Over 80% of all soccer balls are manufactured in Pakistan. The city of Sialkot in Pakistan produces as many as 60 million hand-stitched footballs in a World Cup year. The 20% is for the rest of the world and Lesotho has a bit of it.
During the 2010 FIFA World Cup which was hosted in South Africa, workshops were held to equip individuals with the skill and know-how around manufacturing of soccer balls. Mamello Konyana (Mr) was part of the team. Like any other individual, he joined the workshop with the fervor of learning something new. Of all the people who attended the workshop, he remains the only one ally to get down and get his hands dirty with stitching of soccer balls in the entire SADC region.
It’s around 7pm and we’re seated with Mamello as he shares about his work. He had just sold one of his balls to the Minister of Small Business Development in Lesotho.
“I was inspired by my mother who has always been selling in the streets of Maseru to start something myself. There’s more to life than getting hired. Besides, we don’t all have to sell shoes and clothes in the streets for us to consider ourselves as businessmen.”
Determined to come up with something novel, he decided to take it upon himself to find information and learn further on all the technicalities in relation to the manufacturing of the soccer balls.
He picks his bag and shows us a work in progress. A new ball he’s currently stitching. While we’re in disbelief, he goes on to explain the process of manufacturing a soccer ball.
The standard soccer ball is made of synthetic leather, stitched around an inflated rubber-like bladder. The ball covering consists of 32 hexagonal panels, and they are hand-stitched. This is where the real work comes in. The covering is backed with multiple layers of lining of polyester or cotton blend which gives the ball its strength, structure, and bounce. The bladder inside the ball is what holds the air. The bladders are mostly made of latex rubber and use valves for air retention.
While he was first exposed to this art in 2010, it was not was not until 2012 that he manufactured his first standard soccer ball. He then registered Mamza Football Manufacturers. He reiterates that during the workshops, they were only given the basic knowledge pertaining to the production of the balls but he had to make extensive research to hone his skill.
Most of the raw materials he uses are not available in Africa so it proved difficult to acquire them. “I had to locate suppliers and also learn the industry language so I can easily communicate what I need as most of the material are sold in Asia”.
Soccer balls have certain considerations in regards to their production that need to be done accurately for the ball to be complete and viewed as the candid product and that requires proficiency and an eye for detail. The ball has to weigh 500ml, it has to have an ability to absorb and expel water quickly, and should be a size 5. He just couldn’t help it but kept drawing from the nitty-gritties to consider in manufacturing a soccer ball. Each detail of their construction and finishing is driven by the same concern for excellence.
His love for the game was one of the reasons that moved him to take this route. ‘I used to play for Arsenal (local Arsenal F.C.) development as their goal keeper’. Mamello is also a diehard fan of Lesotho football. It is his greatest desire to see the soccer balls he creates being recognized not on just on a national level and being used for tournaments like the King’s birthday cup.
He is also eyeing the international stage with a few leads from England already in the pipeline. His art has also seen him rub shoulders with the likes of Shakes Mashaba, the former South-African Men Football Head-Coach.
Just like any other business, there are always hurdles and challenges. Mamza Football Manufacturers is not an exception. The greatest obstacle he faces is lack of support from his fellow men. He has produced a number of soccer balls dedicated to special events within organizations in the country. Arranging for the manufacturing of soccer balls within tight deadlines and a lack of appreciation has been his major concern.
“Basotho have a tendency of not believing in products that are locally produced, tell them there’s a white firm manufacturing the same product, they will buy it; no questions asked. The principal problem in the country is that no one knows anything about the industry of producing footballs and the bureau of standards pertaining to FIFA and the production of footballs in general. The difficulty comes in where the very person who doesn’t know will be the very same one to test and claim the soccer balls are not up to standard.“
“I encourage fellow entrepreneurs not to give in, if you don’t get the necessary recognition it is your duty to make yourself known. If you have to keep on knocking on those doors, knock until someone opens up for you.” He concluded.