Ten years ago, the Makana Football Association was given Fifa honorary membership. And in the same year, a film was made entitled ‘More Than Just A Game’ telling the story of how Makana came about and why it was an issue after all.

In 2009 on a visit to Robben Island, a place famed for the 18-year incarceration of Nelson Mandela, a team of global journalists was given a guided tour of the former prison that would later shape modern day South Africa.

Former inmates-turned-tour guides took us around all sections of Robben Island and relived the horrors of living with barely any hope in the Apartheid era.

Their only hope was, firstly, the sight of Table Mountain from a vantage point of the penitentiary that convinced some that maybe one day they would get the freedom to actually be atop the prominent landmark overlooking the city of Cape Town.

Their second source of hope was in football. It was only when they played football that the inmates forgot the vagaries of jail.

They played using the Fifa rules and laws of the game and eventually formed their own league between 1966 and 1973.

Initially prison authorities denied them the chance to play the game but persistent negotiations eventually saw their will prevail.

Current South Africa President Jacob Zuma was a referee in the Makana Football Association while the FA also included one of South Africa’s richest men today Tokyo Sexwale.
Makana is now one of the lasting legacies of South Africa’s brutal history, a heritage that was born out of the thick, long and high barbed wired walls of incarceration.

It was thus a pleasant surprise that on Sunday former Express and Cranes defender Edward Kalungi conceived the idea of a team of ex-internationals visiting Luzira prison to use football to offer hope for the thousands of inmates there.

Kalungi, once a battle-hardened defender in Ugandan football, used his influence to soften the lives of individuals whose circumstances had become hardened by unfortunate choices made in life.

But football is more than just a game and the axiom was best manifested by the excitement of the prisoners on seeing Hakim Magumba, Sadiq Wassa, Simeon Masaba, Paul Mukatabala and Hassan Mubiru roll back the years with some deft touches and flicks.

It was only fitting that Kalungi should score the first equalizer for the ex-internationals, a deflected effort struck from outside of the penalty box, seeing how he was the brainchild of the occasion.

The match suitably ended 2-2; the ideal score on a day where they were no losers but winners. The ex-internationals showed that there are hundreds of ways to remain relevant if not serve the Ugandan game.

In a week where Kalungi’s former club and national team captain George Ssimwogerere spent time in the coolers along with former SC Villa striker Dan Walusimbi, the players succeeded in giving optimism to individuals whose lives may have been at a crossroad.

Prior to the visit, the teams of prisoners choose their names from world famous clubs in European football such as Real Madrid, AC Milan and Manchester United. By the end of the day they had agreed to change such names to adopt Ugandan names that would enhance our game.

The federation and president Moses Magogo scored a significant goal in taking the game to a hitherto unseen territory and considering that a huge number of the inmates are not even 23 years, it is not beyond the realms of possibility that some of the people there can contribute to the development of football once freed without necessary playing the beautiful game.

Fufa in fact would do well to study the Makana model and see how they can sustain the buzz created by last Sunday’s call at the University of Learning.

mnamanya@ug.nationmedia.com
@mnamanya