The sudden death of Anele Ngcongca in a car accident on Monday morning has not only deprived the country of his fine football skills, but has also robbed the sport of a role model who stood up for the rights of women.
As a young woman who loves football, produces football articles for the Cape Times and who comes from a family of young football players, I had the opportunity to get to know the former Bafana Bafana and AmaZulu defender, through my cousin. I would describe Anele as sound-minded footballer, an eloquent leader and a feminist.
In South Africa, for a long time football was regarded as a male-dominated industry.
As a result, if you were a woman who had views about the football industry in the country, closed-minded men were quick to dismiss you.
Even though we live in a democratic South Africa, when a woman is talking football with men, she sometimes receives derogatory responses, such as “Ibhola asilikhulumi nabafazi”, meaning “We don’t analyse football with women”. Some men cannot even pretend to engage, but belittle women’s opinions believing they don’t know much about football.
Some men are even intimidated when a female understands and analyses football better than they do. I don’t fault such men: that’s the mentality they have always been exposed to. In their minds, football isn’t for women. I blame our society and how it has dictated how boys and girls should behave. Our society has also dictated which careers are suitable for women and men.
Anele was the opposite of such men. He was one footballer whom I can honestly call a humble feminist. He was always developing his understanding of women’s challenges in the football industry. He valued women who loved sport and always made himself available to those who had full-time careers as footballers.
He was sympathetic, and I know he played a big role in offering support to women footballers who reached out to him. I know some who regarded Anele as a role model and cheerleader at times.
I remember how my cousin vented to him about the delay of salary payments from the South African Football Association. He helped her with taxi fare and even transported her to training sessions himself.
Anele was always available for advice and he never found it daunting to show other men that he was fully invested in women’s issues in the industry.
He believed that women deserved to be empowered and that a start was to address real concerns such as the low salaries of our women’s teams.
With Anele, I could talk openly about the imbalances that I saw in the football industry; he valued my opinions, despite my gender. Even when he disagreed with my sentiments, he would elaborate on his thoughts in a respectful way.
He argued that attitude remains a challenge, mainly because, for many years, football was a man’s world. He would give examples of how football commentators were expected to be men, as were football presenters and referees.
I argued that an attitude which regards women as inferior to men was reflected through the big debate over the Banyana Banyana and Bafana Bafana salary gaps.
In official matches, Bafana players earn bonuses as high as R60 000 for a win and R40 000 for a draw. But this cannot be compared to Banyana players, who have been rewarded far less than that in their international matches. Banyana players don’t earn a monthly salary and only get a daily stipend for the days they spend in camp. They earn R400 when on national duty in the country, and receive R400 for a draw and R5 700 for a win.
Anele recognised that although there is growth of football in the country, our women’s
national team players are regularly driven to seek employment outside of football because of poor institutional support.
In my understanding, feminism is inclusive of everyone’s rights, irrespective of their gender identity. Feminism is a fight for gender equality. And I think, even though Anele was a man of few words, he was a man who supported feminism, not patriarchy.
The Anele I knew respected women, it is an attitude that will be sorely missed.