Showjumping in Soweto

15 February 2005

Meet Enos Mosotho Mafokate, South Africa’s first black show jumper.

There’s nothing fancy about him, despite being first black person in the country to have broken into the white-dominated sport of showjumping.

Born in the sprawling township of Alexandra 61 years ago, Mafokate fell in love with horses when his family moved to Rivonia in the early 1950s, then a commercial farming area.

Mafokate, who is dressed in an unassuming cap, a blue work shirt and jeans, remembers landing a three-month contract with John Walker, a farm owner, to earn a few pennies.

“Many white people used to come and have picnics at the farm, especially during the December holidays, and I would look after their horses for them while they enjoyed themselves”, Mafokate says. “That’s when my love for horses blossomed.”

When other kids were playing games, Mafokate would pretend to be riding a horse, unaffectedly prancing about the homestead. He would also ride the family donkeys and go carting to the shops, which were some distance from home.

Mafokate made friends with Walker’s son, who taught him “a thing or two” about horse riding. “That’s when we started a good friendship, despite the racial and political furore of the times.”

As fate would have it, Mafokate’s home was destroyed to make way for the Woodmead Golf Course in the late 1950s, and his family moved back to Alexandra.

From stable hand to showjumper
The removal had a positive effect for Mafokate, however, as most people who used the golf course rode their horses there. And Mafokate, who had landed a job manning the course’s gate, found himself with a job that he loved – tending to the horses for patrons for five pennies a day.

In 1961 the 17-year-old got a job in Bryanston as a stable hand for a Springbok showjumper. He became a top groom, looking after the horses for two Springbok showjumpers.

“I got my first chance at competitive showjumping in 1962 when the people I was working for decided to give us black people a chance in showjumping”, Mafokate recalls. “I competed against other blacks because we were not allowed to compete against whites. I came first in that competition, wearing an overall.”

The following year, his riding having improved “tremendously”, Mafokate won a riding competition at Inanda Country Base. He was “ecstatic”. But his showjumping career came to an abrupt end in 1964 because of “political problems”.

More than a decade later, in 1975, things took a turn for the better when “some white people decided to ignore politics” and some discriminatory laws were scrapped, says Mafokate. He and 16 other grooms were enrolled at Marist Brothers College, the only school that allowed blacks to compete in the white-dominated sport.

The subsequent years were successful ones for Mafokate. He came second in the Rothmans Derby in 1976 and won the championship at the Constantia Show Grounds in Cape Town in 1977 and 1978.

“I was the first black member of the Transvaal Horse Society, which is based at Kyalami. I was also the first black rider in 127 years to compete in the Pietermaritzburg Royal Agricultural Horse Show in 1978. My colleagues and I were now being called black riders, not grooms. We had attained recognition.”

International honours
International doors opened for Mafokate when David Broome, the British rider, spotted him in Cape Town in 1980 and suggested he compete in Britain. A sponsor was found and Mafokate became the first showjumper in 20 years to compete outside South Africa.

Out of 31 riders, he came fifth at the Wembley Royal International Horse Show. His dream to achieve honours overseas had come true.

His riding career was almost shattered, however, when Machine Gun, a horse from Zimbabwe, kicked him, breaking his arm. But he was determined to carry on riding, and he went on to win the Rothmans Derby in Sandton.

In 1992 Mafokate went to Barcelona to attend the Olympic Games as part of a development team. “The event was quite an experience for me, and my best moment was seeing my picture splashed on the front page of The Star newspaper back home.”

Showjumping in Soweto
Today Mafokate runs a riding school in Soweto, a long-held dream, which he opened in 1990. “I was fortunate to get sponsorship to do sports management in Belgium in 1997. The course, which ran for two weeks, empowered me with vital knowledge on how to run sports. I currently have 15 students. Two juniors, two adults and the rest are children ranging from four to seven years.”

He decided to give riding lessons when he discovered how badly animals were being treated in Soweto, especially by children. His mission is to send a message to people that animals deserve to be loved, not abused.

He gives lessons for free at the People’s Dispensary for Sick Animals (PDSA) centre in Mofolo South. Four of his students have entered riding competitions in Cape Town, and “people were impressed by their performance”.

One of his students is Kabelo Arthur Mafokate, his 14-year-old grandson. Kabelo, says Mafokate fondly, has “a quick eye for horse riding”, a quality he says is essential in showjumping. “Last year he was the overall winner of the Soweto Classic Oliver Tambo Showjumping trophy in the children’s category. I am very proud of him.”

But not all members of Mafokate’s family have horse riding in their blood. He is the father of Arthur Mafokate, South Africa’s kwaito king, and the late kwaito singer Makhendlas.

He also heads the PDSA centre’s horse unit, where he makes sure that horses, especially the carthorses that deliver coal in Soweto, are not diseased and wear proper horseshoes. Owners bring their horses for regular check-ups, he says.

There are plans to develop horse riding in Soweto. Mafokate, with the City of Johannesburg, is planning to establish an equestrian centre in Rockville, Soweto.

“The centre will comprise stables, a club house and a restaurant”, he says. “The development is still at the ‘idea stage’, but the site is available. We are also planning a horse riding show on 16 June this year at Kyalami to raise funds for the construction of the centre.”

It is almost 4pm and time for Mafokate to feed his beloved horses. He has 11, including his favourite showjumper, Was Salmy. His latest acquisition is Thaba Zimbi, a stallion he recently bought from a farmer who wanted to dispose of the bad-tempered horse.

“I tamed him in two days”, Mafokate says proudly. “If I had been given a chance, I would have tamed a lion to behave like a dog. Horses are in my blood.”

Source: City of Johannesburg

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