Hlompho Kekana is the proverbial stone which the builders rejected but has become the cornerstone of Mamelodi Sundowns.
Twice in his career, the Sundowns captain has either been deemed surplus to requirements or not good enough. But the steely midfielder is not one to throw in the towel.
The tough-as-teak ‘Keke’ has made it a habit to soldier on. In fact, it is hard to even think of him minus his trademark smile he dishes out to everyone including strangers. “His late uncle brought him to me just after he completed his primary school and I enrolled him at Klaas Mothapo High School.
“His mother was struggling, she couldn’t bring him to Turfloop,” says Jerry Ramohlale, the man who started honing Kekana’s skills as a youngster. That 95km trip from Zebediela to Turflop via Polokwane cost in the region of R75.
Life was tough for Kekana and his family, Ramohlale says, but the boy was determined to carve a niche for himself. Of course, he could not have imagined that one day he would be crowned the most decorated footballer in the South African game.
After 4 years at Ramohlale’s modest Tshiamo Soccer Academy in Turfloop, located in Capricorn District Municipality of Limpopo, Kekana caught the eye of Black Leopards. It was the dream of almost every Limpopo boy. “I had to drive him to Venda for 2 months until David Thidiela signed him in 2004,” he recalls.
And sometimes, his tiny Fiat Uno, a mechanically challenged 1995 model, which he still has, would often let them down on the road. “The car broke down on us countless times,” he says before he gloats over his prodigy’s achievement following Saturday’s title triumph by Sundowns. It brought his haul to 7. His first 2 were won in SuperSport United colours in 2009 and 2010.
“This is the car (pictured above) that gave Ramahlwe Mphahlele and Hlompho Kekana jobs,” says a proud Ramohlale. “I remember at some point Thidiela chased him away because he didn’t think he was good enough. So, I had to take him to City Pillars in 2005.”
Raymond Mdaka, who was assistant at City Pillars at the time, was the man who received the rejected Kekana. “The boy was strong,” he says about both his physical and emotional state. The discarded youngster did not show any signs of despondency.
“Ramohlale didn’t want Hlompho to play because he was taking him somewhere. I think he was going to take him to Sundowns,” Mdaka adds. It then took a good performance in a friendly match between Pillars and Leopards to earn a move back to Lidoda Duvha.
“Around that time, it so happened they were selling City Pillars to Mpumalanga Black Aces, so he then moved back to Lepards,” adds Mdaka. Interestingly, Chief Thidiela still remembers him as a hardworking and humble young man, attributes many believe have set him apart.
He soon proved a worthy investment when Leopards fetched a cool R2 million after selling him to SuperSport, but after just 2 seasons, former Bloemfontein Celtic owner Jimmy Augousti recalls how Kekana was then deemed surplus to requirements at Matsantsantsa.
“I couldn’t believe my luck when SuperSport offered him to us (in 2010). They had too many midfielders at the time, so he wasn’t a first team regular,” says Augousti. At Celtic, Kekana, once again, held his head high and continued working as hard as he had ever done. His ingenuity did not go unnoticed as the Brazilians came knocking in 2011. Since then, Chloorkop has been his home. In fact, it is now hard to imagine the Mamelodi Sundowns juggernaut without Keke! For so many years he has dictated the tempo at the heart of the Brazilians’ midfield.
The ‘ZB’ man has had one of the greatest careers, unobtrusively eclipsing the previous record of 6 League titles that he shared with Daine Klate. He boasts of 11 trophies that include the coveted CAF Champions League, CAF Super Cup and the Nedbank Cup and the Telkom Knockout. No player in the history of the South African PSL can claim to have a trophy cabinet as glittering as Keke’s.
For the Brazilians, he has become the heartbeat of the team and this might explain why, at 35, he was handed a lengthy extension on his contract, an odd deal for a player his age. But Keke is not done, as he looks to lead Downs as they face Bloemfontein Celtic on Saturday in the Nedbank Cup final.
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By Mthokozisi Dube