Punishing struggle for progress in Langa

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"WELCOME TO LANGA" says the billboard at the entrance to one of the most settled of townships in Cape Town. But that proud message stands uncomfortably alongside an avenue of low-level brick buildings, the residents staring in bemusement at our presence. Passing cattle lazily chomping rotten cabbages, one soon enters an area that it is difficult to imagine people living in.

To those used to a city life, roads covered in litter, hundreds of ramshackle wooden shacks crammed together, filth piled up and single toilets servicing numerous families, adds up to what can only be described as squalor.

Having witnessed the living conditions, it becomes difficult to appreciate the role sport can play in a township and the sense of purpose it can give. But for those involved in sport in Langa it is a serious issue - and they are feeling let down by the authorities.

It is difficult to know exactly how many people live in Langa, because so many are unregistered, but 25,000 is the consensus figure. The sporting facilities amount to two adjacent fields. The larger hosted the landmark cricket match between a Development XI and the touring West Indies on 9 January. Next month the cricket club will have to share it with Langa rugby club, Langa hockey club and any other club that wants to play sport.

"When we want to play or practise it is ridiculous," explained Witness Mkiva, the rugby administrator of Langa rugby club. "The problem is money. We are affiliated to the Western Province rugby union and we only get 21,000 Rand (pounds 2,100) a year from them. That is for facilities, kit, transport, coaching, everything."

With many people not working and the majority of those that are in low- paid jobs, the lack of funding is a recurring theme through all of the sports.

Freeman "Banana" Simelela played in the match against the West Indies and is in his last year studying Public Administration at Bellville Technikon. Educated and eloquent, he believes the problems facing developing sport in Langa are threefold.

"Money is so important because many people can't afford the equipment," he explained, "and because the facilities are so poor there is no interest to play. Also, how are we supposed to get to matches? Many people have no transport or have to pay out of their own pocket."

In truth, Banana is lucky because the United Cricket Board have been driven by Dr Ali Bacher towards channelling millions of Rand into developing cricket in the townships. Other sports, such as athletics, are left to flounder by government and federation alike.

Carl Lefuma has set up Langa Athletic club, which now has 20 members, no funding and no facilities. If they want to train, the hopeful athletes have to get a bus to the nearest decent facilities, 10km away. Real talent like Makhosonke File, who ran in the Commonwealth Games, has to go to traditional white clubs for training and facilities.

The blame is laid locally as well, though, and in particular at the door of Langa council. Understandably, with basic living conditions to improve, only a sliver of their annual budget goes to sport. But the apathy towards sport still rancours.

Western Stormers, the rugby Super 12 side, were scheduled to train for a day in Langa, but only if the pitch was adequate. Despite generating great interest in the day, Mkiva was unable to force the council to work on the pitch to prevent the day being cancelled.

"For weeks I have been complaining but they do nothing," Mkiva explained. "If I have to cancel how will I get the Stormers back? The children love Bobby Skinstad, he is hero, but still the council do nothing." Eventually, the great day went ahead but the struggle beforehand highlights the difficulties sport faces from within.