Ubuntu transforming boys into men through football

Ubuntu Football of South Africa
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  • Ubuntu using football and education to shape men of the future
  • Academy and professional club both aimed at further pupils
  • Foundation hopes to "transform South Africa" with positive role models

Running a combined academy and school that doesn’t require students to flourish on the pitch? It’s certainly not the norm. Running a professional club whose entire purpose is to service the academy? That’s even rarer.

However, football isn’t the only thing at the core of Cape Town charity Ubuntu. “Our goal is to be the leading development programme on the continent but that’s not our be-all, end-all goal,” co-founder Casey Prince told FIFA.com.

Instead, “developing the men who will transform South Africa” is what underpins every decision, having started out a decade ago with little more than the desire to overcome a problem staring Prince and co-founder Michael Jenkins in the face.

“There is a lack of fathering in this country and if we can develop some different kinds of men, that will change this place,” Prince explained. “We really want to see South Africa be transformed… Football has always been at the heart of it.”

Through plenty of struggle and hardship since, Ubuntu (meaning 'connectedness') now have seven grades of students at their own school, with all 66 children – 29 of which board there – part of their academy, located in the Fish Hoek region of the city. While football talent is fundamental to them gaining their place, once a part of the family, they are guaranteed their full education as long as they commit to bettering themselves in the classroom and on the pitch.

“Developing people and players is a long-term process,” Prince continued. “If you try to rush, you miss out. We have a vision of what an 18-year-old leaving us should look like, think about and engage with the world.”

With the first years of students now graduating – what Prince refers to as the ‘Ubuntu originals’ – we’re getting to see what that is. While some have earned scholarships in the USA, others are joining Ubuntu Cape Town FC.

“No-one on our staff has really done this before,” Prince admitted, of acquiring the second-tier club in 2017. “We’ve learned a lot of things the hard way and made a lot of mistakes. So far, it’s already proved to be the right move, it’s just been a difficult move.”

With the academy fundamentally against pupils signing contracts to be there – they can leave at any time – graduates signing for the club provides both a professional starting point for the players and potential revenue for the whole operation – which otherwise operates entirely off donations.

While negotiating relegation battles is not something Prince ever anticipated doing – having initially coached the side himself – their choices are being justified. Two such examples are South African youth internationals Luke Fleurs and Jesse Donn.

Luke Fleurs of SuperSport with his Ubuntu tattoo
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“We should have cut [Jesse] at 14 if we were being cut-throat,” the co-founder said of U-20s midfielder Donn. “But he grinded himself into being a really good player and at 19 he’s starting every game for our pro team. You see the results if you stick with them long enough.”

Meanwhile, Fleurs is now at Premiership title-challengers SuperSport United, but he knows it could have been very different, having grown up in an area where crime is an easy draw. “I was coming out of a community where it was very difficult to ignore those things and I give full credit to Ubuntu for pulling me in and taking me out of my community. If it wasn’t for them, I’d definitely be in gangsterism or similar now.”

But through teenage struggles and the admission of being less than 100 per cent enthusiastic about his studies, Luke believes he’s fortunate to have had the chance he did. “I was surprised they gave me so many chances. I can only thank them and God, to be honest. If it wasn’t for them I don’t think I’d be the person I am today.”

And seeing the people they become is repayment for the workers’ dedication to the project. “It’s massively rewarding,” said Prince. “It’s particularly special with this first wave. They’ve really paved the way. You just have a special level of love and trust for what they endured.”

It’s a feeling that Fleurs clearly reciprocates, getting an Ubuntu tattoo on his wrist just before joining SuperSport. “What they have done for me is amazing – I definitely can’t forget about it,” he said. “When I score I’m definitely kissing it.

“I told my parents this will be the only tattoo – I made a promise. They allowed me to get this one because they know how much Ubuntu means to me. When I asked my mum, she said ‘no problem’.”

Her response probably says more than most about how Ubuntu are helping mould the next generation of South African men.

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