South Africa

New crown for SA’s ‘king of horses’ Enos Mafokate

Hooves stomping and nostrils flaring, the horses gather around a man who is undoubtedly the centre of their world.

Enos Mafokate braves the scorching sun in the field of the Soweto Equestrian Centre to stroke one here, pat another one there – and you know why he is known as Kgosi yadi Pere or the King of Horses.

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“I spend my days here to be with the horses and make my way back home,” says South Africa’s first black show jumper of his horse riding school.

It is nestled between the matchbox houses in Moroka, Soweto, and he officially opened it in 2007.

Passing his knowledge on

Mafokate travels at least 56km every day to Soweto where he educates thousands of children and employs local talent.

It’s been a long journey, just like his show jumping career, but when Mafokate dreams, he dreams big – and his dreams always come true. It was a dream he once yearned for while working as a horse manager at a dispensary for sick animals.

So he started with lessons in an open veld in Mofolo. “My goal was to cultivate young children in this field. I borrowed R700 to buy my first horse and trained two children in an open veld with just rubble and sand.

“Years later, I got this establishment and it was in shambles. There was only one building here, windows were shattered and there was a foul stench. But my vision was always clear,” he says. He bagged some sponsors and the rest, as they say, is history.

Enos Mafokate
Enos Mafokate will receive a lifetime achievement award that recognises legends who beat the odds and put SA on the map. Pictures: Nigel Sibanda

The centre’s biggest highlight was a visit from Britain’s Princess Anne in 2012. Adorning the office walls are tributes to Mafokate’s four-decade career – newspaper clippings, photographs, awards and trophies of his illustrious career as one of the black founding fathers who opened the way for others in the equine industry.

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Growing up in the years of racial segregation in Johannesburg with a father who was a builder, he moved between a farm in Rivonia and Alexandra where he went to school.

The farm nurtured his love for animals and he remembers his intrigue every time white people rode horses, while he couldn’t.

“It all started with a donkey. They were easily accessible, especially on the farms where we stayed. I rode on those until a white kid came with his pony and taught me how to ride properly for the first time.

“And he rode my donkey. I would get scolded because it was a huge offence, but we were always excited to play with our animals and were oblivious to our reality,” says Mafokate.

In 1962, aged 16, and as a groom for the horses of professional show jumpers, he got his first shot at competitive show jumping when his employer decided to let the black grooms compete against one another.

The first win of many

“They took me with no warning that I would be showing. I was wearing worn-out overalls and gumboots and went out looking like that, and I won the tournament,” he laughs.

This motivated him to compete in Kyalami where he snatched a win again. But he couldn’t competed until 1975 when, for the first time in history, black people were allowed to participate in show jumping in South Africa.

He became the first black show jumper, not only in SA, but also in Africa. This was a pivotal moment in Mafokate’s life.

“I was fighting the oppression which said black people couldn’t ride. It took me 40 years to be able to ride in Pretoria alongside white people. It was hard. I fought hard against oppression and was often insulted and called names for wanting equality.”

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Despite the odds, 1977 was the prime of Mafokate’s career. He was becoming a show jumping favourite and was known for his poise, confidence and skill.

This bagged him back-to-back championships at the Rand Show, in Sandton and in Cape Town. Mafokate was spotted there by British show jumper David Broome while competing in his third championship.

Broome introduced him to the international market. Mafokate won the show jumping and show class categories at a competition in Wales, at a time when SA was sanctioned from competing internationally.

He also finished fifth in Wembley in London, solidifying his international career.

“I won my first showing class. In my second show, I was among 31 champions and the only one from Africa. But the oldies came up to me and said they never thought they would see a black person in the competition.”

What was supposed to be a once-off trip in 1980, ended up with him returning to England four times.

“The last year I went, in 1984, I will never forget. I stood before a crowd of 65 000 at the Midlands championships.

“The crowd was cheering and the tears just streamed down my cheeks,” he says.

Mafokate beams with pride as he reflects on his journey. “When I look at my life, it has come full circle because it always revolved around horses.”

He was given a lifetime achievement award in Germany in 2022 and will receive another lifetime achievement award from the Kamoraleng Heritage Institute this weekend.

The award recognise and celebrate legends who beat the odds and put SA and Africa on the map.

Mafokate’s wish is to build his legacy through a museum “for the young people to see the stories of many, like me, who have never been recognised”.