ALEXANDRA, South Africa – The journey of South Africa first black show jumper Enos Mafokate is cemented with tears of joy, heartbreak, loss, perseverance and humiliation. Despite this, Mafokate became a world icon.
His road to fame began in Alexandra, Northern Johannesburg, in 1944. He would later move to a farm in Rivonia where his father worked as a builder and his mother was a domestic worker.
Mafokate was not allowed to go to school in Rivonia and had to go to Alexandra for schooling. “I did not understand why my father was called a boy and I could not understand why I had to go all the way to Alex for school,” Mafokate said.
Much to his surprise a young white boy gave Mafokate his first ride on a horse.
“I was herding cattle on my donkey, then we swapped our animals. The horse dropped me to the ground and those that were watching laughed.”
The moment of embarrassment did not end there as the white child’s father appeared shouting, “My kind ry nie op ‘n donkie van ‘n swart man nie!” [My child does not ride on a black man’s donkey!].
Despite the altercation he and his new white friend John Walker would share their common love for horses.
The National Party was strengthening during Mafokate’s early adulthood.
At the time black men were not allowed to be horse riders or show jumpers but could become grooms. So, Mafokate took on a job as a groom.
“We were not allowed to ride the horses. One day when my employer was not looking, I took the horse for a ride and it went through a fence that cut my hands. I was scared of showing my employer the wounds so I quickly covered my hands with gloves.”
Mafokate said when his employer discovered he was injured he took pity on him and got him medical attention.
“He then allowed me to ride with other white people.”
He was tasked with training a stubborn horse called Malaita. “The horse won at the Rand Show in 1963. My employers gave me £1. I was earning £5 a month at the time.”
His first win was in a groom’s competition, competing among other black grooms. His employers saw his talent and in 1963 gave him his first horse-riding pants and a jacket. His winning streak among the groom’s competition continued for some time.
In 1975, the apartheid government relaxed laws to allow black people to do show jumping. It was a dream come true for Mafokate.
“This was allowed by the Transvaal Horse Society and the president. This was also the same year that [Kaizer] Chiefs and [Orlando] Pirates were allowed to play at Rand Stadium.”