By: Zamayirha PeterIt was no ordinary Friday when the National Youth Network ACTIVATE! Change Drivers hosted a five (5) aside night soccer tournament at Hillfox Futbol Club in Roodeport, Johannesburg, South Africa.
The league titled The Youth of 1994 vs The Youth of 2024, geared toward galvanising young people to register to vote and contribute to the greater national call for unity and participation in democracy.
A public call to participate was made through the network’s digital platforms and physical blitzing took place in and around Roodeport, where participants from the age of 16-35, of genders, and skill levels were automatically entered into the league. No one was left behind as the attendance comprised of young people from across Gauteng who had pre-registered their teams to participate in the league. As well as ordinary citizens who had little to no soccer training, hearing the jovial sounds in Roodeport, drew into the futbol club in their numbers alongside political parties such as Action SA, Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF), Rise Mzantsi and the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) representatives who were present to support in the registration of young people and simultaneously engage in conversations with the youth in an effort to contribute to the networks call for a more informed and active youth citizenry. There was great excitement and rapport filled the stadium with more than 200 players and spectators who gathered with their families and were entertained by a live DJ set and treated to boerewors rolls and snacks while watching the growing intensity of the league.
In a country riddled with despondency and great youth voter apathy. The presence of individuals from different political affiliations on the same soccer field served as a profound symbol of the potential of South Africa’s house to be united and collaborate despite their differences.
The tournament allowed participants to interact and engage in conversations that might be likely to take place in a more traditional political setting. It was an opportunity for dynamic dialogue, understanding, and building bridges between people with differing perspectives.
Reflecting on the planning for the league #WeAreVoting campaign strategist and the Executive Director of ACTIVATE! Change Drivers, Tebogo Suping said, the 5-a-side activation in Roodepoort taught the network several crucial lessons.
“First, it showed us that sports can transcend political and ideological differences, serving as a catalyst for unity and understanding. By participating in a friendly match or cheering for their favourite teams, people can connect on a human level, putting aside their political labels for a common cause”.
Ensuring an ethical and entertaining game took place, referee Sohail Joseph, described the games as being a healthy mix of good, bad and frustrating. “Some games were good, some very bad due to the players not knowing the rules”, he adds laughing.
“It was also nice to see engagement across the gender spectrum as usually only men and boys are crazy about soccer. I think the parties that were there showcased why they should be voted for as well in terms of the football so it was a nice fun league and I hope to do it again”, Joseph adds.
Captain of the winning team, Tashreeq Isaacs, described the league as being splendid.
“There was a lot of positive energy with positive people which made the environment very welcoming for everyone.”
Sharing insights on the winning formula, Isaacs says it was the planning and strategy ahead of the league that gave confidence in a win.
“Before the tournament, my team and I discussed how vital it is for us to win as this was an opportunity to showcase our talent to everyone who was there. As soon as the first whistle blew we knew that we had a job to do and we had to give our all in order to be crowned champions. Fortunately, our hard work and dedication resulted in us winning the tournament”, Isaac adds.
Relating the day of fun to the campaign cause Isaacs says he realised the power of sport to educate young people on civic participation.
“I learnt that football can be used in many ways, one of these ways is to create awareness. In this matter, football was used for a good cause as the major aim of the tournament was to encourage those who participated to vote and that every vote counts, no matter who the person might be”.
Driving the day of fun home was the master of ceremonies, Tevin Blignaut, who was responsible for the announcements and reminding those in attendance of the hybrid cause of the campaign.
“Young people need to feel important and valued. Something which I feel has been missing with current politics. It’s as though there is no room for young people and I believe this discouraged their participation in elections, but going to where the youth are and involving them in campaigns and helping them tell their story may be a great way to create engagement”, Blignaut passionately adds.
According to Suping, this is the beginning of many activations that will integrate the diverse youth democratic to get involved.
“The event highlighted the importance of integrating politics and sports in a non-confrontational and non-partisan way. With plans to expand and include netball in future events, we look forward to more opportunities to promote unity, dialogue, and civic engagement through sports”.
Suping reiterates that in a world often divided by differences, the 5-a-side tournament stands as a testament to the power of sports in uniting us all.