Mduduzi Mdantsane remembers that day so vividly back in 2009. That morning he had bathed and left home for school as usual hoping to come back to his loving mother, Joanna.
Growing up not knowing his dad meant mom was everything. She played both roles with such ease, at least in his eyes. On the fateful day, seated in his Grade 10 class at PE Maziya Primary School in Leandra, Mpumalanga, he remembers a fellow student walking in and whispering something to his teacher.
Thereafter, a confusing announcement followed. Mduduzi Mdantsane had to leave school and go home immediately. It was about 11am, some three hours before knocking off time.
“It was weird, but I had to go home and this girl who had been sent never said a word to me as I walked out. When I got home I noticed there were many relatives. I was then told mom had passed on,” Mdantsane tells FARPost.
Just like that. The one person who believed in his football dream was gone. Mom had even told a close friend of hers, Vusi Mnguni, pictured below, that the boy had the skills to make a living out of the game. But she was gone without even saying goodbye.
“It was difficult, it felt like the end of the world,” he says. What was he going to do without his parents? Unkind life was at it again exactly a fortnight later. This time, death visited the family to take his maternal grandmother, who was still easing herself into the role of teenage Mdantsane’s ‘mother’.
From then on, it was only one way for the teenager – wayward. The only way to soothe his pain was alcohol. The football dream mom had so embraced was as good as deserted. Who would he be doing it for? There was absolutely no reason.
Education was no longer a priority. “I wasn’t okay, I lost focus, and I started drinking alcohol. I ended up drinking and bunking classes, trying to relieve stress. All these experiences led to me failing my matric.
“All I would be waiting for (when I went to school) was break time so I could go and play football. My mind was not there anymore,” he says.
His uncle Themba Mbonani had introduced him to the game at the age of 7. Turning out for amateur side Leandra FC in Mpumalanga, Mbonani would often take his nephew with him. He was the father figure at home since this boy’s dad was nowhere to be seen.
With time, as he realized his nephew’s potential, he started forcing him to play as well. “I was forced initially to play football,” Mdantsane recalls.
Interestingly, Uncle Themba had always harboured ambitions of playing the game professionally. By his own admission, when he saw it was a farfetched dream, he turned all his focus to his nephew.
“I didn’t manage to go far with football, but I couldn’t give up on the boy. I sat down with him and told him he had to focus. I wanted to see him (reach) where I had wanted to see myself,” Mbonani tells FARPost.
“So each time I went for football, I would never leave him behind. I loved him so much. I wanted to be a role model to him. I didn’t want him to see me drinking alcohol and smoking nyaope.
“When his mom passed on, we tried to close that gap and become his parents. We tried to provide support for him to pursue something he had grown to love. We noticed he wanted to play football, so we did what we could to make sure his dream comes true,” adds Mbonani.
Before his mom’s death, Mnguni had vowed to assist find him a team. Playing in the dusty streets of Leslie, some 56km south-east of Springs, was not enough for her. She thought her only son was capable of reaching dizzy heights. And so, Mnguni, a pastor and leader for gospel crooners Abathenjwa bakaJehovah, had to make it happen.
Of course, he was not necessarily a football person. However, the clergyman knew talent when he saw it. A few times, he had stood on the streets of Leslie and watched her friend’s son take on his peers with so much flair and confidence.
He was so convinced the boy’s talent could take him anywhere. Even two years after the death of his friend, he would honour his promise to her.
So, one day in 2013 he requested for a few hours off at work to dash to Johannesburg to “attend to some important business”. Mdantsane, who had a brief stint with Resa FC in Vereeniging, was about 17 at the time. Going to his beloved Kaizer Chiefs was a massive thing for him.
But hey, you don’t just walk into Naturena and claim to have the next best thing in football. After all, being one of South Africa’s most glamorous clubs, Amakhosi had the infinite privilege to cherry pick some of the country’s most talented talents. So, Mnguni was certainly not going to have it easy. Who even cared that this man who claimed to have an immensely talented youngster had made a promise to his late mother?
