YOUNGSTERS in the rural Transkei village of Mkhankatho are getting a Christmas present with a difference this week: a soccer field.
The field, to be home base for the 24 teenagers who make up the Mkhankatho Mighty Blues, will be carved out of virgin veld by a contractor who has donated the use of earthmoving equipment.
More donations have secured a complete set of soccer kit for the Blues, three professional balls and a set of metal goalposts with nets.
"To have these things here in a rural area is like a dream for these boys," said the coordinator of the donations, Eastern Cape health department official Sizwe Kupelo.
Mkhankatho is 12km east of Libode and about 37km from Mthatha.
Kupelo said the Blues had been playing on a patch of commonage where they had had to dribble around not only opponents, but also the rocks protruding from the playing surface.
The contractor, Port St Johns-based Jola & Ginqi Construction, had even brought earthmoving equipment down from a project in Kimberley for the work.
The other items were sponsored by various business-people, he said.
Up to now the Blues had been able to muster only three or four pairs of boots between them. They had been using lengths of wood for goalposts and having nets would make an immense difference.
Though the new field would be home ground for the Blues, it would also be used by about 15 other teams in the area.
Kupelo said part of his aim was to showcase talent that might otherwise be overlooked.
Rural youths who were prepared to walk up to 30km to play a soccer game, then walk the 30km back home, should be taken seriously.
"With the 2010 World Cup coming to the country, everybody is saying Bafana Bafana lacks talent," he said.
"And if you look at PSL teams you don't have players from the rural areas. So it's another way of challenging the PSL bosses in their search for talent."
lOn Friday a younger set of children from Mkhankatho and surrounding villages will benefit from another treat organised by Kupelo - a giant Christmas Day party.
Last year Kupelo paid for the event from his own pocket, but this year, he said, he had obtained sponsorships that would see each child get a hamper of treats. - Sapa