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Ghana’s ‘Man of Wood’ Backs Black Stars for Football World Cup Glory

  • Darren Taylor

Ghanaian furniture store owner in Johannesburg believes Ghana will be first African team to make World Cup semifinals

Muscles ripple out of Isaac Donkor’s red and yellow striped Ghana football jersey, as he walks through his furniture store at the end of a busy street in Johannesburg’s Newlands suburb.

He ambles into his office, where certificates from bodybuilding championships line the walls.

Next, Donkor walks into a deserted workshop, which is now virtually silent, the only sound being from shoes upon old sawdust. Before the World Cup, the workroom was filled with the racket of wood being sawed and sandpapered, polished and painted.

Donkor also has an eye for art, and has filled his stores with paintings from Ghana

Donkor also has an eye for art, and has filled his stores with paintings from Ghana

But these days, Donkor acknowledges, not much work is being done here.

All attention is on the World Cup, currently playing out in South Africa … And more specifically, on Ghana’s bid to become the first African team in history to make the semifinals of the tournament.

‘Furniture is the food I eat’

Donkor’s originally from Kumasi, in Ghana’s southern Ashanti region.

“I knew I wanted to make furniture from when I was in junior primary school,” he explains. “When I was the first time in woodwork class, I picked up a plane machine for the first time and started using it. The teacher asked me, ‘Have you ever done this before?’ I said ‘No sir,’ but the teacher didn’t believe me because I was so good!”

Donkor, outside one of his furniture shops in the Johannesburg suburb of Newlands

Donkor, outside one of his furniture shops in the Johannesburg suburb of Newlands

At the age of 14, Donkor began studying furniture manufacturing at Kumasi Technical Institute.

“I’m now 31, and wood and turning it into furniture has been all I have known my whole life … I am a man of wood!” he exclaims, before declaring, “The furniture business is the food I eat.”

About five years ago, Donkor relocated from Kumasi to Johannesburg. Here, he says people respect him “because everyone’s thinks I am rich, which I am not! Business is up and down.”

Donkor also sells original works of art from Ghana

Donkor also sells original works of art from Ghana

In Johannesburg, Donkor collects scrap pinewood from demolished buildings and turns it into wonderfully-finished household items, like tables, cupboards and beds. He also designs kitchens and bedrooms.

“Some of the wood I get is real old,” he says. “It’s like 300 years old. I restore it and make it look real beautiful.”

Donkor’s trained 23 people – a mix of Ghanaians and South Africans - to work for him, and owns two stores in Johannesburg.

Ghana must attack

Since the Black Stars became only the third African team to make it to the World Cup quarterfinals by beating the United States last week, Donkor’s been “overwhelmed” at the “love” shown for “all things Ghanaian” by “all Africans living in South Africa.”

“A lot of customers, a lot of friends, they just give me calls and send me messages of congratulations. I feel proud to be a Ghanaian,” he tells VOA. “I strongly believe Ghana is going to take this cup, no matter what.”

Donkor maintains this will be “Africa’s tournament,” despite the challenges from star-studded teams such as Argentina, Brazil and Spain.

Donkor's been making furniture since he was 14 years of age, but all his attention is now on Ghana's attempt to reach the World Cup semifinals

Donkor's been making furniture since he was 14 years of age, but all his attention is now on Ghana's attempt to reach the World Cup semifinals

“On Friday, we’re going to win (against) Uruguay (in the World Cup quarterfinal), and then after that, you’re going to see whoever (the Black Stars) are going to meet (in the semifinal) – either Brazil or Holland.”

The burly Ghanaian dismisses the threat posed by Uruguay by boasting, “They can’t live with Ghana.”

Donkor’s of the opinion that the South Americans “have only two players of quality” - namely the on-form strike partnership of Diego Forlan and Luis Suarez. “So I am not worried about Uruguay. I am not worried at all,” he quips.

The “main reasons” for his faith in the Black Stars, Donkor maintains, are that the team is “peaking at the perfect time” and that it is a “very well balanced” team – especially Ghana’s defense which he describes as “very solid and tight.”

He does concede, however, that Ghana hasn’t been scoring enough goals, despite the prowess of star striker Asamoah Gyan, who Donkor says is “sometimes too isolated.”

He says for Ghana to beat Uruguay, the Black Stars must play “more of an attacking game” with an additional striker or two pushed up alongside Gyan.

He’s “sure” that coach Milovan Rajevac is “going to do exactly this, to go for the throat of Uruguay.”

Hunting Uruguayans …

Even though he’s convinced of Ghana’s success, Donkor says the Black Stars still need as much African support as they can get.

Isaac Donkor, in his Black Stars football jersey, inside his furniture store in Johannesburg

Isaac Donkor, in his Black Stars football jersey, inside his furniture store in Johannesburg

“All of the Africans, you must just rise up and be strong and bold and support Ghana. Blow the vuvuzela (trumpets) and just shout; fly the flags nicely to show Ghana that Ghana is Africa’s best team now,” he says, laughing.

Donkor says he’ll be watching the game, “as usual,” with a “bunch” of fellow Ghanaian expatriates on his television at home in Johannesburg … But, unlike his friends, he won’t be doing so with the aid of beer.

“No alcohol for me because I am in bodybuilding training,” he says, flexing his muscles. Then, Donkor jests, “I must be fit and strong, so if by any miracle the Black Stars lose, if they are cheated, I am able to hunt down any people from Uruguay I find here in Johannesburg!”

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