We are Young Bafana
As John brings the Young Bafana bus to a stop, he parks while taking a big breath. A breath to bring calm, a breath to bring courage, a breath to still his racing emotions. Knowing this is not going to be an easy day, he climbs out the bus, his feet as heavy as his heart.
Some days life seems unbearably difficult. Working with a group of disadvantaged children brings him so much joy and fulfillment. But along with the highs there must be the lows and today is one of those days. South Africa is a country of immense soul and varied emotions. He has always loved his place in life. Today though, he finds South Africa a hard taskmaster; expecting way too much from her precious people.
Barking dogs, children laughing and the taxis hooting bring his thoughts back to Lwandle and the conversation he must now have. He got the call an hour ago from one of the boys who had gone on the KwaZulu- Natal the tour with him. Sizwe’s father has died. Today, the refuge of football would not be enough.
For most children, the loss of a parent is devastating. Sizwe lost his mother four years ago. The loss hit the family hard. All six of her children wondered how they would manage without her, as did her husband, Phila. A gentle man, the strain eventually became too much and he suffered a debilitating stroke. This led to him having to give up a job he loved. He was well known in the community for his green fingers. His employers loved him and were so privileged to have him create a beautiful haven in their homes. Unable to work Phila did his best to support his family and care for them. He was mother and father to his children which brought a closeness amongst each member of the family.
When Sizwe went on tour the family missed him so much. Sizwe missed them too. When he left, his father hadn’t been well and Sizwe was worried about him. He saved his travel pack food for the trip home to give to his father. Hopefully the orange he had, would give his father some of the vitamins he so desperately needed. And the rest of the treats would definitely raise Phila’s spirit.
Sizwe and Phila spent the evening talking about the tour. Phila was so happy that his son had been able to have this experience. And he loved the treats that Sizwe had brought home for him. Money was always tight and this month had been no different. Feeding the family was a constant battle for Phila and there were nights when he went to bed hungry in order to make sure his children didn’t.
Happy to have Sizwe sleeping next to him again, Phila fell asleep with a full tummy and a happy heart. His son, his pride was home.
The next morning Sizwe woke to find his father’s still body. There was no breath, no movement, just quiet, just stillness. Shock and disbelief coursed through him. This can’t be happening, ‘Tata, wake up, wake up!’
Hearing the noise Sizwe’s siblings ran through. Realising what had happened they quickly called the neighbours who mobilized the community to quickly surround and support the children.
John walked down the path to Sizwe’s house, wondering what words he could say. He was struck that he had none. Since he began coaching the boys, he had always imparted guidance and wisdom. He was always ready to listen and most of the time he knew what to say. But not now. Right now, he felt as if there were just no words that could convey what was in his heart. How could he give strength and support to Sizwe when he himself was struggling to keep himself upright. So many questions ran through his mind. Who would take responsibility for Sizwe? Would they lose their home? How would they pay for the funeral? And their life? How would they manage to come out of this with food on the table and emotional support? And worst of all, did Sizwe realise himself how much this could change his life.
Walking in to the house, Sizwe stood up and walked towards him.
John took him into his arms and Sizwe began to sob. They stood like that until the sobs started to subside. With tears streaming down his face John turned to the rest of the family to offer his condolences. He couldn’t bring his father back but John could offer his support, his time.
Sizwe looked at John so grateful for this coach and for everything he did for him. He knew he wasn’t alone. John, as well as the rest of Young Bafana would always watch out and watch over him. On the worst day of his life, he knew he didn’t have to do it alone. He was part of a bigger family and always would be.
That evening, John left the family. He stopped outside and looked at the sunset. Seeing the beautiful garden with it’s own veggie patch and flower garden, it struck him again what a loss this was for this family. No more would Phila tend to them in the same loving way he had tended his garden.
Goal and Young Bafana Soccer Academy present this chapter in honour of the special parents that we have lost. May your legacies live on and may you all rest in peace.
We are Young Bafana is a collaborative project between Goal.com and the Young Bafana Soccer Academy. This is a fictional story loosely based on real life events and experiences of the community of Lwandle, a township in the Somerset West area in the Western Cape.