“I fought with a man I won’t name at Kaizer Chiefs because they were not entertaining what I was telling them about this boy. All I wanted was that they see him for themselves and then make a decision. I knew they would see what I had seen in this boy,” Mnguni tells FARPost.
The late Ryder Mofokeng had to intervene. He was of the same mind as Mnguni. It would help to, at least, have a look at the boy. “Ryder stepped in and said ‘it won’t help to argue, where is the boy?”
Mdantsane was witnessing the argument from Mnguni’s car. At the insistence of Mofokeng, who passed on in January this year, he was called and ‘interviewed’ by the coaches.
Thereafter, Mnguni left with word from Mofokeng, who spent a decade as a defender at Chiefs, that he would get a call advising him when to bring the boy.
Two days later, on a Sunday, while preparing for his pastoral duties, Mnguni got a call from Mofokeng informing him to bring the boy on Monday for training. It meant he had to take another half day off. Nonetheless, he heaved a huge sigh of relief. The Mighty Kaizer Chiefs, he thought, would finally see the magnitude of talent the boy possessed.
“Ryder promised to talk to the coaches – Arthur Zwane and Ace Khuse – to give the boy a chance,” he says. Now, that was music to his ears.
“They told me to leave him for two consecutive days but it didn’t make sense to drive back all the way to Secunda and then come back for him so I missed work for two days. On the third day I asked my relatives in Pimville, Soweto to take care of him,” he says.
As he had expected, Mdantsane’s ingenuity would not go unnoticed. Chiefs signed him and he featured in their MultiChoice Diski Challenge team alongside the likes of Amakhosi reserve goalie Bruce Bvuma, Khotso Malope, pictured below, who is currently at TS Sporting, and Pretoria Callies defender Njabulo Buthelezi.
That was the turning point in his life.
Never mind that he was only there for just a year. It was enough to tell him he had a future in the game.
“That was actually the turning point in my life, I realized that if I could make it at Chiefs at that level, it was possible to go on and play for the senior team.
“It was an incredible experience because everyone at home was a Kaizer Chiefs supporter, I was also a Kaizer Chiefs supporter. I had to stop drinking alcohol and focus on my game. I did extra sessions to develop my game,” says Mdantsane, who was often deployed as a left winger at the Soweto giants.
It felt like he had his life back. The dream that had been rendered dormant by a newfound obsession for alcohol had been resurrected.
Although he admits having to leave Chiefs a year later was painful, the stint had placed him on a pedestal. There was no turning back. The light at the end of the tunnel was too bright to stop trudging forward.
His next stop was a short stint at third-tier outfit Baberwa after which the midfielder surfaced in the colours of Baroka. He was instrumental in leading the Limpopo side to a maiden top-flight title when they won the Telkom Knockout in 2018.
Captaining the side, he played a pivotal role in seeing off the likes of Mamelodi Sundowns and Bidvest Wits, before slaying Orlando Pirates in the final.
“I was so nervous in the final, I couldn’t believe it, it was my first time playing a cup final. We were playing an in-form Pirates. I was leading players who played way ahead of me,” he says.
One man who held his hand in that gruelling final was Letladi Madubanya.
“He told me to tuck the armband under my shirt sleeve and play my normal game,” he recalls.
Madubanya, a two-time League title winner with SuperSport United, who retired from the game last year, still remembers that moment.
“I told him to just play his game and enjoy himself. I knew what he was capable of and he did extremely well,” says the man whose goal against Ajax Cape Town on the final day of the 2016/17 season saved Bakgaga from relegation.
Late in 2019, Mdantsane saw his contract, which had just six months left, terminated by Baroka FC and Cape Town City moved swiftly to snap him up.
The man nicknamed ‘Jomo’ for all his wizardry on the ball is under no pressure at all. He just wants to enjoy his football and make strides while at it.
“I want to continue pushing, I don’t think I’m there yet. I still believe I can do more, if I can score nine goals, it means I can go on to score another nine. Having said that, I take one game at a time,” says the 26-year-old.
Without a doubt, Mama Joanna must be smiling in heaven as her son lives out the dream that almost vanished with her death!
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By Mthokozisi Dube