Enos Mafokate

Enos’ passion for horses overcame racial barriers to excel in the elite sport of show jumping in the 1960s and 1970s.

There’s nothing fancy about Enos, despite being the country’s first black person to break into the elite sport of show jumping. Born in the sprawling township of Alexandra in 1946, Enos fell in love with horses when his family moved to Rivonia in the early 1950s, then a commercial farming area. Enos landed a three-month contract with John Walker, a farm owner, to earn a few pennies.

“Many white people used to come and have picnics at the farm, especially during the December holidays, and I would look after their horses for them while they enjoyed themselves. That’s when my love for horses blossomed.”

When other kids were playing games, Enos would pretend to be riding a horse and he would unaffectedly prance about the homestead. He would also ride the family donkeys and go carting to the shops, which were some distance from home.

Enos made friends with Walker’s son, who taught him “a thing or two” about horse riding. “That’s when we started a good friendship despite the racial and political furore of the times.” As fate would have it, Enos’ home was destroyed to make way for the Woodmead Golf Course in the late 1950s and his family moved back to Alexandra. The removal, however, had a positive effect for Enos as most people who used the golf course rode their horses there. And Enos, who had landed a job manning the course’s gate, found himself with a job that he loved – tending to the horses for patrons for five pennies a day.

In 1961, the 17-year-old got a job in Bryanston as a stable hand for a top Springbok show jumper. He became a top groom, looking after the horses for two Springbok show jumpers. “I got my first chance at competitive show jumping in 1962 when the people I was working for decided to give us black people a chance in show jumping. I competed against other blacks because we were not allowed to compete against whites. I came first in that competition, wearing an overall.”

The following year, with his riding having improved “tremendously”, Enos won a riding competition at Inanda Country Base. He was “ecstatic”. But his show jumping career came to an abrupt end in 1964 because of “political problems”.

More than a decade later, in 1975, things took a turn for the better when “some white people decided to ignore politics” and some discriminatory laws were scrapped, says Enos. He and 16 other grooms were enrolled at Marist Brothers College, the only school that allowed blacks to compete in the sport.

The subsequent years were successful ones for Enos – second in the Rothmans Derby in 1976, winning the championship at the Constantia Show Grounds in Cape Town in 1977 and 1978.

“I was the first black member of the Transvaal Horse Society, which is based at Kyalami. I was also the first black rider in 127 years to compete in the Pietermaritzburg Royal Agricultural Horse Show in 1978. My colleagues and I were now being called black riders, not grooms. We had attained recognition.”

International doors opened for Enos when David Broome, the British rider, spotted him in Cape Town in 1980 and suggested he compete in Britain. A sponsor was found and Enos became the first person in 20 years to compete outside South Africa. Out of 31 riders, he came fifth at the London Royal International Horse Show. His dream to achieve honours overseas had come true.

Despite his international success, Enos did not forget his roots and, at the peak of his international career in 1990, decided to give free riding lessons at the People’s Dispensary for Sick Animals (PDSA) centre in Mofolo South when he discovered how badly animals were being treated in Soweto, especially by children. His mission is to send a message to people that animals deserve to be loved, not abused.

His riding career was almost shattered when Machine Gun, a horse from Zimbabwe, kicked him, breaking his arm. But he was determined to carry on riding and he went on to win the Rothmans Derby in Sandton. In 1992, Enos went to Barcelona to attend the Olympic Games as part of a development team.
“The event was quite an experience for me and my best moment was seeing my picture splashed on the front page of ‘The Star’ newspaper back home.”

“I was fortunate to get sponsorship to do sports management in Belgium in 1997. The course, which ran for two weeks, empowered me with vital knowledge on how to run sports.”

In 2007, Enos founded the not for profit Soweto Equestrian Foundation.

In December 2008 Enos was honoured at the annual SA Sports Awards ceremony as the 2008 sports volunteer of the year!

“I have a dream that one day a student from the Soweto Equestrian Centre will compete for South Africa in the Olympic games.”