Aaron and the Bafana squad in training.
Aaron Mokoena, the captain of South Africa’s national football team, Bafana Bafana and UK Premier League club Portsmouth, will receive the Freedom of the City of London on 10 November 2010.
The award, which will be presented to Mokoena at a ceremony in the Chamberlain’s Court at Guildhall in London, acknowledges his contribution to the sport and charity, through the Aaron Mokoena Foundation.
It is one of the highest honours given to an individual in the City of London.
“This is a great honour for me and it’s one of my biggest achievements, one I will cherish for the rest of my life,” Mokoena said.
Andrew Parmley, chairperson of the Board of Governors for both the London School for Girls and the Guildhall School of Music, nominated Mokoena after he met the South Africa skipper during President Jacob Zuma’s state visit to the UK earlier this year.
“I was impressed by what Aaron has achieved in his football career as captain of South Africa and Portsmouth FC, and by his determination to ensure young people in South Africa have access to sport and education opportunities through his charitable foundation,” said Parmley in a statement.
Praise for ‘Mbazo’
Mokoena, whose crunching tackles have earned him the nickname Mbazo, which is isiZulu for axe, has also impressed his Bafana Bafana coach Pitso Mosimane. “I am proud of his achievements. He has been a great servant of the national team and a wonderful ambassador for South African football abroad. In my view no one is more deserving of the honour,” Mosimane said.
“This honour does not come as a surprise to me. He is a special player and a special person and we just hope this will serve as an inspiration to many players out there that whatever you set your mind to, you can make it,” added Mosimane.
CEO of the South African Football Association Leslie Sedibe said the association was happy to see one of its players making a meaningful contribution to ordinary lives.
“It’s good for Mbazo and we congratulate him in advance for getting the freedom of London,” said Sedibe.
David Lampitt, Portsmouth’s CEO, described Mokoena as a great role model for all young people and all Portsmouth fans.
“The club has been fully supportive of the work Aaron is undertaking in South Africa through his foundation, and congratulates him on this wonderful accolade,” Lampitt said.
Kaizer Motaung, owner of South Africa’s Kaizer Chiefs Football Club, told the Sowetan newspaper that it was good for Mokoena to follow in the footsteps of the likes of Doctor Steve “Kalamazoo” Mokone.
Mokone is well-known for representing South African football talent abroad during the apartheid years.
“Aaron Mokoena’s achievement has therefore crowned a successful career in the tough English football fraternity, and is worthy of receiving our full respect. I just hope other youngsters will emulate such heroic feats that demonstrate the quality of our exports, which have raised the standard of our football abroad,” said Motaung.
Mokoena is the youngest capped player in South African football history, having been first selected for the national team at age 17. Since then, he’s played for Bafana Bafana 104 times. Mokoena led the squad during the 2010 Fifa World Cup, the first tournament of its kind to be held on African soil.
In addition to Bafana and Portsmouth, Mbazo, now aged 29, has played for a number of other prominent clubs, including Ajax Amsterdam, KRC Genk, and Blackburn Rovers.
Making a difference
The Aaron Mokoena Foundation was launched “… with the aspiration of making a real sustainable difference to young people in South Africa using the power of football,” according to the charity.
It was launched as a non-profit organisation in South Africa in 2009.
The foundation focuses on improving education, health and life opportunities for underprivileged young South Africans. It does this through a coaching programme and campaigns in targeted communities and schools.
Through the foundation, Makoena is also hoping to establish a football academy in Gauteng province.
History of award
According to the City of London, the first Freedom of the City was presented in 1237 and is one of the oldest traditional ceremonies still practised today. Other notable recipients of the award include Nelson Mandela, Princess Diana, Luciano Pavarotti, Florence Nightingale and Winston Churchill.