Makana Football Association
The Order of Ikhamanga in
Profile of Makana Football Association
The Makana Football Association was set up by inmates on Robben Island in 1966 to provide rules and structures for anti-apartheid activists who wanted to play soccer matches. The former inmates of South Africa’s famous Robben Island prison who established a football league as a way to survive incarceration were honoured by FIFA, when it officially recognised their association.
While Robben Island was a notorious symbol of South Africa’s apartheid regime and a prison with a history of violently oppressing political dissidents, it was also a cultural and recreational hotbed.
The infamous jail was the setting for an improbable triumph of the human spirit, when five political prisoners joined to form the Makana Football Association and organise a soccer league on the island. Former inmate and present Minister of Human Settlements, Tokyo Sexwale, who was one of the Makana Football Association’s top administrators, speaks fondly of the freedom fighters who defied apartheid’s laws, but adhered strictly to FIFA statutes in hotly contested football matches on the island.
The Makana Football Association was named after one of the great chiefs of the struggle and one of the first political prisoners sent to Robben Island. The association was based on FIFA rules. Given that they were regarded as the worst enemies of the apartheid state and were banished to an offshore prison with no prospect of ever again returning to the life they once knew, football provided the political prisoners with some semblance of normality.
After years of campaigning, Sexwale’s wife, Judy, was eventually allowed to bring the prisoners a proper football kit. The Makana Football Association was given honorary membership of FIFA in 2007, and in the same year a film was made telling the story of the football association, entitled More Than Just A Game.
President Jacob Zuma was once both a Makana Football Association referee and player. Others involved in the association’s organisation included the late Steve Tshwete and current Deputy Chief Justice Dikgang Moseneke.
Certain prisoners, particularly Rivonia trialists like Nelson Mandela, Ahmed Kathrada and Walter Sisulu, were among those who were kept in isolation and thus barred from watching or participating in the soccer league.
The incredible feat on Robben Island was to have a football federation, in full operation and complete with referees and a disciplinary committee.
Former prisoners who participated have said that the discipline of playing competitive games helped them cope with years of living in tiny cells.
The film, More Than Just a Game, was released to celebrate the players who went on to become some of South Africa’s most influential people.