Alexandra, one of the oldest townships in the country, is synonymous with producing high profile individuals who have raised the country’s flag high in various sectors. In music, it has produced Hugh Masekela and Caiphus Semenya. In politics there is Paul Mashatile and Kgalema Motlanthe while in sports the list is endless. The names of Shoes Moshoeu, Brian Baloyi, Shakes Kungoane and Maimane Alfred Phiri quickly come to mind as those who have excelled on the international sporting stage.
However, looking at the slow pace of developing more sporting facilities in Alex, various sports bodies are starting to ask where and how other sporting greats will come out of Alex. Currently with the township’s population estimated to be over 1-million as a result of urbanisation, there are eight sports grounds, including the swimming pool and astro turf which is sponsored by Football for Hope. Athletes always complain that these are not enough as they often have to share them with non-athletes who usually hold various non-sporting events like church services and entertainment festivals. They have called for tougher regulation by the city council.
“I understand there is no space in Alexandra and that’s why building facilities are not utilised but at the same time let’s not over-use the sports grounds for what they are not intended otherwise we will lose them altogether and sporting development will suffer,” said Alex soccer legend, Maimane Alfred Phiri, who normally holds winter soccer games to unearth new talent in Alexandra. The majority of his games are played on dusty, rotary grounds behind Madala Hostel.
In total there are ten sports clubs in Alex which are rugby, tennis, netball, baseball, soccer, athletics, boxing, golf, basketball and cricket. According to a caretaker of one of the sporting complexes, clubs normally take turns as they can’t all be accommodated at one time. “Like for example, baseball is sharing the pitch with cricket. This normally causes tension when both of them want to use the pitch,” he said.
Rugby players gave up trying to access the ground and found refuge at a training ground in Marlboro, one of the suburbs next to Alexandra.
“Now that it is summer and you see everybody wanting to jog and keep fit. They all flock to the athletics track and when professional people want to train, there is no space,” said Benjamin Ndlovu, an athletics coach.
Former Member of Mayoral Committee (MMC) responsible for community development in the City of Johannesburg, Chris Vondo, disagrees that sports facilities must only be used by sports people. “People must share. These facilities are meant to enhance social amenity and the creative ability of all people. Due to an acute shortage of land we can’t build enough sports facilities for everybody”. He said the other challenge is around the management of the facilities, which is the responsibility of sports forums to ensure that everyone has access to the facilities at their convenience.
He said that during their term as ANC government in the City they managed to refurbish many sports facilities and where necessary built new ones. This included a new swimming pool in Alexandra. He said that they even managed to clinch a deal with the South African Football Association’s Development Agency where they are rolling out 11 Sports Centres of Excellence across all city regions, one of which is near completion in Alexandra.
“At our recent Sports Indaba we took a resolution that sport is one of the most important instruments to drive a social transformation agenda in the City. We cannot compromise on that,” he said.
Percy Ndaba, the Chairman of the Region E Sports Council which Alexandra falls under agrees and said “you can never achieve social cohesion without sports. Though there are still challenges, we are doing our best to manage access to the facilities for everybody,” he said.
The newly appointed Member of Mayoral Committee for Community Development in the DA-led coalition government of the City, Nonhlanhla Sifumba, was not available to comment.