Refugees Magazine Issue 107 (Refugee voices from exile) - The most striking thing about soccer

Refugees Magazine, 1 March 1997

Soccer is proving a lifesaver for a group of Angolan refugees in South Africa.

Interviews by Yusef Hassan Abdi

It's a big day for the Marconi Beam Hot Spurs. Today the team of Angolan exiles is playing an away game in Malmesbury west of Cape Town and Manoel de Silva hobbles painfully but quickly on a wooden crutch through the dusty alleyways of the township rounding up his young players. Were it not for Manoel, the self-styled soccer godfather of the Hot Spurs, these youngsters so far away from home may already have turned into drug addicts or worse.

Simao Antonio was born in the town of Kareratiro in Malanje Province and is the team captain. The 23-year-old sports dreadlocks à la Ruud Gullitt but his trim athletic turnout belies his turbulent past. He lost his father in Angola's civil war when he was only 13 and after moving to the Angolan capital of Luanda briefly, he finally escaped to South Africa to avoid being drafted into the army.

Mario Santos is MB Hot Spurs reigning star and was top scorer last season with a record 21 goals. The 24-year-old striker is also a draft dodger. Back home the army used to scour his neighbourhood nightly searching for new recruits and after many of his friends were seized he decided to head south for the border. "I didn't want to go to the army. I had no reason to want to kill anyone," he said. "Neither the decision to leave nor the trek to South Africa was easy." He suddenly leaps high in the air in an acrobatic manoeuvre, artfully twists and turns the ball to the delight of bystanders. He smiles and walks away with a glint of pride in his eyes.

Shepstone Basimane is the South African manager of the Hot Spurs and became intrigued the first time he saw the Angolan refugees in action. "Their style is fresh and entertaining," he said. "They are a sheer pleasure to watch." After arranging an exhibition game against a local team, Shepstone immediately asked the Hot Spurs to join the local league.

Manoel de Silva arrived in South Africa in 1993 with a tattered rucksack on his back and like most refugees from that part of the world a harrowing tale to tell. "My home village Kitixe in Uige was destroyed by the war," he said. "I lost many relatives, my father, uncles and my mother. I also suffered but I was lucky and I survived. At a great risk to my life I left for Luanda and I became a deslocado, a displaced person. In 1991, we had a spell of peace but it was quickly wiped out by a new outbreak of fighting. I could no longer stay in Luanda, so I left for South Africa."

Manoel is 33 but he looks older. The wrinkles on his face mirror the trials and of his country and people. I look at his right leg and wooden crutch and ask what happened. The question reopens a painful past which Manoel is reluctant to revisit. He looks away and gazes into the sky. "It's the guerra many people don't know that Angola is a nation of mutilados or the maimed," he says.

Soccer is his, and his fellow exiles, salvation. "Football is important to us," Manoel says. "It lets us relax, enjoy ourselves and forget our problems. It's good for our bodies. It also helps us to establish friendships with others." Soccer, in fact, is proving the salvation of Manoel and his young charges.

Source: Refugees Magazine issue 107 (1997)