Indigenous Games Festival promotes unity in South Africa

Young and old alike got the opportunity to learn and play historical indigenous games for the national 10th annual Indigenous Games Festival, held this week. This festival promotes social cohesion and preserves heritage. Participants also have fun the old school way.

Heritage Day, an annual national public holiday, is observed on 24 September. South Africa expands activities throughout the month of September, which has become known as Heritage Month. (Image: Department of Sports and Recreation)

Melissa Javan

The 10th annual Indigenous Games Festival, hosted by the national Department of Sport and Recreation, was held to celebrate Heritage Month. The festival ran from 20 to 24 September, in Polokwane, Limpopo.

Heritage Day, an annual national public holiday, is observed on 24 September. South Africa expands activities throughout the month of September, which has become known as Heritage Month.

The festival was hosted in partnership with the City of Polokwane and the Limpopo department of sport, arts and culture, as well as the national Department of Traditional Affairs.

The theme of the occasion was translated as “Our indigenous sport, our heritage: towards the identification, promotion and preservation of South African’s very own sporting codes and heritage”. The mantra “My games, My roots, My future” became the hashtag on social media for the festival, which featured nine sporting codes.

Festival aims

According to Sports and Recreation, the initiative was a platform for the country’s diverse citizens to reflect on the games’ rich history and their influence on shaping the daily and future interactions of culture. “This is a rich, measurable offering responsive to driving the National Development Plan’s vision of 2030 of driving social cohesion and nation-building through sporting platforms which drive active citizenry participation in sporting codes whose origins are rooted in South African’s rich history, heritage and culture,” said Minister Fikile Mbalula.

Watch Mbalula talk about the importance of indigenous games:

A gala dinner was held on 20 September and the games were opened on 21 September.

The colourful opening was tweeted:

The nine sporting codes at the festival were:


Dikebe is a kick-and-run ball game pitting two teams of 12 players each against each other. Each team must have an equal representation of male and female players. Also required is a scorekeeper from each team to count team and individual player runs during the game.

The teams take turns to attack and defend. A player from the defending team is deployed in a central role as a roller of the ball and players from the attacking team take turns as kickers as and when they are called out by the roller to do so.


Two teams of nine players each compete in this running game. The two teams take turns to be runners or chasers. When the game starts, a player from the running team is nominated as the runner and one from the chasing team is selected to chase.


Morabaraba is a board game played with two players, each with 12 tokens, also known as “cows”. To distinguish between the opposing players, the tokens must be of different shape or colour.

Three squares are drawn on the board inside each other, such that there is an outer square, a middle square and an inner, smallest square. The squares are subdivided into 24 equidistant junctions with straight lines.


Two sticks are used in this stick-fighting game. A longer stick is used for attacking and a short stick is used for defending. Children can start playing this game from the age of five, upwards.


Ncuva is a board game played by teams of one to six players a side per game. Four rows of four holes each are dug on flat ground or sculpted on to the board to make a total of 16 holes. A line divides the board into two rows of eight holes each.

To play, each player uses 32 “cows”, or tokens, made of marula fruit kernels or small stones. The stones are placed in sets of four in the holes for the game to start.

 indigenous_games_ncuva_article Ncuva is one of the nine sporting codes played at the 10th annual Indigenous Games Festival, running from 20 to 24 September 2015. (Image: Screengrab via YouTube)


This is a target game played by two teams of four each; each team has a leader. The players use skeets made of rubber, wood or other material of between 300mm and 460mm in length, weighing no more than 1.8kg for seniors and 1.1kg for juniors.

The aim of the game is to score points by using the skeets to hit targets placed on the field.


Diketo tests one’s hand-eye co-ordination. The game is played with 10 small stones or marbles placed in a round hole, about 5cm deep, and one hand-held ghoen or bigger stone. The game can be played by both girls and boys of any age. Only two players can compete at a time.

Drie Stokkies

A running and jumping game, drie stokkies pits two teams of five players each against each other. Three sticks are placed on the ground approximately 1m apart. Competing players line up to run and jump over the sticks, stepping only once between the sticks.

 iintonga_indigenous_games_drie_stokkies_article Participants have to test their running pace and long jump abilities when they take part in drie stokkies. (Image: Screengrab via YouTube)


Kgati is a skipping rope game wherein several girls can skip the rope simultaneously or one at a time. The skipping rope should not be longer than 5m. Two players swing the rope while the other players take turns to skip.

Other activities at the festival included kraal school debates, traditional council court, and cultural exhibitions.

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