Soweto is not a place one normally associates with horse riding, or any equine activities, in Johannesburg. But what if I told you that a man who rode at the Olympics and competed at the Royal International Horse Show at Wembley, in the UK, has a riding centre there? A man with such tangible passion and dedication to his sport, that you cannot walk away from him without feeling utterly inspired, and filled with such hope for the future. That man is Enos Mafokate. And you need to hear his extraordinary story…
Before he even starts telling us that story, we see it unfold before our eyes. The children (who range from 7 to 18 years old), at the riding centre are all diligently grooming, mucking out stables, saddling up horses. They have ear-to-ear smiles as they are completely lost in the joy that comes with working with, and riding horses. “You won’t see a groom here,” Enos assures us. “I teach all the children to do everything themselves. Even when we go to shows, we are the only ones without grooms. But please don’t misunderstand me; I am not looking for cheap labour. I teach them these things so they can learn some responsibility in life. They must respect the hard work that is needed to succeed both on the horses and in life.”
“Kids need freedom to choose their own path in life. I want to show them everything about horses, so they can be exposed to something they would normally never know about. This is how we let their talents shine through. This is how we let them grow.”
It was at this same tender age, that Enos first realised that he wanted to ride horses. He grew up surrounded by animals and was drawn to them immediately. “We had chickens, and goats, cats and pigs. I spent all my time with them. I rode donkeys back then. We didn’t have bridles and saddles, and my ‘reins’ were just a stick to steer with. I would always see the white people riding horses though. I knew then that I wanted to ride them too. I was about 9 or 10, and when I met a young boy riding a small pony.” What happened after that encounter, put Enos on the path that he is still on to this day.
It was deep in the ugly heart of the apartheid era in about 1954. Enos was out riding his trusty donkey when he met this young white boy. After a brief discussion, they decided to swop mounts. The white boy had never ridden a donkey before and Enos certainly wanted to experience riding a real pony. The reins and saddle were completely strange. Enos did not know what to make of them. Unfortunately the child’s irate father came storming up and put an end to the innocent exchange. “My child will not ride a black man’s donkey!” he bellowed! This brief, but terrifying incident summed up the challenges which lay ahead for Enos, as he forged his way through his riding career. At every point along the way, the racial oppression of apartheid was an obstacle.
In 1977, he became the first black member of what was the Transvaal Horse Society, but he was only allowed to compete in the Transvaal in the early days. He was the first rider to compete at the Royal Agricultural Show in Pietermaritzburg, since its inception, 127 years previously. “They didn’t like us competing with the white people in those days. I remember at one show in Klerksdorp, I finished first and second in the two qualifying classes, and also won the championship class. The lady who finished second was so angry that I had beaten her, that she refused come to the prize giving! But it was at this time that they officially stopped calling us grooms, and started calling us black riders. Finally we had achieved some recognition!”
This appalling animosity was only restricted to his home country however, In 1980 he was invited to ride at the Royal International Horse Show in the UK. “Errol and Anneli (Wucherpfennig) helped me a lot back then. When David Broome came to ride in South Africa in 1979, he asked Anneli why there were no black riders at the shows. She told him that it was a terrible shame, as there were many good riders who were not allowed to compete because of the law”.
David Broome was completely astounded by the situation so he decided to organise a sponsored trip to the UK for Enos to ride and compete on equal terms. Broome’s sister provided a beautiful Show horse called Let’s Go, as a mount for Enos, and they managed to win their very first showing show they competed at in Wales. He won the Overall Reserve Champion Working Hunter at that show to – no small feat in the country that is the home and origin of the Showing discipline. Anneli, who was born in Scotland, was still living in the UK at that stage, accompanied Enos around on his trip, and she had to sort out quite a few issues on his behalf. Remember that the political climate in those days was particularly volatile, and Anneli was very instrumental in reassuring parties in both countries, that the trip had zero political motivations, and was simply a horseman wanting ride a horse at a show. They were both well received by the Royal family, and in fact many years later, it lead to Princess Anne making a visit to the Soweto Equestrian Centre herself. Enos also competed at Wembley, where he finished fifth overall, in the Supreme Championship. Don’t forget that this was all done on a strange horse, in a strange country, with great public scrutiny – a superb result under substantial pressure.
