The Robben Island Makana Football Association

Written by: Peter Alegi

Primary Source: Football is Coming Home

This week my senior history seminar “Race and Power in South African Sport” is discussing the gripping story of the Makana Football Association, the league formed by prisoners on Robben Island, apartheid’s most notorious prison. Students read More Than Just a Game: Soccer vs. Apartheid—The Most Important Soccer Story Ever Told by Chuck Korr and Marvin Close. We also watched the film by the same title, which preceded the book version of the story.

Students blog weekly about the readings as a way to reflect on the assigned material and spark discussion. “As a soccer player myself,” wrote one blogger, “the true story of what materialized on Robben Island is one of the most thought-provoking and uplifting stories I have ever come across.”

Another student blogger highlighted the role of football in bringing older and younger inmates closer together in the wake of the 1976 Soweto Uprising. The shifting demographics of the prison population sparked tensions, but eventually “The younger generation saw the quality of football that was played on the island and began to appreciate the skill and cunning that had gone into building the MFA. ‘As mutual respect began to grow, the older prisoners would sit in the quarry during lunch breaks, gaze out towards Cape Town and the mainland, and quiz the new inmates about the progress of their favourite clubs. They particularly wanted to hear about the exploits of a new black ‘super club’- the now world-famous Kaizer Chiefs’” (Korr and Close 235).

Finally, another blog post relied on a Soweto-era Robben Islander, “Patrick Lekota, who would eventually become South Africa’s Minister of Defense [. . . to sum] up the game’s importance: “Without it, we would have been so depressed. It took our mind away” (Korr & Close 234). This blog also featured the extraordinary 2010 episode of ESPN “Outside The Lines” on Robben Island football posted above. Watch. Learn. Enjoy. Share.

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Peter Alegi
Peter Alegi is Professor of History at Michigan State University. He is the author of Laduma! Soccer, Politics, and Society in South Africa (University of KwaZulu-Natal Press, 2004) and African Soccerscapes: How a Continent Changed the World’s Game (Ohio University Press, 2010). With Peter Limb, Alegi hosts the “Africa Past and Present” podcast. Follow him on Twitter @futbolprof.
Peter Alegi

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