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Football comes to town

2010-06-11 09:02
The World Cup is here - for the first time in Africa. For many millions of rural South Africans, the thrill of it all, the roar of the stadium, deafening sound of a thousand vuvuzelas and exotic chatter of foreign languages will pretty much pass them by. But a for a group of women living in isolated villages in northern Limpopo, hundreds of kilometres from the nearest stadium, football has been a living, breathing, working focus for nearly four years.

They are the embroiderers of the Mogalakwena Craft Art Village who have created a collection of meticulously stitched artworks that show the beautiful game in a whole new light, that make up an exhibition called Village Soccer just opened in a gallery in Cape Town's CBD.

The villages where the women live are scattered like seeds stretching across the vast, dry Blouberg district. They are simple and traditional, separated by plains of thorn trees and long roads punctuated by passing cattle, grazing goats and the odd taxi. Few outsiders come to visit this area, but life goes on – babies are born, barefoot children go to school, there are clinics and church services, water to be drawn, pots to be stirred and funerals to attend.

At Sanna Mokgaha's home in Ramasfikana, the yard is neatly swept, chickens peck at the dusty ground, her father’s donkeys in the kraal shake the flies from their ears tinkling the bells around their necks. Her ailing mother sits in the shade with a baby on a reed mat; a young unemployed relative tips a pan of water over a vegetable patch struggling in the heat.

Single mother of five, Sanna is one of the twenty or so Mogalalwena embroiderers. For her like the others, work at the Craft Art Village is to document the activities of their daily lives.

“Ordinary as it may seem, it's a way of life that most city people never have a chance to see or understand,” says Dr Elbe Coetsee, researcher and founder of the project. “It's also a lifestyle that's fast changing as technology like cellphones and television move in.”

Preserving their culture in this way means the women first draw and write about it, transfer the words and pictures onto fabric then embroider them as individual panels and in some cases, complete large, soft cloth books, collector's items that tell the whole village story.

But the big story here in Blouberg, World Cup or no World Cup, is soccer. Just as in the city, it's what brings the people in these villages together on barren pitches and patches of land, with goal posts, and in some cases even footballs, made out of whatever is available. And with their needles and threads, the women of Mogalakwena have captured it all. The embroideries show footballers in full flight, matching strip and hair braids flying, cheering faces on the sidelines, trees, trophies and even vuvuzelas. Backgrounds are diligently filled in with running stitches, names, dates and locations neatly sewn in corners.

Until last month, you could have heard a pin drop in the studio at the Craft Art Village, a converted tractor shed in a leafy old farm, where cutting and pressing tables were piled high with works in progress and the women were embroidering tirelessly to meet the deadline before the tournament kick off. Asked if she was enjoying her work, Sanna says with a smile, “Too much!”

At the Mogalakwena Gallery in Church Street, some of the Village Soccer panels are hung and pegged on a washing line between two goal posts, others are mounted on the wall – the rest are neatly rolled and labelled like the precious documents that they are, capturing the kind of football that the city stadiums will never see.

- Village Soccer is 3 Church Street, Cape Town.

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