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Sunday, April 5, 2020


(Right: Professor Ashwin Desai)

The Durban Local History Museums newsletter of March 31, 2020, offers the following information:

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 Professor Ashwin 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, with wealthier families 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, with one year seeing Wentworth’s Leeds United making a clean sweep of all eleven of the trophies they competed for!

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.”

(Left: The book cover)

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.

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