Everybody in Orlando East knows the Old Pirate. They know his old, bumpy face. They know his crooked smile. And they all know his old green Cortina.
His name is Samuel ‘Baboon Shepherd’ Shabangu. Every evening he drives the old, green car home from work. He drives home to a house full of children and grandchildren. The children always rush outside to greet him.
Samuel parks the car outside his small house. He picks up a baby (or two) and goes inside. Then he turns round suddenly. But he is too late. The car is gone. The kids have gone for a ride again.
Samuel stands by the door. He is angry. Then he shakes his head. And he smiles. He picks up a baby again. He feels happy. He is home.
He sits down in the old armchair. His old bones are tired. He works a hard day at the motor spares shop. After supper he plays with the kids again. The house is noisy. Everybody is talking at once.
Then the house is quiet. The children are sleeping. Samuel reaches out for Gladys. But she is not there. She died in January this year. Samuel feels a pain deep inside him· the same pain he feels every night.
The night gets darker. The Old Pirate closes his eyes. The house is no longer quiet. He hears the crowd. They whistle and clap. They scream his name. ‘Baboon Shepherd’ has scored again. The referee blows the whistle. The game is over. Orlando Pirates have won again.
THE EARLY DAYS
Samuel Shabangu was born on a white farm in the Eastern Transvaal 61 years ago. The farmer was a bad man. He treated his workers badly. One day he grabbed the young Samuel. The farmer wanted to cut off Samuel’s private parts just for fun.
Samuel ran away from the farmer. He ran back to his father’s house with tears in his eyes. Samuel’s father was angry. He loved his son. He decided to leave the farm.
Samuel’s father found a job in Johannesburg. The family went to live in a shack in Prospect Township. Prospect Township stood between the mine dumps in Johannesburg. People lived in Prospect before the government built Soweto.
“Prospect was just like the Wild West, “says Samuel. “The place was full of tin shacks, dusty streets and shebeens. Men fought each other in the streets – knife to knife. I had my first football lessons in those streets. We chose teams from the boys in the township. We made balls from old sacks and newspapers. We didn’t even have tennis balls in those days.”
In 1932 the government began to build houses in Orlando. The Shabangu family moved to a house in Orlando East. Mr Shabangu sent Samuel to a Catholic School. The school was called St. Johns.
Samuel was lonely. He missed his friends and the dusty streets of Prospect Township. Everyday he watched the boys playing football after school. They were big and strong. They took no notice of the new boy in standard two. Then the ball rolled his way.
3939 ORLANDO EAST
Samuel remembers that day well. He was standing by himself behind the goals. “The ball made a mistake when it came to me, ” says Samuel. “I tapped the ball with my feet – left, right. I put the ball on my knee – tap, tap. I put the ball on my head and then back to my knee again. Then I kicked. The ball left a small cloud of dust behind. I showed them I knew something about soccer. The next day everybody at school was talking about the new kid from Prospect.”
The boys in the team asked Samuel to join them. He was the only boy in standard two in the first team. “I found out something about myself at this time,” says Samuel. “I knew I was made for football.”
Samuel played good football. But he was naughty in the classroom. When the teacher wrote on the blackboard, he often jumped onto the desks. He made funny faces behind the teacher’s back. One day the teacher caught him. “Samuel, you look just like a baboon, “said the teacher.
“All the kids In the class laughed, ” says Samuel. “They all thought of a story we were reading in class. The story was about a baboon. The baboon looked after a farmers sheep. So the kids gave me a new name. They called me ‘Baboon Shepherd’. That name has stuck with me ever since.”
The boys played soccer all the time. They played at school. And they played for a club. The club was called Orlando Boys Club.
One day the boys collected money to buy football jerseys. But the jerseys never came. Somebody from the club stole the money. They boys were very angry. They called a meeting.
“That was early in 1939,” says Samuel. “We met at number 3939 Orlando East. Andries Mkhwanazi lived there. We decided to leave Orlando Boys Club. We started a new team.”
They boys needed a name for the new team. “Our name came from the movies,” says Samuel. “We all watched movies at places like the Avalon, the Majestic and the Good Hope. We liked movies about pirates best of all. Pirates were robbers who stole from the rich ships at sea.
“A guy called Haasie Nkosi said we should call the team Pirates. We all agreed. We thought the name suited us. We wanted to ‘pirate’ our money back from the Orlando Boys Club.”
