DVD Review: Soka Afrika
Directed by Suridh Hassan,
Masnomis Limited, 2011, £10.99
This is something of a golden age for the documentary with films such as The Imposter and Nostalgia for the Light appearing in many critics’ top tens for 2012, jostling for recognition alongside big Hollywood fictionals and European art house offerings.
Football’s miserable depiction on the silver screen has been well chronicled – the challenges of capturing real life action and authenticating the mood of the game have proved amazingly difficult, even in a world where Life of Pi and Cloud Atlas have been brought to our cinemas. Perhaps, therefore, the documentary points the way forward?
So far, there has been nothing to rival Steve James’ magisterial three hour long Hoop Dreams, the tale of two basketballers from Chicago’s tough south side and their attempts to gain entry into the college game followed, perhaps, by the bright lights of the NBA. Soka Afrika, a new independent film, directed by Suridh Hassan, takes much of its inspiration from that earlier movie.
There are once again two major protagonists, South African Kermit Erasmus, forging a career with Rotterdam club Excelsior and Ndomo Sabo, an imposing youngster from Cameroon.
Sabo’s path provides the film’s raison d’être – he’s swept from the streets of Yaoundé (fascinatingly depicted with its dusty boulevards and rag taggle shops) to chilly Paris. After training with an unknown club, an injury causes him to be left very quickly on the scrap heap – a temporary one perhaps, but after hearing nothing from the agent who brought him to Europe for a period of time, he decides to head back to Cameroon.
Conditions for youngsters plucked in this way from their home environment, while not approaching those experienced by the heroine of the film Lilya 4-Ever, nonetheless represent the worst aspects of people trafficking. So inexpensive is it to lure talented youngsters from the poor neighbourhoods of African cities, that there is no financial obligation to treat them responsibly on arrival in Europe – one can only imagine the large percentage of kids who ‘fail’ in this way and it is later asserted that no more than 10% of agents who operate in this market can be considered kosher. Jean-Claude Mbouvin, the Cameroonian founder of a body designed to draw attention and prevent such excesses, highlights the ongoing problem.
Erasmus’s peregrinations are happily more conventional. Squat and skilful, we see him on numerous occasions terrorise Dutch lower league defences and he enjoys a low-income but supportive family background – on one one trip home, his grandmother berates him for his lack of haircut in jovial fashion – ‘what a mop is this?’
We see him star in the Bafana Bafana’s under-20 World Cup experience in Egypt in 2009 – having somewhat fortunately negotiated the group stages after winning just one of their three games and suffering a 4-0 defeat to Hungary, the laconically coached South Africans tumbled to eventual winners Ghana after extra time in the second stage. Footage of the matches is well presented and the behind-the-scenes moments do not recall John Sitton or Big Ron.
Seemingly poised for big things, a coda sees Erasmus mystifyingly discarded as Excelsior prepare for an Eredivisie campaign and he wastes little time hot footing it back to SuperSport United, playing in a cavernously empty Ellis Park. This is not a failure, however – he and the film’s makers are at pains to stress that heading back to Africa can actually serve to reignite a career.
As for Sabo, he eventually earns the right of a trial at Deportivo La Coruña with the arrangements all happily above board this time. The movie ends in a note of optimism although it is tantalising to ponder what became of the youngster (Soka Afrikais a couple of years old now).
Overall, it makes for an engrossing hour and twenty minutes, although an explanatory voiceover may have brought home the message more effectively. With new regulations afoot and the efforts of Mbouvin’s Culture Foot Solidaire beginning to bear fruit, there is a chance that fewer kids will be exploited in the future.