There are some in Soweto who say that money donated to sports development in the township has a funny way of disappearing. As Ramovha puts it, "People seem to have pocketed money for themselves." But it is impossible to prove.
Not that Baby Jake's gym is without improvements. "Look," says Mthembu, pointing to the wall. "We finally have hooks for our jackets."
We were beginning to understand.
"No, you don't understand," Percy said one night, his eyes ever ahead. "You do not understand how it was. I will show you something."
He pulled up in front of a small, neat house. He said, "A man died on my front lawn."
When? "During the rioting in 1976. We were throwing rocks at the police, and they chased us. He was not a man I knew well. I was merely seconds into my house when he was shot behind me. We thought everything was fine until we looked out and saw him lying in the yard."
Until now Soweto has had few true kids. The generation of teenagers and young adults you see now was not allowed to be kids. So many were preoccupied with political activism, fluent in the ways of protest, demonstrations, civil disobedience: the struggle against apartheid. And they were fearful of crime. They were not athletes. "I have been protesting since I was seven years old," Percy said.
In fact, the protest that changed everything involved township kids. In June 1976 schoolchildren and their parents marched against a new government policy that ordered all schools to teach certain courses in Afrikaans, the language of the Dutch white settlers. Sowetans wanted their children to learn in English, which was useful, and their tribal languages, which gave them pride. The number of protesters was huge. Violence erupted. The police opened fire, killing hundreds of demonstrators and setting off the worst riots in Soweto's history. Much of the city was torched. The uprising spread to other South African townships and accelerated the process of political change that would culminate in the abolition of apartheid in 1991 and the election three years later of Mandela as South Africa's first black president.
"These kids were not concerned with sports, they were concerned with politics," says Timo Smouse, of the Moroka Area Sports Committee, which represents one of 32 areas in the township. "This has slowed our development of sport." Besides, even if they were good at sports, what was the point? There were no Olympics for South Africa, no soccer World Cup, no Rugby World Cup. Until the Barcelona Olympics in 1992, no South African team had been to the Games in 32 years. As it is, it will probably be the year 2000 before a Sowetan has a decent chance to win a medal.
Five years ago rugby was hardly discussed in Soweto. It was a white sport; soccer was black. It was not illegal for a black person to play rugby, but it was practically unheard of. We mentioned the sport to TNT, and he screeched, "Rugby! You did not try to play rugby in Soweto!"