So the boys left the meeting at 3939. They went back to do their homework. They did not know they had started one of the greatest football clubs. They did not know they were the fathers of the great Orlando Pirates.
NO LOVE TONIGHT
Pirates joined the Johannesburg Bantu Football Association (JBFA). “Whites in the rnunicipality were in charge of the JBFA,” says Samuel. We joined this league because the municipality owned the football ground in Orlando.
“Our first years were not fantastic. We played teams like the African Wanderers, the General Post Office and the Flamingoes. We did not win many games. The fans only began to notice us a few years later.”
“In 1946 we played a big game against the African Morning Stars from Sophiatown. Those boys from Sophiatown played good football. They were a big side. But on that day we showed them something about football. We scored the winning goal. But the Morning Star’s fans did not like losing. They ran onto the field and attacked us. After that we left the JBFA. We joined the Johannesburg African Football Association (JAFA). Men like Dan Twala and Henry Khumalo were the leaders of JAFA.”
Pirates became a strong team in JAFA. Every year the Pirates won many cup finals. The other teams always complained, “What is the use of playing in JAFA? We are only collecting prizes for the Bucs.” And Samuel ‘Baboon Shepherd’ Shabangu was always in the action. He scored many of the goals. He helped make his team famous in those years.
But Samuel knows that one player can.not make a good football team. “I must tell you about the guys of yesterday,” says Samuel. “There was Isaac ‘Rocks of London’ Mothei. He was safe like a rock in the midfield. Then we had Steve ‘Didiza’ Moshe. He was so quick with his feet he confused people. Andries ‘Uyababa’ Mkhwanazi was the brains of our game. And then we had Alex ‘Motto’ Shabalala. His job in life was to score goals. Other good players were Obed ‘Landula Mkhwenyana’ Mabaso and Zaduma ‘Dino Dixie’ Ramela. These are only some of the men that made Pirates into such a great team.”
Soccer players did not get paid at that time. So Samuel got a job as a taxi driver. In 1950 he met a young woman called Gladys. “I was very happy with her,” says Samuel. “But I did not want to get married.”
“Soccer came first in my life. Gladys understood this. Sometimes at night I felt like a little love. She often pushed me away and said, ‘Hey Shabangu, you’ll tire yourself out. You’ve got a big game tomorrow.’
In 1954 the Pirates split up. Some of the players left. They started a new team called the ‘Black Pirates’. So Pirates changed their name to ‘Orlando Pirates’. They have kept this name until today.
Samuel played for Orlando Pirates for nearly 20 years. These years of football made him tired. In the late 1950’s he stopped playing football. “I remember my last game,” says Samuel. “I didn’t feel sad or unhappy. We old-timers didn’t want to be selfish. We wanted to give the young blood a chance.”
Samuel got married. He gave more time to Gladys and his kids. But he did not leave Pirates. He became the manager of the team.
In 1951 a new football organization started. The organization was called the South African Soccer Federation. This organization wanted to fight apartheid in sport. Pirates joined the organization.
The government did not like this new organization. The municipality didn’t let teams from the organization play on sports fields in Johannesburg. The municipality wanted teams to join another league called the National Professional Soccer League (NPSL).
Pirates could not find any grounds to play on. So they decided to join the NPSL. Moroka Swallows, the other big team from Soweto, also joined the NPSL.
Samuel was no longer a member of the Pirates team. But he remembers the fights of those years. “The municipality was trying to kill teams like us. Pirates had no choice. They had to join the NPSL or die.” But many people in the Federation were angry with Pirates. They said the NPSL was an apartheid organization. And today people still argue. Many people still say Pirates and Swallows were wrong to join the NPSL.
These things are memories for ‘Baboon Shepherd’. He does not watch soccer anymore. “The crowds are too rough,” he says. “But I haven’t forgotten Pirates. I still meet my old team mates. We have a few drinks and laugh about the old days.”
Today Samuel has one wish. He hopes that one day Orlando Pirates will play a match to get some money for the old guys. “I’m not greedy for money,” says Samuel. “The money is not important. I just want the young guys in the team to remember the old guys.”
Does ‘Baboon Shepherd’ still support Pirates? The old man stands up and laughs. Us old-timers do not support Pirates,” answers Samuel. “We are Pirates.”