Tembisa is an old dusty township. Taxis zip in and out of the narrow roads and there’s very little for people to do here. Dust clings to the shacks, houses, spaza shops and the knees of children who come to the open fields to play soccer. One wishes the municipality would invest in recreational activities that will keep young minds busy.
Like many townships, Tembisa is a place where those who want their community to succeed need to take matters into their own hands. Joe Masilela has found it to be a fertile place to train young women in professional football.
Twice a week, his team, the Kempton Park Ladies Football Club meet to train at the Rabi Ridge Sports Stadium. The team is a group of ladies he scouted from Tembisa and other neighbouring townships, whose talents would have otherwise gone unnoticed.
Co-founder of the football club and midfield player, Neo Motsamai (27) says she and Joe formed a partnership after she quit playing for the Sharp Shooters football club in Daveyton.
“The club was under resourced and I had a full-time job. When Joe found out I quit he told me we would start our own club,” she says.
The decision to team-up as partners proved to be an ace, and in 2017 they formed the Kempton Park Ladies FC. The pair has groomed a team that has now played in the Local Football Association League, ABSA League, the provincial Sasol League as well as competed nationally in the Premier Soccer League.
More than just an opportunity to play soccer, Joe provides the girls on his team with emotional and at times financial support.
Right wing, Sizanda Komane (23) attests to this:
“Even if we come from poor homes, when we come together as a team and play matches, people can’t tell that we come from poor circumstances. Our transport is organised and we are provided with food, fruit and water at the matches,” she says.
Sizanda is one of Joe’s prized players, whose talent has taken her to play for the famous Sundowns football club owned by revered businessman Patrice Motsepe.
Precious Mashomeng (20) from Rustenburg, plays the position of striker. She moved to Johannesburg to study Psychology at the Pierson Institute of Higher Learning, and Joe provides her with accommodation and takes care of some of her living expenses.
“Joe says he wants us to see him as our father,” she says. “If we need anything like money for transport, accommodation and toiletries he helps us.”
Joe says his passion for women’s football started when he volunteered at the Sharp Shooters, where he met Neo.
“I was touched by the circumstances of these young women because they are so talented, but they had no resources,” he says. “When they were playing, they would borrow a soccer ball from the affluent teams of white soccer players. I decided to buy them four soccer balls and provide them with oranges at their matches. They were so grateful for the gesture.”
The team didn’t survive and Joe partnered with Neo to start their own team. What was a four year plan to get their team to the Sasol League was achieved in less than a year – and it’s because they had an eye for the best talent.
Joe lives a simple life with his wife and four children. After completing his matric as a teenager, he worked as a packer at Woolworths for 10 years before becoming a junior manager, a position he worked in for 15 years. Today, he has been working as a manager at Builder’s Warehouse a position he has held for 12 years.
He says he pays for some of his team’s expenses from his salary.
“It did cause tension at home with my wife, but now she is our biggest supporter,” he laughs
When he talks about his team there’s a spark in his eyes, the passion shining through.
“Today we have seven ladies who play in the National League Sizanda for Sundowns and the other ladies who play for the University of Johannesburg and Coal City Wizards.
His biggest challenge is finances. The team costs him roughly R20 000 a month and getting funding on a monthly basis is “touch and go”.
“Our major expenses are transport, registering for games, paying for referees, grounds for matches and medical costs. Some of the girls get injured during the game and we need to take care of them,” he says.
“Some girls will come to a practice or a match without having eaten, so food is very important, and because some of them don’t have a strong presence of a father in their lives, it’s important for me to step in and assist where I can.”
Joe has also started a women’s football team in rural Mpumalanga, his home of origin.
“I saw a gap. There were always boys who played soccer so I decided to scout for girls, and you will be surprised at the talent,” he says. “I have now provided the girls with balls, a kit and soccer boots.”
Neo says she’s now running a developmental team as well with teenage learners from schools. She’s also running a men’s football team.
“It can be intimidating training men who are taller and bigger than me, but I know I’m good at what I do. I’m a player-couch. If someone can’t play a game, I make sure I’m fit enough to stand in for them,” she adds.
South Africa needs heroes who young people can look up to.
Joe and Neo are a beacon of hope to young women with a passion for football. As leaders they believe it’s important to pass the baton and are raising a generation of young women who are inspiring others in their communities.