Shortly before South Africa gained its freedom in 1994, a 14-year-old youngster, suspended from his local football district, was brought to the attention of the provincial selector, Richard Africa.
Western Province were in the process of selecting an under-16 team to represent the region at the national championships, in Durban.
His coach said to Africa: “He is a good player, unfortunately he is under suspension. Could you let him play and see what he does?”
Africa, from Hazendal, allowed him to play, although the decision would raise eyebrows from the local football district.
“I allowed it because we are here to promote the game. Behold, this youngster performed well. I spoke to my committee, Mr Dawood Essack can vouch for that. I said, ‘guys I want this kid in my team’.
“When the team was announced, the local district wrote a letter to Western Province saying ‘this player cannot play because he is under suspension’. It was right, however, I fought the case with the big boys and I said ‘you don’t educate people outside the fold, you educate them inside’,” said Africa.
That young player was Quinton Fortune. He would go on to play for Tottenham Hotspurs, Manchester United and Bafana Bafana at the 1998 and 2002 FIFA World Cups.
In the following season, another young player, from Crusaders Football Club, was brought to the attention of Africa, at the William Herbert sports ground, in Wynberg.
“We were selecting players for our provincial team and as usual, clubs and districts appoint players from their own clubs. I sent committee members out to districts to scout for players, which we think was good for the provincial team, hence, we picked up Benni McCarthy at Crusaders. The local district was upset because they never sent him to trials. However, having carte blanche on players, he was chosen in our side,” he said.
The provincial team went up to play in Vereeniging. Africa was approached by Mich De Avery, from the now defunct Seven Stars Football Club, to speak about McCarthy.
“We said, ‘hold on, wait until we get back to Cape Town and then we can talk’. In Cape Town, Crusaders played in the junior challenge cup final at Hartleyvale. Mich came to me and the rest is history,” said Africa.
“I am proud to say I am a part of their success today. Our reward is just seeing them being successful,” he said.
President at Safa Cape Town, Bennett Bailey said Africa’s sheer commitment to the game has given hope to a community such as Hazendal.
“Richard and a couple of other people… that is what he has decided at his twilight age, to assist. And Hazendal Football Club is doing well. He and his brother are one of those guys that will put their hands in their pockets to raise football. The community that club is from is where unemployment is very high. So they are not just a football club but an institution for hope,” said Bailey.
In 1996, during a game in Bloemfontein, Africa was with Liverpool-Portland and the late Peninsula Beverages stalwart, Corrie Julius. They had a conversation that would change football’s presence in the province.
“Mr Corrie Julius, at that time he was called ‘Mr Sparletta’ and as you know, Liverpool-Portland won the Sparletta Cup. We then travelled around the country, competing against other teams.
“During one game in Bloemfontein, Corrie and I were on the stands and he said to me, ‘Richard, you know, Sparletta is no longer the sponsor, how about you formulate a competition in Cape Town which we can get Coca-Cola as a sponsor?’
“I said, ‘okay, fine, we can use it as an FA Cup. I get all the clubs involved so each and everybody has an opportunity. Twenty-five years later, the Coca-Cola Cup is still ongoing,” Africa said.
The 67-year-old Africa reminisces about the times he and 25 other young footballers from Bokmakierie would cross the N2, through the fence, walk pass the zones and dodge police officers, just to play football in Langa.
From a nine-year-old kid that played in the streets without shoes, Africa went on to become a player, a referee, coach, junior provincial chairperson, board member and a former secretary and vice-president for Safa Western Cape.
Although he is retired from soccer, he is always seen on the football field encouraging the players, coaches and referees across the communities.
“Do whatever it is that makes you happy. Because, ultimately, your success can also add to the success of your club. When you are in the box, go for the goal, 50% of the time you will score the goal,” said Africa.