What better thing to do while whiling away the hours at home, than read! And you may as well enrich your local knowledge at the same time by starting with Aswhin Desai’s latest book, Wentworth: The Beautiful Game and the Making of Place.
Aptly described by one reviewer as a ‘group biography’, Desai uses the recollections of those with close ties to Wentworth’s famous soccer teams to tell the story of the area, examining how the sport managed to unite a people in what were fairly dire circumstances.
A product of the Group Areas Act, the community of Wentworth as we know it today was formed in the 1960s when the region was designated a ‘coloured’ area. Previously a white military base, the red brick buildings were quickly converted into homes for coloured people. While wealthier families were able to buy properties in Treasure Beach, unluckier residents of Wentworth were relegated to “long squat rows of concrete coops with flat asbestos roofs”. People staying in this dormitory-style accommodation had to make use of communal toilets and sculleries, and were provided with a ration of hot water at four o’clock in the afternoon. Adding to these poor living conditions was a high level of industry, with large petrochemical refineries dominating the area, making Wentworth one of the most polluted areas in South Africa.
In such circumstances it’s unsurprising that Wentworth became an area known for poverty and violence, with gangs ruling the streets. But what is surprising is that it also became famous for producing some of the country’s best soccer players. One year Wentworth’s Leeds United made a clean sweep of all the 11 trophies for which they competed!
Speaking of how important soccer was to the community, Desai describes how soccer matches were automatic safe zones:
…..warring Wentworth gangs, known for their deadly attacks on each other, united in their support whenever Leeds played. Like a church might be a sanctuary within which the Mafia would not commit any violence, so, too, were the soccer grounds during a Leeds United match.”‘Strike of the Green Mamba is Deadly’, The Mercury, 17th October 2017
Considering the political and social aspects of the area alongside that of the development of soccer in the community, Wentworth : The Beautiful Game and the Making of Place offers a unique perspective on the history of Wentworth.
And if after reading this book you find that you have a new-found interest in the history of sport, then Ashwin Desai’s oeuvre might be just the thing to keep you entertained over the coming weeks. A prolific author, Desai’s body of work includes titles such as Blacks in Whites: A Century of Cricket Struggles in KwaZulu-Natal, and Reverse sweep: A Story of South African Cricket Since Apartheid. Many of Ashwin Desai’s books are also available in e-format so can be purchased (and read!) from the comfort of your couch.