Joseph ‘Banks’ Setlhodi is a gentle giant, but these days Kaizer Chiefs’ goalkeeper legend is often in an unhappy mood, mixed with disappointment. This is a result of the worldwide Black Lives Matter demonstrations. “It’s time white people see black people as equals.”
It all takes him back to 16 June 1976, when the Soweto uprising started. “It was chaos,” Setlhodi reflects. “We knew something was coming, but we didn’t expect that it would explode like it did.
“For example, we still had a training session at Meadowlands Stadium that afternoon. Eddie Lewis was our coach. When we got there, we realised it was not safe for him to stay as a white person. We had to get him out via Dobsonville back to Johannesburg.”
The now 72-year-old explains that the uprising of school kids in 1976 was about oppression.
“When you are oppressed, you keep that pain of being oppressed inside. However, the moment the apartheid government wanted to change the language of instruction to Afrikaans, the students said, ‘enough is enough’.
“We had enough of racism, enough of segregation and enough of oppression. We all saw how our parents went to work, but when it came to payday, they got nothing.”
Of course, a lot has changed in South Africa since and the problems in America, where the Black Lives Matter campaign started, is not about apartheid.
“It’s about disdain for black people,” Setlhodi continues. “I believe, for example, that some white people in South Africa have come to terms with the end of apartheid and accept blacks as their equals. But others still disregard black people and they cling to the past.”
Chiefs’ former goalkeeper is afraid that one day youngsters will say, “enough is enough”, like they did in 1976.
“The 2010 World Cup showed what we can achieve if we do things together as a nation. We also saw how the Springboks have had the same affect. That’s when we sing together, and we are One Nation. However, thereafter we tend to go back to square one again.
“It leads me to conclude that you can take a donkey to the river, but if the donkey refuses to drink, there’s nothing one can do about that.
“It scares me. There is a younger generation who don’t know about Robben Island or the lessons Nelson Mandela taught us… What they want is change and they want it now. It scares me, because it can explode and, if that happens, people will get hurt.
“That’s why I plead with all South African to come together. We need to become One Nation – a nation of South Africans, independent of colour. We need to be together to make South Africa work. Let’s please not miss the opportunities to do so. We need to reach out to each other and unite to truly become One Nation.”