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Daily Archives: November 19, 2008

Young black South Africans saddle up in Soweto

by Justine Gerardy*

Twelve-year-old Jabu Shabalala issued an ultimatum to his mother while driving past a group of children on horseback in South Africa's best-known township and former anti-apartheid hotspot.
"Mummy, I also want to go there," he said.
Forced to make a quick U-turn, Nomsa Shabalala now factors her son's horseshows into her weekends but admits that she never thought a white-dominated, elitist sport would be taken up by black South Africans.
"Now it's coming to the most disadvantaged group," she said pointing to Jabu in neat jodhpurs and helmet as he steered Mapule, a grey pony whose name means "Rain," around a small enclosure.
The Soweto Riding School is the brainchild of 63-year-old Enos Mafokate, South Africa's first black show jumper, who fell in love with the sport as a horse-mad boy hoping for a chance to look after the horses of picnicking whites.
Mafokate eventually got a foot in the door as a stable hand, earning a meagre salary, but his dream was to own his own horses.
"I wasn't that groom looking to groom," Mafokate said. "I told people my dream is one day I must have my own horses, I must be able to ride like these white people are riding. And they laughed at me, the other grooms."
Mafokate now owns 11 ponies and eight horses and is overseeing the construction of a comprehensive equestrian centre in the heart of Soweto where his riding school will relocate from its humble base at a local animal charity.
Since 1988, the riding school has given youngsters first-hand experience of a little-known sport in a country where soccer, rugby and cricket are national obsessions.
"In Soweto, there are not a lot of people who do this sport, it's a white-dominated sport," said Amugelang Nombembe, whose friends thought he was joking when he told them that he had started horse riding.
"They thought I was out of my mind," said the 16-year-old.
Mafokate kept a tight rein on his students as they warmed up in a small arena, barking out instructions as the ponies — many of them former cart animals — made their way towards jumps mounted on well-worn drums.
"There you are!" he exclaimed for a correct jump.
Mafokate began to compete in major horse shows domestically and abroad as apartheid's heavy-handed restrictions loosened and was part of the development team at the Barcelona Olympics in 1992.
But as a black rider he also faced discrimination, such as being told not to enter a members area at one show, being refused service at a shop when travelling to an outside event, and having to call a white owner "boss".
"It was very difficult," he said, adding that the support of some fellow white riders had got him to where he is today. "I've always been saying that blacks and whites need to work together."
A number of Mafokate's students have made it into provincial teams and he describes Soweto as being the "cream" of the horse world with more black riders than any other riding school in South Africa.
About 50 non-whites were now members of the provincial horse society, he said.
The sport's novelty in Soweto, where matchbox houses remain a symbol of the white regime's oppression, was obvious as a group of children watched horses fly over jumps with appreciative "ooohs" and "aaahs".
Standing near them was Sibusiso Ngxongo, who works in the area. "It's wonderful. We never used to see this in Soweto," he said.
Mafokate hopes the Soweto Equestrian Centre, supported by Johannesburg city authorities, the British charity World Horse Welfare and others, will give young riders the chances that he never had.
The school will have stable blocks, a clubhouse and arenas.
The dream was for a black child to participate in a show as a white child could, Mafokate said.
"That's why my dream today is to open that centre so that even at the time that God takes me, that centre must go on. That centre must be there for thousands of years."
For children like Jabu Shabalala who carefully groom their ponies after a riding class, Mafokate's school has let him discover what is now a favourite sport. "I love horses," he said shyly.
Jabu's mother Nomsa believes that Mafokate was "answering his calling" by teaching young South Africans to ride.
"He's one of a kind in Soweto," she said.


Hijacked Saudi tanker off Somali coast: US


Oil-laden Saudi super tanker Sirius Star seized by pirates in an audacious hijacking way out at sea was yesterday off the coast of Somalia and the crew is unharmed, the US Navy and the ship's operators said.
The 318,000 deadweight tonnes Very Large Crude Carrier, the largest vessel to be seized in an epidemic of piracy in the region, was hijacked 450 miles east of Kenya on Sunday.
"The ship is off the coast of Somalia at large, and still under the control of the pirates. There is no information yet about their demands," a spokeswoman for the Bahrain-based US Fifth Fleet said by telephone.
She had earlier said the huge, oil laden prize, which is three times the size of a US aircraft carrier, was believed heading towards the Somali port of Eyl.
The vessel's operating company Vela International said crew members are "remaining safe" aboard the ship.
"They are in good health, none of them has been harmed," said a company official who would not be named.
The company said the tanker was loaded at its full capacity with two million barrels of oil, valued at 100 million dollars.
The hijacking of the Sirius Star was the furthest out to sea Somali pirates have attacked a ship, according the US Navy.
The top US military officer, Admiral Michael Mullen, said he was "stunned" by the reach of the Somali pirates.
"I'm stunned by the range of it, less so than I am the size," Mullen said.
The pirates are "very good at what they do. They're very well armed. Tactically, they are very good."
Sirius Star, which is owned by Saudi giant oil company Aramco, carried 25 crew members from Croatia, Britain, Philippines, Poland and Saudi Arabia, according to a US Navy statement.
The South Korea-built ship, launched earlier this year, is operated by Vela International and registered in Liberia.
The International Maritime Bureau has reported that at least 83 ships have been attacked off Somalia since January, of which 33 were hijacked. Of those, 12 vessels and more than 200 crew were still in the hands of pirates.
Pirates are well organised in the area where Somalia's northeastern tip juts into the Indian Ocean, preying on a key maritime route leading to the Suez Canal through which an estimated 30 percent of the world's oil transits.
Last week, the European Union started a security operation off the coast of Somalia, north of Kenya, to combat growing acts of piracy and protect ships carrying aid agency deliveries. It is the EU's first-ever naval mission.
Dubbed Operation Atlanta, the mission, endorsed by the bloc's defence ministers at talks in Brussels, is being led by Britain, with its headquarters in Northwood, near London.
Norwegian shipping company Odfjell said on Monday it will no longer sail through the pirate-plagued Gulf of Aden, choosing instead the longer, more expensive but also safer route around Cape of Good Hope.
Somalia has lacked an effective government since the 1991 ouster of president Mohamed Siad Barre touched off a bloody power struggle that has defied numerous attempts to restore stability.