Giving back to the community is something that Enos constantly strives to do. Way back in 1990, when he was working as the “horse man” for the People’s Dispensary for Sick Animals (PDSA) in Mofolo South, he had already started giving riding lessons to the young children in the area. It was here that he became aware of how badly children treated all kinds of animals. He so desperately wanted to change this. “Animals should not be abused. They must be loved and treated with respect”
His main function at the PDSA was to assist the local residents with their horses – most of them are animals of burden, which pull carts heavily laden, with either coal or scrap metal. The basic needs of these horses and donkeys are often neglected, but Enos not only treated the injured and sick animals, he worked hard to educate the owners on how to provide better care for them. To this day many of the cart horse owners still bring their horses to him for care and advice, at the SEC. “They know that I no longer work for the PDSA, but how can I turn them away? Sometimes we lend our stronger ponies out to the people who really look after their animals, to help in the coal yards. I keep watch on them, but they are well looked after, so I don’t mind.”
Another community service he provides, is giving disabled children riding therapy. He tells us that there is nothing he finds more rewarding that seeing a child who has not moved or talked in their entire life, start moving their hands, or sometimes even talking after they have ridden a horse. He pauses and looks away out of the window for a moment, as his eyes brim with emotion – ours do too. An overwhelming moment for us all.
In 1992, Enos was part of a Development Team, which attended the Barcelona Olympics. He did not compete himself, but represented South Africa as an official Sports Ambassador, at the first Olympic Games in which South Africa had been allowed to take part in, in over 25 years. He describes this as one of his proudest moments. When the Soweto Equestrian Centre was first started in 2007, as a ‘not for profit’ organisation, Enos famously said, “One day a child from my centre will represent South Africa at the Olympic Games.”
The arena Enos uses to teach Vaulting in is small, but adequate. “The reason we do not have many older children competing on horses in competitions, is because we do not have horses suitable for them to do so. We mostly have ponies here and they are fine for the small children. But we are good at vaulting here, and the kids love it!” he says with an ear-to-ear smile. And what they have achieved over the past few years in the Vaulting arena is really remarkable! The first time his team won the Gauteng Regional Vaulting Championship was in November 2009 – they had only started the training program of March that year. Just a month later, they represented Gauteng at the South African National Vaulting Championships, where they were crowned the South African Mixed Team Vaulting Champions. They have won again at SA Champs another four times. 28 of his vaulting pupils have been awarded Gauteng Provincial Colours for Vaulting. Children from his centre have also attended the World Equestrian Games in Kentucky in 2010, and again at in Normandy in France in 2014, so maybe that “Olympic dream” is not such a lofty one!
The City of Johannesburg gave him 28 acres of land to start the Soweto Riding Centre in 2006, which comprised of two adjoining erfs. “The second piece, where the horses are grazing now, does not have a border fence around it. I am so worried that one day the squatters will move in and take our land. The city council has tried many things here on this land. They tried hockey, cycling and even soccer, but they were not successful. When I came here it was just a white elephant! Now we have 20 horses here”
The riding centre facilities are quite modest – most of what we see has been funded by donations, he tells us. “This very building we are sitting in – it was a toilet block! There was nothing else here on this property when we came. Those toilets smelt very bad, but we came with gloves and masks and cleaned everything, and now it is our office. We have worked hard to get to this stage, but there is still so much to do. We want to improve all the time.”
“I thank God all the time for the path he has put me on in my life. I still want to give up sometimes. But then I look around at my facilities and I see the happy children here, and then I know I can carry on again.”
1976 – Placed 2nd in the Rothman’s Derby
1977 – The first black member of the Transvaal Horse Society
1977 & 1978 – Won the Championship Class at the Constantia Show Grounds in Cape Town
1978 – Became the first black rider in 127 years, to compete at the Royal Agricultural Show in Pietermaritzburg, where he was Reserve Champion in the King George’s Championship
1980 – He was the first black rider to compete overseas, and the first South African to compete overseas for more than 20 years, when he went to the UK to compete in the Royal International Horse Show at Wembley
1992 – Attended the Barcelona Olympic Games as part of a development team, as a Sports Ambassador to South Africa
1997 – Completed a Sports Management course in Belgium
2007 – Founded the current Soweto Equestrian Centre in Rockville, Soweto.
2008 – Awarded he Sports Volunteer of the Year, at the SA Sports Awards
2010 – Accompanied one of his Vaulting pupils, Khensani Maluleke, to Kentucky in the USA, where he competed at the FEI World Equestrian Games
2014 – Accompanied two more of his Vaulting pupils, Karabo Mafokate and Bongani Mvumvu, to the FEI World Equestrian Games in Normandy, France.
2015 – He was awarded the Steve Tshwete Lifetime Achievement Award.