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Indigenous Games Festival: Preserving Traditional African Childhood Games in South Africa

Everyone has a fond throwback story of the games they used to play as children. As a 90s baby, I fondly remember playing various As a 90s baby, I fondly remember playing games like ‘aan-aaan’ (tag) or ‘wesi-wema’.

In 2016 South African poet Koleka Putuma posted lyrics to a popular traditional children’s game-song as her Facebook status:

Uvelaphi S’ma Dlamini?

Ndivel’ edolophini

Ubuyothenga ntoni?


Besiyimalini na?




And’sakufun’ S’ma Dlamini [S’ma Dlamini cries]/

Masenz’idense S’ma Dlamini/Tshintsha!”

The post sparked nostalgic conversations, demonstrating that this popular game did not only reside in the collective consciousness of Xhosa-speaking South Africans but was played and sung by children in many parts of South Africa, such as Cape Town, Rustenberg, Polokwane and Soweto.

Whether you live in rural or urban areas, all you need to enjoy these games are your friends and easily accessible items such as pebbles, tin cans and your grandmother’s old stockings.

Besides being fun activities to entertain children, these games have significant value in promoting physical prowess, communication skills, teamwork and cognitive skills. Furthermore, each game serves to promote certain African values.

It is for these reasons that the South African department of Sport and Recreation decided to celebrate and preserve these games in the form of the Indigenous Games Festival which is held annually in September to celebrate Heritage Month.

According to the chief director of communications at the department, Mickey Modisane, the Indigenous Games Festival is an initiative aimed at building a diverse society by embracing our common national identity and celebrating our shared heritage.

This year the games were held at the Seshego Stadium in Polokwane, Limpopo from September 23-28. All were welcome to experience the opportunity to learn about the rich history and cultural significance of this event.

What games do you remember playing and what cultural significance does it have for you?

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