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United by Soccer

Anne Mireille Nzouankeu/Twenty Ten

Location: Johannesburg, South Africa

A history of South African football from apartheid to hosting the FIFA World Cup.

From 1958 to 1992, South Africa was suspended from international soccer by FIFA, as a sanction against the prevailing racial segregation in the country. Black populations in country nevertheless played the game and used the discipline in the sport to circumvent association bans enforced by the white minority, as well as to maintain ties with militants in exile.

“Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, and the soul of soulless conditions. It is the opium of the people,” Karl Marx said.

During apartheid, most black people were doubly high. “In addition to church, soccer was the only way for us to stay together. The apartheid regime had banned meetings and associations of black people. However, we used the cover of soccer to hold meetings. The game also allowed us to occasionally leave the country and forget for the space of a few hours, our harsh living conditions,” reveals Tobatsi Jeffrey Sebego, General Secretary of the Sedibeng Soccer Legends (SSL), an association comprising former soccer players who played during the apartheid era.

According to Tobatsi, soccer was primarily played by black people, who did not receive any particular encouragement from their employers at mines, farms and construction sites. They were not averse to it either, as they believed the game was keeping them away from protesting against their living conditions. “While we...

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