“Just A Game.” How Apartheid Was Beaten In South Africa

A new film, “Jut A Game,” depicts the heroic effort of South African leaders held in the Robben Island prison to fight back against apartheid through means of playing football(European version). Nelson Mandela, and other detainees, formed the Makana Football Association inside the island fortress that was officially recognized by international football bodies as a legitimate league. Most of the players were from the African National Congress whose leaders were supposed terrorists. According to Chuck Korr, an American sports historian, “It’s amazing. They followed every rule in the book. They were recreating the mundaneness of the outside world. I think partly to comfort themselves.” At first the men played covertly in their cells using balls made of paper, cardboard and rags. World pressure finally persuaded prison authorities to allow regular games to proceed. Football, according to Korr, “was about dignity and survival.”

Perhaps, this story has implications for Guantanamo prisoners who are unable to assert their human dignity but are treated as animals. What might happen to their humanity and their dignity if treated with respect as humans? Would it enable them to reflect and consider if violence is the only avenue to success? Mandela, and many of his associates, did use violence, but being in prison enabled them to rethink that approach and discover new ways of fighting for freedom.