice to get some pointers from Darren Conway of the Football Association of Irelan (FAI) while he worked with the goalkeepers.

At the professional level, RBN owns two franchises— the Platinum Stars (soccer) and the Platium Leopards (rugby). On Friday I attended the unveiling on the new Platinum Stars kits for the 2010-11 season. That evening, I watched my first ever live professional rugby match between the Leopards and the Durban Sharks. It was not close, I'll just leave it at that. Fortunately, when you're in the box with free food and drinks—thank you Darren—you hardly feel the sting of a bad loss. After the game, we rounded out the night at News Cafe in Rustenburg. One thing that I love about Africa is that it is still cool for guys to dance. And by "dance" I mean actually  dance—not two-step in place as if the world will end if you spill a drop of your Hennessy.

On Saturday, we all took to the rugby field at the Bafokeng Sports Campus for a long day of choreography practice. 200 young athletes from the five different RBS programs have been chosen to perform in the pregame show at the Tri Nations Rugby Tournament. The upcoming match between the Springboks and the All Blacks at Soccer City has already sold out. By the way, I don't care about any court ruling—I will always call it "Soccer City." While it was amazing to see all the kids work out their routines, the highlight was when a spontaneous dance-off broke out. I was proud of the soccer boys, but I have to admit that the youngster from the athletics program was too smooth, and the big oke from the rugby squad has his own thing going on.

In the afternoon I got to sit in on a presentation given by Ezzy Seabelo, the Community Development Director for Royal Bafokeng Sports. The presentation was given for Brooks Meek, the Vice President of International Basketball Operations for the NBA, which is looking to partner with RBS to develop the sport in South Africa.

After a busy few days, I was looking forward to Sunday, the day made for rest and family. What better way to spend the day than hanging around the house with the family that took me in the for weekend. Sue, Charles, and their kids (Sam and Rebecca), opened up their home and treated me like family during my visit, and Sunday was no exception. A late morning cup of coffee with a freshly picked passion fruit... a little digging in the dirt with Charles to replace a sprinkler head... some backyard soccer with Sam. But no old school Sunday is complete without a surprise visit from an unexpected guest. The highlight of my weekend, and one of the highlights of my time in South Africa, was the chance to sit down with Memogelo, Semane Molotlegi—the Queen Mother of the Bafokeng people. Her son, Kgosi Leruo Molotlegi is the "36th king of the Bafokeng, and the 15th direct descendant of a long lineage of Bafokeng kings." Years ago Memogelo took Sue under her wing, and now their friendship has grown to the point where it is nothing for her to just stop by for a chat. So there I was, with Sue, Charles, and Memogelo—having coffee and chatting about local politics and what-not. All I can say is that she does not wear her royalty on her wrists, fingers, or around her neck, but even if you didn't know who she was, you would know she was somebody special after sitting with her. In the words of Maya Angelou... Phenomenal Woman.

Pura Vida

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