15 February 2008
Three donkeys walk down the main street of Gopane, 10 kilometres from the Lobatsi border with Botswana. It’s a stifling Saturday morning in a North West village so modest that the street has no name.
But when the donkeys arrive at their regular “restaurant” – a vast field at the centre of the village – their menu of grass has disappeared under the scrape of a giant grader.
The 100-odd boys sitting under trees watching the grader transform the donkeys’ former feeding ground into two full-size football fields look just as surprised.
Today’s tournament will be remarkably different from the usual scuffle in the long grass. Most Saturdays, the only way to tell apart the local teams with aspirational names – 2010 All Stars, Manchester City – is that one side have their shirts off.
But now the Dreamfields Project has come to town.
Dreamfields is the brainchild of John Perlman, talk-show host at Johannesburg’s Kaya FM. It aims to use the excitement generated by the upcoming 2010 Fifa World Cup to bring football fields and equipment to poor communities across the country.
Mining company BHP Billiton and financial services giant Old Mutual have each invested R6.5-million. Building on this, local authorities in participating communities will bring their own skills and resources to the ingenious programme – whether it’s the grading of a field or raising more money.
Field of dreams
Shortly before kick-off, captains from the eight teams taking part in the tournament – made up of boys from eight to 18 years old – are each handed appropriately named “DreamBags” containing football kit, big-name branded boots, shin pads and balls.
Vuvuzelas blare and boys scream as they pull out the magical contents of their bags. Like many others, 15-year-old Kgosietsile Mokgatlha of River Side FC is wearing football kit for the first time.
“I was told that there’s a tournament and just came. I always wanted to wear a football kit in my life and I didn’t think it would happen so soon because they say you have to wait for a long time before you get good things in life,” he beams.
“A yo yo . taboga re shota ka wena fa!” “Run, you’re the only one missing!” yells a jubilant Maota Busa to his Touch Two FC teammate Rorisang Sebumedi.
Minutes later, the barren pitch is a carnival of competing colours as the teams line up for a photo shoot. Jubilant boys swarm onto the field, many with the price tags still dangling from their shirts.
It is a far cry from the Saturdays when the main event at the weekly football tournament is gambling on the outcome. The winners take all – straight to Bra Joe’s place, a local tavern.
Dreamfields, launched in October last year, aims to make pitches in more than 30 regional football centres by the end of 2010. So far 45 team sets of DreamBags, each worth R4 500, have been handed over to communities. Another 50 have been ordered and will be presented at schools tournaments – called DreamEvents – in different parts of the country.
Says Perlman: “We raised part of the money for the Gopane teams’ DreamBags through the play Bafana Republic, performed at the Market Theatre in Jo’burg. The rest came from a variety of individuals, including the South African novelist Jann Turner and the bestselling thriller writer Ken Follett.”
A total of R55 000 was raised for this community and the longer-term goal is find money to improve the playing facilities
Perlman emphasises that collaboration is essential for Dreamfields to spread. “People have to put back something into their villages as they produce people who succeed, and we have now laid the foundation for the Gopane community.”
The Gopane Youth Development Foundation, headed by Wilbert Leotwane, approached Dreamfields for help last year. On this Saturday, Leotwane is ecstatic about the outcome. It signals a significant shifting of the goalposts for a youthful community that, because of boredom and often poverty, has tended to veer out of control.
“This place is always full of young children drinking because there’s nothing in the village to keep them busy,” Leotwane says, pointing at Bra Joe’s place.
Now that the children of Gopane have two playable fields and football kits, the hope is that adults will fill Bra Joe’s while their children are on the sports fields, playing or cheering on their mates to greater dreams.
This article was first published in the Mail & Guardian. The Gopane DreamEvent took place in early February 2008.