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The Student News Site of St. Joseph's University

The Hawk News

The Student News Site of St. Joseph's University

The Hawk News

Sailing the soccer seas

Pirates Football Club kicks at race and gender barriers
Defender Oratile Makurube quickly changes directions during a June 15 match between the Regional Ladies Emmarentia Pirates and the Peace Makers Ladies. PHOTO: ZACH PODOLNICK ’26/THE HAWK

Johannesburg, South Africa – Twice a week, 19-year-old Oratile Makurube travels 45 minutes from her home in the township of Soweto to Randburg, a northern suburb of Johannesburg, to play soccer. 

Makurube is a member of the Regional Ladies Emmarentia Pirates Football Club team, which practices every Tuesday and Thursday at Parktown High School for Girls. The team is made up of 21 other players, aged 15 through 23.

“It’s been my dream [to be a soccer player] since I was a child,” Makurube said. “So, playing for Pirates is a big thing in my life.”

Like many suburbs in Johannesburg, Randburg’s playing fields and facilities are better than what is available in the townships, which were created for people of color during the apartheid era.

“We played a team from Soweto, and when they saw the facilities that we have here, a few of them approached me and asked me, ‘Coach, please, can we come and train with you?’” said Zane Abraham, head coach of the Ladies’ Pirates team and chairperson of the Pirates Football Club.

The Pirates program currently sponsors six girls from Soweto, including Makurube, and provides them with transportation, meals after practices and games, and gear.

In South Africa, organized women’s soccer for African, Indian, and coloured or mixed race people emerged in the late 1970s and early 1980s, a decade or more after white women began playing organized soccer. The apartheid era’s discriminatory laws toward anyone who was not white limited their access to opportunities, including sports.

As the apartheid regime began to be dismantled in the 1990s, women’s soccer grew. More women who were previously denied access to soccer joined organized teams.

But the disparity remains in terms of facilities and opportunities, especially for women.

The Emmarentia Pirates Football Club was founded in 2010 to provide an avenue for junior players to learn and enjoy the game. The women’s program began in 2016 with about 16 players. It now has about 60 members. 

“The opportunities in the sport, like in every part of the world, is lopsided,” Abraham said. “There’s not enough investment in the sport as opposed to the men’s game. We’re playing catch up. Whatever resources we have, we’re trying to build the game. All we can do about it is on the ground and do the best we can to promote the sport within the resources that we have.”

Aaliyah Abraham, a 19-year-old member of the team, learned to play soccer by watching her brother. 

“He was also a left winger,” said Aaliyah Abraham, who also coaches the Pirates U10 girls and boys team. “That’s why I started out as a left winger. Everything I knew came from him, watching him. Sunday mornings we would wake up, go for his games. I grew up on that sideline.”

Klara Venter (center) moves the ball forward on attack during a June 15 match against the Peace Makers Ladies. PHOTO: ZACH PODOLNICK ’26/THE HAWK

Team member Klara Venter, 15, also learned by playing with boys.

“I think it started for me when I was in grade three,” Venter said. “I started playing soccer with the boys at lunch, and all of a sudden, I was swept away by this feeling of playing soccer. Then I started the club, and I couldn’t give it up. I’ve been playing soccer every week since then.”

Venter said women need their own opportunities.

“It’s a lot about making the girls feel included and not excluded,” Venter said. “Playing with boys, a lot of times we do feel like we’re stereotyped in a sport that is male dominated. I think girls also just need a safe space.”

In February 2023, the Pirates created a partnership with Parktown High School for Girls, which permits the women’s program to use their facilities for training.

“We’ve developed so well with this ladies’ program that they needed their own space,” Zane Abraham said. “We approached Parktown Girls, and we got in. We’ve created an alliance, a partnership, where we can recruit girls from the school.”

Farhad Haffejee, a founding member of the Emmarentia Pirates Football Club and the women’s  goalkeeper coach, said he strives to instill enthusiasm around the game of soccer and the growth of the players.

“I want to make sure that they want to come back for every single session,” Haffejee said. “It is also to move them along developmental milestones. You get a player with an ability that you can see that they are lacking in, and make sure to take them to a point where they’re developing that and moving on to something else.” 

Pirates Ladies Head Coach Zane Abraham addresses the team during halftime of a tight match against the Peace Makers Ladies. The Pirates went on to win the June 15 game 6-1. PHOTO: ZACH PODOLNICK ’26/THE HAWK

But Zane Abraham said the club does more than just nurture soccer talent.

“It’s not just about football,” Zane Abraham said. “It’s about the social aspect of it. It’s about the emotional aspect. It’s the psychological aspect. It’s the educational aspect behind it as well. So we look at everything, and we try to bring it all together.”

For Makurube, that’s one of the draws of playing for the Pirates.

“They give me spirit. They show me love, and it’s nice,” Makurube said.

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Maximus Fisher
Maximus Fisher, Special to the Hawk
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