Wire Service
2 minute read
21 Jun 2022
6:10 am

PICS: Judo For Peace breaks down barriers in Alexandra


At the heart of Roberto Orlando's teaching philosophies are the principles of self-control, discipline, respect, honour, courage, and friendship.

Roberto Orlando speaking to some of the children he trains. Photo: AFP/Marco Longari

In a newly renovated white building in the township of Alexandra, about 20 youngsters in judogi, or judo uniforms, and others in school clothes tumble around on a tatami mat under the watchful eye of their Judo for Peace coach.

They are from a nearby primary school and regularly gather for judo classes in Alexandra.

Judo for Peace South Africa

The project aims to “use judo as a vehicle for refugees, migrants [and] South Africans to meet together”, said Judo for Peace coordinator Roberto Orlando.

It’s a “platform to be all equal, to learn together and to develop skills and values all together”.

Italian coach Roberto Orlando in the recently renovated building in Alexandra. Photo: AFP/Marco Longari

Alexandra is one of the poorest, most densely populated townships in SA. In 2008, more than 60 people – mostly migrant workers from other African countries – were killed in the worst outbreak of xenophobic attacks since the end of apartheid.

Scourge of xenophobia

Fourteen years on, the scourge of xenophobia, which mainly targets black Africans, has not left many townships.

From time to time, violent attacks against African immigrants still occur in Alexandra and other townships, where crime and unemployment happen to be rife.

judo for peace
Photo: Judo For Peace South Africa (Facebook)

Such attacks are predominantly staged by jobless black South Africans. This year has seen tensions rise again in Alexandra.

For several months the vigilante group called Operation Dudula – which means “push back” in isiZulu – has staged marches demanding the expulsion of illegal immigrants.

Migrants, especially from the Democratic Republic of Congo, Mozambique, Nigeria and Zimbabwe, have borne the brunt of the antiforeigner hostility.

Coach Orlando, of the Dojo for Hope in Alexandra, Johannesburg, warms up with the children he trains. Photo: AFP/Marco Longari

Uniting people through Judo

Orlando decided now, more than ever, was the best time to have a dojo in the township to bring people together.

It officially opened its doors last month.

At the heart of his teaching philosophy are the principles of self-control, discipline, respect, honour, courage and friendship.

One of the coaches is Rudolph Ngala.

He is from the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Having a migrant coach is strategic because “people can get used to seeing refugees as people who bring skills to the country”, Orlando said.

Judo for Peace: South Africa's fight against xenophobia
Congolese coach Rufolph Ngala demonstrates a technique with a young student at the Dojo for Hope in Alexandra. Photo: AFP/Marco Longari

Calm, respectful and peaceful

Ngala, 21, arrived in South Africa from Kinshasa in 2017 and immediately took up judo with Orlando. He has graduated to become a coach.

“Judo helped me a lot with [making] friends,” says Ngala.

Denzel Shumba, 17, who moved here with his family ten years ago from Zimbabwe, says judo has helped him become calmer, more respectful and peaceful.

Orlando, athletic and with piercing blue eyes, is from Italy but has set up dojos in Ethiopia, Somalia, the Democratic Republic of Congo – and now in South Africa, to empower the youth and integrate people in disadvantaged communities.