Mark Dennis Gonzalez will hope to play a starring role for Chile at the FIFA World Cup™ finals but South African fans may already like to claim him as one of their own.

That is because he was born in Durban, near the shores of the Indian Ocean, and grew up in the apartheid era until the age of 10 when his family left for Chile. Mark, who now plays for CSKA Moscow, is back to star in the land where his father Raul played in the 1980s.

Raul Gonzalez left Chile for South Africa with his club owing him three months' salary with the Latin American country mired in tough economic times and arrived in a nation which was in the throes of racial conflict as the apartheid era entered its dying days.

Raul played for Moroka Swallows, from the black Johannesburg township of Soweto and then for Bush Bucks of Durban, where Mark was born on 10 July 1984. He was named after two of his father's best friends – Raul tossing a coin to determine if his offspring would be Mark Dennis or Dennis Mark.

At Moroka Swallows, all the players were black, save for Raul Gonzalez and one other foreign import and it was a tough task to integrate as he spoke neither English nor any of the local African languages. In those days, Raul and wife Lorena and their children lived in a white neighbourhood at a time when the coilour of one's skin determined where one could go.

The only black people in the vicinity were the gardener and domestic workers. Those who worked for Gonzalez's family ate with them – something highly unusual at a time when racial segregation was the norm – indeed his housekeeper was the one who taught Raul English.

Althugh Gonzalez enjoyed his time there he was living in a South Africa which lived under general international isolation owing to its racial policies, which fomented an environment of death and violence to which the Gonzalez family could not remain immune.

One day, while watching television, they saw "a football match, where security were stabbing a fat black guy. It was shocking, blood was spurting everywhere," Mark's mother Lorena Hoffmann recounted in a recent interview with Chilean media.

But things finally changed in 1990 with the walk to freedom of black liberation leader Nelson Mandela after 27 years in jail, which precipitated the end of apartheid. By the time Mark went to school he was mixing with both white and black children.

"I had friends from both races," he recalls. For him, football was always top dog for sport. "I also did athletics and some swimming – but I never played rugby," the traditional 'white' sport, he recounts. "I never saw much football while we were out there but I do recall that the racism really hit me and it was a complicated time.

"That's why we came back to Chile," says the midfielder, who would be celebrating a very special 26th birthday on 10 July if the South Americans, who pushed Brazil for top spot in the continental qualifiers, were to make it to the Final the following day.

Gonzalez says that even as power passed to the majority black population under new president Mandela it was still a difficult time for him and his family as "there was also racism from the blacks, who were mad at the whites for all that had happened".

So it was that in 1994, Mark and his family returned to Chile where he started his career with Union Santa Elena in the port city of Valparaiso. By 18, he had made it through the ranks at first division Universidad Catolica, in Santiago, but within two years Albacete of Spain came calling in. In 2004 he moved to Spain, where further moves to Real Sociedad and Betis followed.

There followed a spell with Liverpool for whom he scored twice in 25 appearances between 2005 and 2007 but injury problems did not allow him to settle and he returned to Betis before their relegation saw him switch to CSKA last year. Now he is back on South African soil and Gonzalez will be out to impress old friends – and also continue on with his application for citizenship.