Riding Off Into The Soweto Sunset

It might not be quite the mink ‘n manure set but show-jumper Enos Mafokate is teaching Soweto’s children how to ride, writes Sibusiso Nxumalo

SHOW-JUMPER Enos Mafo-kate dreams of the day Soweto has its own riding centre where he and the township’s aspiring riders can practice a sport that has hitherto been the exclusive preserve of South Africa’s white elite.

Until then, he will continue to pack his proteges into any car he can organise — this Sunday it’s a battered Mini and a station wagon — and drive the 50km from Soweto to the privately owned Beaulieu stables near the Kyalami race-track.

Beaulieu’s gleaming white buildings with red roofs are a far cry from the Soweto homes most of Mafokate’s pupils come from.

Lack of transport is a problem for Mafokate, who founded the Soweto Riding School four years ago, using two ponies from the SPCA, where he heads the Soweto horse unit. This weekend he has managed to bring only 14 of his 34 pupils to Beaulieu.

Of them, Jabu Hadebe (9) — in grey blazer and fawn jodhpurs — cuts the most convincing figure. His fellows wear jeans, shirts and jackets. In their white tops, black pants and hard hats, the white kids look more the part.

For Mafokate (50) developing black riders is a dream that goes back more than 35 years, when his parents came to work on a Rivonia farm and Mafokate had his first ride — on a donkey. Occasionally, he rode the farmer’s son’s pony.

“He would ride my donkey,” he recalls. “My parents would scold me, saying I wanted to kill the farmer’s son …” The farmer tried to stop the boys playing together; secretly, they continued their mounted escapades and eventually their parents let them be.

Mafokate took a job at a riding school, where owner Leslie Taylor recognised the latent talent of his untrained groom, gave him lessons and was rewarded by his pupil coming first in a grooms’ event at Inanda.

That was in 1961. Since then, Mafokate has ridden in many shows, winning events and chipping away at the racial prejudice and snobbery that still exists.

Also willing to help were champion riders Anneli WYcherpfennig, who arranged for Mafokate to compete overseas, and Tony Lewis, with whom Mafokate spent 13 years and who, in 1990, sponsored the first-ever show held in the township.

When Mafokate competed in the Royal Horse Show at Wembley in 1980, he was the first South African to compete abroad since the country was barred from the international arena.

Champion rider Gonda Beatrix has a high regard for Mafokate. “but he has not been able to afford the big horse that will win big competitions.”

Says Mafokate: “I don’t have transport to get my horse to every show and I also don’t have the money to be able to afford the horse of my choice.” A good horse would set him back as much as R40 000.

As it is, he dips into his own pocket to stable and feed his school’s only pony — and spends Sunday mornings teaching Beaulieu’s grooms in return for the use of the stables’ ponies and horses for his Soweto pupils.

Mafokate started with three pupils and now has 34. He is not surprised (not every township kid wants to play soccer) but “white people are still not used to it. Every time we show up at a show some still look at us askance”.

Some of his pupils are already making their mark. Mafokate’s nephew, Brian Mafokate, has notched up show victories for the school, which recently fielded the first black competitors in a Rand Show event for under-10s.

His pupils are a mix of middle-class kids at private schools and others who attend township schools. Thembi Hlegezele (8) says she started riding because they had horses at her school, Kings, a private school in Natal. S’fiso Hadebe (12) goes to school in Soweto’s Moroka section. “I have watched cowboy movies and have always wanted to ride a horse,” he says. Now he wants to be a top show-jumper “like Gonda Beatrix”.

Mafokate has big dreams for his riding school. Plans to equip Soweto’s Elkah stadium with stables and a paddock have been drawn up. The National Sports Congress, to which the school is affiliated, is keen to help the project raise the funds needed to make this dream a reality.

Mafokate says there is little money in show-jumping for him but he loves the sport. “Everyone comes into this world for some reason for me it includes leaving my mark in the world of horse riding.”

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