Thursday, July 21, 2011

De Montfort University: Former Robben Island Prisoners to Be Honoured by De Montfort University

LEICESTER, England - Thursday, July 21st 2011 [ME NewsWire]

(BUSINESS WIRE)-- Four men who successfully campaigned for the right to play football matches while kept in appalling prison conditions under the apartheid regime of South Africa are to be honoured with the Companionship of De Montfort University (DMU) in Leicester, UK.

The Companionship is the highest honour from the university and recognises the roles played by Mark Shinners, Sedick Isaacs, Lizo Sitoto and Marcus Solomon in giving new hope to the prisoners of the notorious Robben Island, through playing the popular game.

The stories of these men’s lives on Robben Island - and the role football played in bringing different factions together to fight for a free South Africa - have been described in the book “More Than Just A Game”, co-authored by Chuck Korr, a visiting research professor at DMU’s International Centre for Sports History and Culture.

The four men’s visit to England has been organised by DMU with the support of Kick It Out, the national campaign that fights discrimination in football, and the Professional Footballers’ Association.

During their visit to England, the four men will be treated to a tour around the spiritual home of world football, Wembley Stadium, honoured at South Africa House in Trafalgar Square by the South African government, and taken on a tour of the Houses of Parliament.

There will also be a gala dinner in Leicester and, on Friday 22 July, they will receive their honours from DMU at a graduation ceremony in De Montfort Hall.

Chuck Korr said: “Winning the right to play football and successfully maintaining a league gave them one link to the pleasures of ordinary life before imprisonment. It helped them to retain their sense of dignity and to continue the fight to create a free, non-racist South Africa.”

The opponents of apartheid on Robben Island were barely fed, there were no beds, there was no hot water and from sunrise to sunset there was hours of hard labour where the men were ordered to break stones in the quarries. The prisoners also faced regular rounds of beatings and torture from the prison guards.

Mark Shinners, Sedick Isaacs, Lizo Sitoto and Marcus Solomon joined a three-year campaign in which they asked every week that they be allowed to play football on the island. Those who made the request to the authorities were put on a “spare diet” of no food the following weekend. Cell mates took it in turns to take the punishment.

In 1967, the authorities finally relented. Within a couple of years, pitches, goalposts and nets had been made by hand, a full league of 27 teams with names such as Gunners FC, Black Eagles and Dynaspurs United, had been set up, and more than 300 prisoners were taking part in weekly matches. Hundreds more were spectators.

The prisoners did not just play the game of football. The league was run on strict guidelines, following official FIFA rules.

They built an organisation with teams, referees and coaches, first aid units, schedules, statistics, grievance procedures and a constitution.

The prisoners, who were all politically active, came to see the Makana Football Association not just as an escape from the relentless and exhaustive regime on the island but as a practice at running a government.

They also used the time to meet and discuss their dreams of a free South Africa and how it could be achieved. Opposing anti-apartheid factions, such as the ANC and PAC, came together to share a common vision.

One of the footballers, Jacob Zuma, a fearless defender for prison team Rangers FC, is now President of South Africa. Many others who played on Robben Island in the 60s and 70s now hold important posts within the government.


DMU Media Office

Chris Johnston

+44 (0) 116 207 8010

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