Lukes Mjoka

Lukes Mjoka

At the young age of eight, Lukes Mjoka (pictured with his now wife Liliana Ferreira Novais Barbosa) wandered into a train station. Two men approached Lukes and told him to get on the train with them. Lukes was taken by the men and boarded a train that would lead him into a life on the streets.

The train took Lukes from Khayelitsha to Mitchell’s Plain, where his new acquaintances taught him how to beg for money. For six months, Lukes slept on the streets. Eventually, the men decided that Lukes was of no further value to them and dropped him off at a shelter.

Lukes lived on the shelter from Monday to Friday, over the weekends however, he slept on the streets. Six years later, Lukes returned to Khayelitsha in time to start his High School education.

In 2003, Lukes decided to move in with his sisters and look after them. Even though Lukes excelled at school, he was dragged into a life of violence and crime by his friends. He started drinking heavily. “The drinking turned into girls, from girls we turned to guns, and from guns we turned to robbery,” he explained. Crime became Lukes’ only source of income. During this time, Lukes witnessed several shootings and was introduced to crystal meth, which he dealt in order to survive.

Lukes was caught by police carrying 4kg of crystal meth. The police confiscated the drugs and drove him back to Khayelitsha. Lukes believes that in that moment God intervened and saved his life. He decided it was time to change. By sheer luck he bumped into a childhood friend who was volunteering with a homeless street soccer team. Lukes joined their football sessions. During this period, one of Lukes’ close friends – a victim to drugs and gang violence – was shot in the back and died soon after. This was enough to make him realise that he needed to put that life behind him.

With a lot of hard work, he was selected as captain of the team representing South Africa at the Homeless World Cup in Brazil. This was the beginning of a new life for Lukes. He returned to South Africa and began work with the Oasis project, where he taught and helped other young, marginalised people. He also travelled to the Homeless World Cup in Paris and Mexico, where he worked with the South African team.

Lukes lived in Brazil for six months, and became a volunteer for the 2014 FIFA World Cup in Rio, where he worked with the FIFA Football for Hope programme organising a mini World Cup for children, offering help and life skills sessions. He now runs the Oasis programme in South Africa, helping young people who, like him, have been marginalised and neglected. Lukes credits his success to all the volunteers and workers that helped him as a young boy. He says that “having good role models is essential for the life of every child.” He is now one of those role models: “I can actually promise them that ‘a ball can change the world’!”

“We all love football and we all hate homelessness – it’s a no brainer.”

Irvine Welsh