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Kicking through apartheid: Ubuntu Football

One of the younger Ubuntu Football Academy teams playing in front of Table Mountain in August 2016.
Copyrights: Alec Rotunda

Kicking through apartheid: Ubuntu Football

With goals of transforming a nation, this Cape Town-based football organisation is busy entertaining a boy’s love for sport, while striving to develop much more.

Gang violence, drugs, teenage pregnancy, and poor education: what do you tell a fatherless young South African male who faces the cultural realities of Apartheid’s frozen footprint?

Keep kicking.

Based in Cape Town, Ubuntu Football is providing spaces and pathways designed to equip young men with the skills needed to leverage positive change in their communities. The program is built around two key pillars – Football Forward and the Ubuntu Football Academy.

Football Forward

Football Forward takes place in five different townships – Khayelitsha, Masiphumelele, Ocean View, Nyanga and Grassy Park – at no cost to local youth players and connected coaches. Each week dozens of township boys, age 9–11, attend sessions to engage in elite technical football training, coupled with contextual, Biblically-grounded character discussions led by Ubuntu Football coaches.

For many players, Football Forward helps fill a void for positive moral development; according to UNICEF's publication “South Africa’s Children,” over 60% of South African children grow up without a father. Realities like this shape Ubuntu Football’s mission: to mentor and educate the next generation of great African leaders, society-changers, and footballers.

Though why focus specifically on township kids? For two reasons: 1) youth who grow up in townships are probably more likely to develop a passion to improve them; 2) tight spaces and general poverty are characteristics found across the globe to produce top-quality footballing talent. Thus making Football Forward – in addition to a platform for direct community-based outreach – a space to identify prospects for the Academy.

Ubuntu Football Academy

Players who have shown great potential, growth, and character during Football Forward are invited to Academy trials at the end of their Under-11 year. Since its genesis in 2009, the Ubuntu Football Academy continues to emerge as one of the top youth development academies in all of South Africa.

The most recent sporting successes include: teams winning Cape Town league titles in various age groups; players emerging in the youth national team spotlight; players furthering their playing careers in US Division-I Athletics, with goals of one day playing professionally.

However, in light of on-field successes, it's Ubuntu’s off-field focus that truly sets this academy apart. Over a seven-year span, select academy players are not only given the opportunity to develop as elite athletes, but are also encouraged to achieve as scholars and upstanding citizens.

Many players will even take up residency at the Ubuntu House, further shaping their concept of community. Within the past year, residential capacity has expanded from 15 players to 26 players, and the Ubuntu School – with vision of providing creative and effective individual-focused education to every boy in the Academy – opened its doors for 30 young Academy student-athletes.

The ultimate goal is for Ubuntu Football Academy players to become professionals – in football or otherwise – and fathers capable of leading positive change for their families, communities, and country.

[This article was written by Alec Rotunda, Thomas J. Watson Fellow and author of the Kicking All Over the World blog]


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Sunday, January 15, 2017 - 17:36