We Are Young Bafana: Jabulani in the Classroom

We are Young Bafana

Chapter 8

Jabulani in the Classroom

Liam watched the boys file in to the classroom. Well actually, ‘file’ would be the wrong word. They were always a jumble of energy as they rough and tumbled into the room. Liam always loved spending time with the boys of Young Bafana. After teaching in a main stream school for many years, it was refreshing to work with children who were eager to learn.

Jabulani walked in to the classroom, greeted Liam and took his seat at the back. He was feeling nervous about today’s lesson. Last week the class had concentrated on maths, especially times tables. Though he knew that they were important, Jabulani just couldn’t grasp the concept of times tables. If he was completely honest with himself, Jabulani struggled with most of his subjects. Liam reminded the class that they could all do maths, it just took commitment and practice. Similar to soccer, I suppose, Jabulani thought.

After some time spent revising, Liam asked the boys to pack away their books. He wanted to chat to them about something which many of the boys shied away from, poetry. Immediately the boys’ eyes started to glaze over. Poetry was something for academics; for clever kids. Not soccer players! And definitely not for me, thought Jabulani. How were they supposed to write poetry when the basics of English were still a struggle for them?


Liam knew he had his work cut out for him. How do you inspire a group of boys who come from disadvantaged backgrounds and have to fight for every step they take in life? How do you peak their interests in literature? And how do you do it with a concept which was as foreign to them as to most kids their age.

You introduce them to Benjamin Zephaniah. Here is a man who came from the wrong side of the tracks. He survived an abusive home, overcame his dyslexia, and went on to become a renowned poet, playwright and author. Looking at his life, Jabulani was amazed at the similarities between Zephaniah's challenges and his own. They both came from poverty. They both struggled academically. They had both experienced discrimination because of the colour of their skin.

And yet Zephaniah had not allowed his struggles to dictate the course of his life. As a teenager, he taught himself to read. His youth was spent breaking the law; being part of a gang. But Zephaniah knew at one point that he would have to change his ways. He turned his life around.

Zephaniah now has 16 honorary degrees and was a candidate for the post of professor of poetry at Oxford.

Jabulani sat and let Zephaniah’s story soak in. Though he may not love or even fully understand Zephaniah’s poetry, he did understand his life. He did understand the struggle to overcome challenges. And with that, he understood what Liam was aiming to tell them.



Jabulani could do his maths. He could overcome his academic difficulties. He could become anyone he wanted to be. The choice was his, and his alone. All he had to do was put in the time and effort to grab each and every opportunity which came his way.

All too soon, the class came to an end for the Young Bafana boys. Time for some soccer training. Liam watched them leave with a content heart. Today had been a good day. Today had been a day when he knew the words he had said had taken root in the kids hearts where they would hibernate and develop into a system which would influence how these incredible boys grew.