Township and suburb on the same rugby team

(pic courtesy Timeslive)

Written By Bobby Jordan

For some homeowners, a squatter camp mushrooming next door could be a sign to start packing up.

Darren Clarke, however, saw it as an opportunity to help start a decent rugby team.

Clarke and other residents of well-heeled Noordhoek in Cape Town have teamed up with township rugby players to form the country's newest and most unusual rugby club.

Members of the Masi Pumas include players from Noordhoek, one of the city's wealthiest areas, and Ocean View and Masiphumelele, two of the peninsula's poorest communities.

The previously segregated people of Noordhoek Valley are drawing praise for their attacking style of play.

The club has even caught the attention of former Springbok captain Bob Skinstad, who co-owns a restaurant in Noordhoek, and who added his weight to the Masi Pumas scrum at a practice session last week.

The team from the three communities - previously delimited as coloured, black and white - are the latest addition to the Western Province Rugby Football Union club rugby league. Masi Pumas boasts six senior men's teams, a ladies team and a junior team.

The club is also able to employ 15 people to carry out sports training at local schools thanks to donations of time, money and equipment from local businesses.

"We were about 16 guys who wanted to start a rugby club but we didn't have a field," said Anga Nika from Masiphumelele, who spearheaded the club with Clarke.

"Now we have a field ... we were just black guys and then a couple of white guys came to join us."

The group used to travel 30km to Khayelitsha to play league rugby, but they now have practice and match facilities in Noordhoek.

Large crowds gather at weekends to watch them play - even though, according to centre Paddi Nyali, "most of the people here like soccer. They find it very strange that we are playing rugby. They know nothing about rugby."

Clarke, who runs an athlete training business when he is not helping the Pumas, said : "We have been pleasantly surprised and very heartened by the response of the whole community.

"To have an area the size of the southern peninsula with no club is doing a disservice to everybody.

"We want to use it as a catalyst to integrate the community and, from that point of view, it has already been enormously successful.

"We are a complete mix of black and white and we all have friends that we never thought we would have."

Masiphuemele - which means "we will succeed" in Xhosa - is sandwiched between the more affluent areas of Kommetjie and Noordhoek and has grown rapidly due to an influx of job-seekers. Many of the township's foreign residents were targeted during a wave of xenophobic violence a few years ago.

Johan Smal, whose company Amabokoboko is a major Pumas supporter and benefactor, said it was to be hoped that the club would become a model of rugby development.

"I attend the games on Saturday and some of the practices. It is an awesome club and just incredible to witness its growth compared to where they were last year this time," Smal said.

The deputy chief executive of the Western Province Rugby Football Union, Herman Abrahams, said the Pumas had been granted a provisional two-year club membership to see how it performed.

"There isn't a rugby club in that neck of the woods so it would be great if all the people in the area joined," said Abrahams.

(This story was provided and used with permission by Timeslive.)