Nancy “Maradona” Majola

nancy

This post is part of a series of profiles that Nick Fitzhugh (www.redfitz.com) and I did as part of a documentary series on soccer in Johannesburg’s Alexandra Township. The mini documentary series chronicles the role of soccer in the lives of five Alexandra residents. Multimedia versions of this work are forthcoming in the New York Times and National Geographic Channel International.

Text and snap by me. Enjoy!

In the shadows of a windowless room, 17-year-old Nancy Majola sits between the television and a space heater. The heater’s few functioning coils glow a promising orange in an affront to their minimal effect. Like most homes in Alexandra Township, this battered, concrete structure has no heat, its interior colder than the brisk air outside. Despite the chill, Nancy dons mesh soccer shorts that form part of her year-round attire. She peers out from under a Bafana Bafana cap to watch Japanese players challenge Cameroon in a World Cup match underway a few miles from here, in central Johannesburg. As she studies the moves of the world’s greatest players, her frigid surroundings are evidently far from mind.

For Nancy, the bustling streets of Alexandra Township form a sprawling pitch upon which she builds her dreams. “One day I will play for Banyana Banyana,” she says, referring to South Africa’s national female team. Her eyes dart frequently to the TV where the ongoing match seduces her attention. “I am a good player and a confident person,” she says with benevolent certainty. The assertion of her talent is confirmed by her nickname, “Maradona,” in honor of legendary Argentine midfielder Diego Maradona. “The people here call me that because of my style, the way I handle my ball,” she explains with a reticent smile. “Someday I hope to play exactly as he played.”

Enroute to a local field, Nancy and two friends kick a soccer ball between tin shacks that now define this overcrowded township. Loitering men with questionable intentions break from dice games to watch them pass. Despite evident discomfort, the girls remain focused on the ball, cracking jokes and moving at a clip. “I am not afraid in Alex,” Nancy says in a defiant tone. “I am used to it.” The men leering in her direction are likely among the 75 percent of unemployed people here. Such staggering rates contribute to the prevalence of crime and substance abuse. “A lot of people are being hurt by the street life, from drugs and alcohol,” Nancy remarks.

She believes that soccer gives her discipline, structure and keeps negative influences at bay. When she is not in school, soccer and its related activities consume a surprising amount of her time. “I just play soccer always,” she says. “If I’m not playing in organized matches, I’m playing in the street. If I cannot play in the street, I go for roadwork [jogging] to raise my fitness.” Her dedication paid off this year when she became the highest goal scorer in the “Under 17” league. “I just keep gaining practice and experience,” she says. “I’ll work as hard as I have to be the best.”

In the shadows of a windowless room, 17-year-old Nancy Majola sits between the television and a space heater. The heater’s few functioning coils glow a promising orange in an affront to their minimal effect. Like most homes in Alexandra Township, this battered, concrete structure has no heat, its interior colder than the brisk air outside. Despite the chill, Nancy dons mesh soccer shorts that form part of her year-round attire. She peers out from under a Bafana Bafana cap to watch Japanese players challenge Cameroon in a World Cup match underway a few miles from here, in central Johannesburg. As she studies the moves of the world’s greatest players, her frigid surroundings are evidently far from mind.

For Nancy, the bustling streets of Alexandra Township form a sprawling pitch upon which she builds her dreams. “One day I will play for Banyana Banyana,” she says, referring to South Africa’s national female team. Her eyes dart frequently to the TV where the ongoing match seduces her attention. “I am a good player and a confident person,” she says with benevolent certainty. The assertion of her talent is confirmed by her nickname, “Maradona,” in honor of legendary Argentine midfielder Diego Maradona. “The people here call me that because of my style, the way I handle my ball,” she explains with a reticent smile. “Someday I hope to play exactly as he played.”

Enroute to a local field, Nancy and two friends kick a soccer ball between tin shacks that now define this overcrowded township. Loitering men with questionable intentions break from dice games to watch them pass. Despite evident discomfort, the girls remain focused on the ball, cracking jokes and moving at a clip. “I am not afraid in Alex,” Nancy says in a defiant tone. “I am used to it.” The men leering in her direction are likely among the 75 percent of unemployed people here. Such staggering rates contribute to the prevalence of crime and substance abuse. “A lot of people are being hurt by the street life, from drugs and alcohol,” Nancy remarks.

She believes that soccer gives her discipline, structure and keeps negative influences at bay. When she is not in school, soccer and its related activities consume a surprising amount of her time. “I just play soccer always,” she says. “If I’m not playing in organized matches, I’m playing in the street. If I cannot play in the street, I go for roadwork [jogging] to raise my fitness.” Her dedication paid off this year when she became the highest goal scorer in the “Under 17” league. “I just keep gaining practice and experience,” she says. “I’ll work as hard as I have to be the best.”

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Pete

For as long as I can remember, I have been fascinated by stories. Through much of my life, I satisfied this interest with the study of history. The topics of war, uprising, social movements and sexuality defined my course of historical study and generated a deep curiosity in the modern aspects of these issues. While the past enthralls me, my interest in creating modern primary documents ultimately won out. Since 2005, I have worked to document the individual consequences of war, poverty and social unrest. Through a combination of photography, text, and audio recordings, I hope to illustrate broader issues through individual stories. I aim to create images and material that demand consideration for the lives of those depicted. I believe that intimate, sensitive photographs leave indelible marks on the conscience and actively oppose the sterilization of human suffering.

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