By ANNA MAJAVU
Activists from across the political spectrum are welcome in the Makana-Rini United (MARU) Club. It’s a setting where political foes from the ANC, Makana Citizens Front and other formations leave politics at home. They work together to support young people in a town without a single playground, few public amenities, overcrowded schools that lack basic equipment and a high unemployment rate.
Unemployed Peoples’ Movement leader and secretary of the Makana Citizen’s Front (MCF), Ayanda Kota, is a former player in the MARU Legends team and was president of the Makana local football association when MARU Football Club was formed. MARU has since expanded to include a netball team and two basketball teams.
Other soccer teams in the town were initially unhappy and accused MARU of poaching players, but later, the fuss died down.
“I bought into MARU’s vision because we wanted a team that could play in the Vodacom or Motsepe League (SAFA second division). Though we have been to playoffs twice, we did not win. We also had a vision of combining education and sport. So MARU was not just a football club, but an instrument that could be used to achieve edu-sport across all codes in Makhanda,” Kota said.
Despite being a relatively new club, the MARU soccer team had a string of successes to its name for some time. It won the 2018 New Year’s Cup, in which 32 teams from across the country play every December. “In 2021, we also made it to the provincial playoffs for the Motsepe league,” says Siya Dumiso, 38, who works as a sports officer at Rhodes University. He joined the club when it started as a young player and is now in charge of strategy as a member of the seven-person management committee.
But the 12-year-old club is struggling after the murder of its founder, Fundile ‘Jeff’ Budaza, the manager of the Makana Municipality Parks Department, who was assassinated at his home on 25 May 2022 by gunmen.
In the eight months since his death, police have made no headway in tracking Budaza’s killers. Budaza’s murder has devastated the players and management team of MARU.
The club’s deputy secretary Lindokuhle James, 25, also joined as a soccer player at 13, developing a passion for sports administration along the way.
“I grew up under these guys and Jeff Budaza’s supervision. They guided me to become the manager I am today. I have had my ups and downs, but they backed me. I now want to see the club enter the PSL. If we manage to work together, we can reach that level,” says James.
MARU has Juniors, First team and over-35’s Legends soccer teams and has begun establishing girls’ soccer teams at local high schools.
“But more than that, MARU has always been a project to involve everyone from the community and have a huge club that comprises every other sport you can name,” says Dumiso.
Budaza largely drove this vision until the night he was assassinated, says MARU deputy chair Gcobisa Mene, 36, a newly elected ANC ward councillor and chairperson of the municipality’s Engineering and Infrastructural Services portfolio committee.
“Jeff was like a father figure, even to some adults who were not lucky enough to have fathers growing up. He was a father to the whole community. uJeff introduced a practice that every one of us who was working had to adopt a child from the team and be responsible for the groceries for that family,” said Mene.
“When we bought the young players cakes on their birthdays, for some, it was the first time they ever received a birthday cake. The parents came to us and said they never knew MARU FC would love their children this much,” Mene added.
Just before he died, Budaza was registering a foundation to start an after-school academy for Matric pupils where they could get extra tutoring every day in Maths and Physics. He had already approached teachers who had agreed to volunteer. He also helped many of the club’s matriculants get university bursaries; the first cohort has just graduated with Honours degrees. He had also begun arranging counselling workshops for the junior team to equip them with the disappointment of losing matches, said Dumiso.
Budaza also transported all the players from the townships in Makhanda to the Fiddlers Green playing field in town in his bakkie every weekday night for practice. The regional league covers the whole Sarah Baartman district area, and MARU FC has to travel as far as Humansdorp for matches, 212 kilometres away, which is costly.
Since 2020, the only other sponsors of MARU FC also died – these were Mandisa Lindi, the owner of popular Mandisa’s Tavern in D Street, Fingo township and the deputy mayor of the Sarah Baartman District Municipality, Mzimkhulu ‘Scara’ Njadayi.
Today, the team has no sponsor. “We cough up money from our own pockets for regional games, and we walk to practices. We are struggling but trying our best with what is at our disposal,” says Dumiso.
The management team and players are determined to keep MARU FC going.
“uJeff’s dream was of a club with huge and beautiful facilities where each and every person from the community could join. uJeff started the team because none of what he was dreaming of was happening. We came on board and found our happiness as well. In MARU FC, we found our home,” said Dumiso.
To support the Makana-Rini United Club, you can make a deposit into: Nedbank account number 2008590941; Account name: Makana Rini Sports Club; Grahamstown branch.