Orange Farm: Gender Parity in South Africa

by | March 6, 2017, 9:10am 0

I don’t really know much about the world and how it works, in fact I haven’t really been anywhere, just a kid from the dusty, muddy when it rains, township of Orange Farm outside of Johannesburg in South Africa.

This doesn’t prevent me from seeing the irony the world subjects itself to. We are told to love and be kind to one another by the same people who perpetuate hate and promote violence. We are made to believe that there’s strength in unity, which is true but never have we ever so promoted division as a species like we do now. Actually, we are divided from birth. From a young age girls and boys are conditioned to be different from one another, from their preferred colors, toys, movies, clothes and even conduct.  It’s hard to expect unity from people who are made to believe that they are different from one another because of socially generated gender based hierarchies and beliefs that certain groups can only aspire to take up certain roles as long as they lie within the confines of what society expects of them based on their sex/gender.

team1I’m a firm believer in equality, not just because of my moral compass but also because I believe that it’s a solution to a lot of the world’s problems. The house that I grew up in was no different – my mom never believed in gender roles, she was against the notion that girls should do the dishes and the cleaning while boys do the garden, we all had the same chores and she made it clear that there was no “man” in her house, whatever she says goes.

I remember growing up, as boys we were expected to play soccer and all those other physical games whilst the girls played hopscotch and tons of other games that society considered “girly”. As you can imagine, playing the same things over and over again gets really boring but we had nothing else to do and no one would dare to go play with the girls because the other boys would call you names like “sissy boy” and countless other hurtful things which would discourage you from mixing with the girls ever again.

This was the norm for a long time until one day we were playing football outside and one of the boys mistakenly kicked the ball towards where the girls were playing, and they picked it up and started throwing it to each other. We chased the ball around until they dropped it and we started passing it around while they were chasing it trying to get it back, and I must say before that day we had never had so much fun playing football, ever!

From that day on we did everything together, we played hopscotch, singing competitions and a lot more, we exchanged ideas and learned a lot from that and we grew up treating one another with respect whether you were a boy or girl, we practically grew up together, we were brother and sister, and there was no sense of superiority whatsoever over anyone. Some of the girls went on to become engineers while some boys became cooks. This shows the power and effect of unity and equality, which ultimately instills a “you can be anything you want to be regardless of your gender, race, or background” kind of mentality.

The background part of the story is what’s important to me. I come from a township which is plagued by issues such as crime, poverty, unemployment, etc. Issues such as unemployment are contributing factors to crime and teenage pregnancy amongst other things. Community projects such as sport and awareness campaigns play a key role in restoring hope and accelerating progress in the community. Sports keeps the youth off the streets and away from drugs and alcohol.

teamIn South Africa we love our football (soccer), it’s the biggest sporting code in the country, we are passionate about it and it unites the nation. So it shouldn’t come as a surprise that football is the order of the day in the township streets although it only caters for a select few and the ones who have no interest in it are left in the cold. This used to be the case until we were introduced to ultimate frisbee back in 2008 while I was in high school. We were in awe as we watched the top teams play, it was mainly a white dominated sport and was really new and fascinating for us.

The main things that fascinated me was that it was co-ed and its focus on Spirit of the Game. The concept was simple: No referee, no complexities, just fun! It had elements of rugby, football, netball, and other sports in it. The throws, the catches, how the disc floats in the air like it was some kind of magic trick. It was all just epic! So from that day we vowed to bring it to the township and introduce it to everyone else. We worked with an organization called loveLife, a South African charity focused on improving the lives of young people, playing for their team in tournaments. Ultimate took the streets by storm and loveLife included it as part of their annual national high school sporting competition called the loveLife Games, we had kids from everywhere playing ultimate!  

We decided to form our own team called the Orange Farm Ultimates in 2012, working with the South African Flying Disc Association (SAFDA) and the South African Ultimate community to participate in tournaments and learn as much as we could. This team got a lot of kids to come play and as part of our training program we had an informal workshop as we played to promote a positive lifestyle, healthy sexuality and instilled self discipline. The team took a knock for a while afterwards because of challenges ranging from a lack of resources (discs, cones, insufficient funds to travel to pick up matches/ tournaments) and other factors such as players going to varsity and others pursuing their careers.

Last year, in 2016 we rebuilt the team and now have a solid squad comprised mostly of the most talented high school students you’ll ever see, who have so much potential. We’ve joined the league in Johannesburg and have started making appearances at provincial tournaments. Just last month two of our players were selected for South Africa’s U23 National squad, the Wild Dogs (the final team will compete in the U23 Championships in Australia in 2018).

XolaniEven though we still face similar challenges as before, we remain optimistic and make plans to keep the ball rolling (the disc spinning in this case) and we get a lot of support from SAFDA and the Gauteng Flying Disc Association (GFDA). Our main challenges going forward as lacking proper training facilities, access to coaching, skills clinics, and funds – especially for transportation.

The powerful lessons in ultimate come from promoting the joint participation of male and female players on the same team and also getting rid of referees which encourages players to be honest and make the right decisions in good spirit. We take these lessons for granted but they help in promoting unity and the rejection of common stereotypes we face today. This is the best sport in the world and we honestly believe that implementing it into our school system will help nurture our youth to become the next generation of united and positive minded individuals. Let’s change the way we see ourselves, let’s promote equality and the world will become a better place, ultimate gives us gave us that opportunity.

How can you help ?

Currently the GFDA is running a crowd funding campaign to bring UK coach Felix Shardlow to South Africa, to provide intensive coaching for Orange Farm Ultimates.  Participants will take part in a training run by Felix which will be similar to a high-level training in the UK. He will be actively coaching throughout the exercises / drills, offering one-to-one feedback on players techniques and skills, as well as team-level advice on tactics and strategy during the games at the end.  Felix will train our leaders to be better coaches and ensure his message and knowledge is passed along.  He shared, “I’m excited about traveling to South Africa and helping develop the outreach teams, not only as players, but also as coaches – so that they may teach each other and continue to develop generation after generation of ever-improving players. I feel this could be a big step on a great journey which has been put in motion by the fantastic work of the GFDA!”

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