In one of the dark corners of the internet, on a YouTube page with only a couple of thousand of subscribers, one can find a video of Happy Jele playing as a goalkeeper.
When that particular match began, the Orlando Pirates goal-minder for that evening in February 2017 was Jackson Mabokgwane, who handled the ball outside the penalty area, and was given his marching orders by the referee with 12 minutes remaining.
The Buccaneers had already made their three substitutions. They were wounded and the Gavin Hunt-coached Bidvest Wits could smell blood. As he had done many times before in his 11 years with Pirates at that time, it was skipper Jele who stepped up.
Wave after wave of Wits’ attacks were thwarted by the makeshift goalkeeper as Pirates were beaten 2-1, with Jele managing a clean sheet and usually one to keep his emotions in check, he was evidently out of his shell after that match as seen in the video below captured by Bucs media officer, Thandi Merafe.
That bit of self-sacrifice and bravery has come to define “Magents”, a man scouted by Pirates as a fresh-faced 19-year-old while he was playing for Walter Stars – an amateur team founded by former SABC Sports anchor Walter Mokoena – in sleepy Middelburg, Mpumalanga. And ever since he pulled on the black and white shirt in 2006, he has not looked back, representing the Soweto giants with pride.
One-club men are rare in modern football, and this, together with his bravery and fearlessness, has made Jele a darling of the Sea Robbers’ faithful. He is the professional’s professional, a man respected by both comrades and rivals.
“I have been working with him for the past 12 years, he is a very solid human being, not easily swayed. He is a leader by nature,” says Magents’ agent Jazzman Mahlakgane.
“Watching him, what I enjoyed was his attitude towards his colleagues, he treats them with respect. It’s the same on and off the pitch. He broke into the first team when he was really young (19) and at that time, I was interested in this young man who is a solid human being. I wanted to see his beautiful human spirit rub onto others. I don’t regret it,” Jazzman adds.
When Jele broke into the Pirates first team, he was barely an adult, coming from a team that was as unknown as he was. The bright lights of Johannesburg have been known to sway and blind many an upcoming young diski prince and for Jele to maintain his discipline and focus for so long speaks volumes of the Pirates skipper’s drive and focus.
Almost 15 years since he started representing the skull and crossbones, Mahlakgane believes that Jele remains a shining example of professionalism.
“He is not only exemplary to guys in my stable but he’s also exemplary to his colleagues at the team and other players. If you hear anything about Happy, it’s positive, otherwise someone is deliberately trying to taint him.”
It comes as no surprise then that motor company Lexus are Happy to associate with Jele, as their brand ambassador.
The revered agent recalls the day he approached Jele to manage him.
“He was shocked because I was working with players who were really doing well (Teko Modise and Siphiwe Tshabalala) and he was not sure if that would happen. But, there was an instant connection between the two of us. Now he is family to me. He is just a simple, humble soul,” says Mahlakgane.
When Jele and current Bafana Bafana skipper Thulani Hlatshwayo met several years ago on a plane ready to go and do national duty somewhere in Africa, the two were in competition for the same spot in the national side. Being the older and more established of the two, Jele could have been excused for treating the younger Hlatshwayo with hostility. On that flight, however, the two instead struck a bond that would stay strong forever.
“It was a bit nerve-wrecking to meet with him (but) I got to like him.
“He is driven by family; our wives and kids know each other – we’ve become good family friends. We speak quite often over the phone. He is a family man and a very loyal man. He is a genuine leader. He can adjust to any setting or conversation. He makes everyone comfortable around him,” the former Ajax Cape Town defender says.
For the Bafana skipper, it is Jele’s discipline that has kept him at the top.
“We have the same personality; we are both introverts. Discipline, loyalty and consistency has kept him in the game for so long. I want him to win his first trophy as captain.”
Jele has helped Pirates win two trebles in succession in 2010/2011 and 2011/2012 season under previous Bucs captain, Lucky Lekgwathi, though he missed most of the 2011/12 campaign through injury.
Hlatshwayo and Mahlakgane both remember the 2011 horror injury Jele sustained and they are in awe as they describe the road to his comeback. The Bucs star tore his anterior cruciate and medial collateral ligaments in his knee in November 2011 and spent over a year in the infirmary after undergoing surgery. Coming back from that horrific injury, the man scored on his return match against Black Leopards in a Telkom Knockout tie.
“Looking at how bad the injury was and to be able to play as if nothing ever happened, he took rehab seriously. It shows determination,” Hlatshwayo says.
After such a long time at the Soweto giants, Jele now seems to be part of the furniture. When Dr Irvin Khoza awarded him the Chairman’s Award in 2018, he called him, a “rare breed” that had dedicated his life to the club, in a video below credited to KickOff.
His knowledge of the ins and out at Pirates has made him an asset not only to his teammates but even to successive coaches at the club.
“Happy and I are very close. I have worked closely with him since 2010,” said former Pirates gaffer Rulani Mokwena.
“When an opportunity came at Pirates one of the first people I engaged for inside information was Happy. He is very authentic, he puts his heart on his sleeve, he dies for the cause. That is probably one of the key values in a lot of leaders. He understands the ecosystem and the environment at Pirates,” the Chippa United mentor says.
When Jele put on the gloves and stepped in between the sticks against Wits it was a noble action that only a person that loves the club could have taken. Such acts have made Milutin Sredojević, a man who coached Jele in two different stints at Pirates, believe that Jele plays for the club like a passionate fan that has been plucked off the stands and dropped on the pitch.
“His only problem was that he has never been one to advertise himself in the media (despite playing 324 games for Bucs), but his contributions are seen through his actions. He is a pure soldier of the club that once even went to be goalkeeper ready to die for his team’s needs,” says the Zambia national team coach.
Without a doubt, Magents’ blood is black and white and he is ready to die for the skull and crossbones.
By Mthokozisi Dube