The Pioneer Rider

Enos Mafokate is a remarkable man.

Enos Mafokate is a remarkable man. Born in Alexandra in February, 1944, Enos says he was born at the “right time” as the second world war was drawing to a close and he could be a part of a new world. Too often in the rainbow nation, we forget the pain and damage caused by Apartheid and, though Enos is far from bitter, you feel the pain in his voice and see it in his eyes as he laments those dark days. “Apartheid killed us,” he says adding that “we missed seeing the cream of South African society on both sides” because of conflict.

Black Diamonds spoke to him at the SOWETO Equestrian Centre where about fifteen children were going about their paces. Enos went to Skeen Bantu school in 3rd avenue and attended church at the Dutch Reformed Church, hastening to emphasise that it was his family that took him there. His father worked as a builder near the 12th avenue Coal Yard in Rivonia. His mother worked as a wash maid but his father stopped her from working because Enos would miss school looking after his siblings. She did not have formal schooling and could not pronounce the baptism name, Inosi, he was given thinking it was Nyosi, the Zulu word for bees. Young Inosi then changed the “I” to an “E” because a friend had told him about this version of the name. When he was five, the family moved to Rivonia. His home name is Mosotho. It was at the farm that he discovered his love for animals. He would lead the cattle during ploughing and also when taking the harvest of six bags of maize to Randjesfontein Milling from Glen Williams farm to Halfway house which, present day Midrand. He did not go to secondary school because he had problems with his eyes and spent some time at the St Johns hospital when he was thirteen. There was a race course, a stable called Blue Hill Riding School in the area and it was there that he came across a horse called Black Magic that he was drawn to. Young Enos wanted to touch it but he could not because he was not a groom.

When an opening presented itself as the result of a friend’s departure, Enos seized the opportunity to go and work as a groom. He learnt to ride and train the horses but the pain is etched in his face when he recalls how painful it was not to ride the horses during events. Because he is black, he could only attend as a groom. At one point, his friend John Walker allowed him to ride a donkey and both sets of parents were furious, not wanting them to be friends because of prevailing status regarding inter-racial relationships in the country back then. Enos’ parents warned him he could go to jail just for riding that horse. In December 1960, two weeks before Christmas by a sheer stroke of luck, he went to work with private horses at the Bryanston riding school owned by Lesley Taylor, whose son Barry Taylor was still very young. Enos used to take young Barry to crèche, putting him literally on his lap on a horse called Ping Pong. “I started Barry off,” he proclaims proudly with a twinkle in his eye.

“I put Barry in the saddle and I was scared that Barry’s father would take issue with it,” but the senior Taylor encouraged him to carry on. Barry is currently a top South African rider and they are still friends.

Enos was determined to ride. “My heart was determined that someone had to open that door,” he says of wanting to break down the artificial walls that apartheid had put up between human beings. He recalled that “people had died trying to open that door” and he was determined to play his role.

Enter Annalie and Errol Wucherpfenning who were visiting the country from the UK. The Wucherpfenning’s  played a crucial role in making sure that black people were recognized as riders and members of the sport. Annalie queried aloud why blacks were not allowed to compete and eventually there was a breakthrough and  Enos became the first black rider to be allowed into the then Transvaal Horse society which is now known as the Gauteng Horse Society. In 1975, the multi-racial Marist Brothers School in Sandton  was the only school and place that allowed blacks to compete. A Grooms competition was started introduced. A focused Enos, received training from Tony Lewis, and entered his first competition becoming in the process, the first black show jumper in South Africa. He came 5th and 6th that year and finished 2nd in 1976. A year later, teaming up with Annalie, Enos won a multi-racial event and followed it up with two wins in 1978 and 1979.

Enos came up against both prejudice and downright hostility in succeeding years. The 1978 event in the then Natal was particularly historic as it was the first time in 128 years that Pietermartizburg allowed a black rider at the Agriculture Royal Show for the King George’s trophy of a showing show competition. Enos became the Reserve Champion of the King George’s Trophy.  The top rider then was Mickey Louw who was Springbok Captain. Out of the number of riders that participated On Pairs, Enos and the Springbok rider Mickey Louw rode and came first, they were riding 2 grey horses, wearing red jackets, and they won the class. The 2 were the first ever Multi-racial riders to break through. As Enos and Mickey were walking out of the ring, a white boy teenager came charging towards Enos in disbelief, and asked where he got the red jacket. Enos sarcastically responded “I stole it” It was the simple response because the question implied that a black person could not possibly legally have such a jacket. As fate would have it, the two met years later and the accuser recognized Enos and confessed to his friend who had then become a common friend to both of them,“ I remember when I was a young boy running and crying to my dad that a black guy had stolen the special Red jacket.” He only realized then that the man he had confronted then is now the Founder of the Soweto Equestrian Centre, who has achieved many results in the Equestrian International  Platform . Today, that remark is still a source of banter between the two and their friends .

In another incident in the Orange Free State in August 1981, the organisers of an event denied Enos participation because of his skin colour but the Transvaal Horse Society backed him confirming that he was a legitimate entrant and a registered member. This event caused a stir in the media at the time. The Orange Free State organisers would only allow Enos to participate as a Groom. Ironically, by that time he had already participated internationally on two occasions. After Enos won the class, the organisers tried to win him over by inviting him to a cocktail. Given Enos’ humble nature, he diplomatically turned down the invitation under the pretext that his horse was ill and he wanted to stay with her.

The psychological barriers continued as late as 2000 at Thabazimbi, near Rustenburg, when Enos arrived at the entrance to a completion only to be confronted with questions about the ownership of the car he was driving and the horses. When he replied that they were his, the person at the gate still asked him where the “baas” was, and ordered him to stand aside, refusing him entry. Enos insisted that they call the Secretary who then confirmed that Enos was indeed entered for the event. Undeterred the man checking the entries insisted that Enos was not entered. Upon the Secretary’s insistence on looking at the list, it became clear that the gentleman had hidden Enos’ name with his thumb on the clipboard that he was holding! It did not end there. He was still asked for a receipt for his horse! These types of challenges carried on until 2002.

Enos is at pains to insist that not every white person supported apartheid in his world. Today, he is invited in to people’s homes and is genuinely accepted for what he is; a champion rider. He is now working to bring white South Africa to his centre in SOWETO, just to balance things out.

His Equestrian Centre grew out of his services to the community. He was “squatting” at the SPCA while providing a horse drawn service to the women on Women’s Day. He got noticed and the City of Johannesburg offered him the unused hockey stadium on SOWETO’s Gumede street. Two benefactors from the UK put up the money and he started his centre offering vaulting. His SOWETO mixed team ended up SA champions three years in a row and 3 children from his centre have Gauteng colours. Recently at the Nissan Easter Festival Show, riders from the Soweto Equestrian Centre achieved 1st place, 2nd place and other wins in vaulting , show jumping and Victor Ludorum. The centre contends that a winning spirit is the norm with the young boys and girls throughout their competitions, and yet these champions are not celebrated as they should due to a lack of sponsorship . Enos has big dreams: to see a child from his centre participate in the World Cup, the Olympics and the Kentucky World Equestrian Games in the US.

For a man who bought his first horse for R700, after borrowing money from the SPCA, Enos has travelled a long journey. His centre is the only riding school in a black township in the world. Buried in the grounds of the SOWETO Equestrian Centre is his faithful Salmy, the horse that he rode for 22 years and who was like a second wife to him. He will be putting a tombstone on her grave in August.

He never got to touch Black Magic at Blue Hill School that many years ago, but he has touched thousands with his ground breaking feats over the years. He is a black diamond. BD

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