How Anele Ngcongca touched the lives of ‘township boys’

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…the life and times of ‘Tera’

Departed soccer star Anele Calvin Ngcongca’s name is not just carved on a tombstone, it’s inscribed on the hearts of the many township boys he graciously took under his wing.

The true meaning of a fulfilled life, at least according to him, was never about amassing accolades, wealth or followers, but the number of faces that smiled because of him.

And so, every day he set out to blow-out kindness like confetti at a wedding – in one way or the other – to those within his reach.

Ngcongca didn’t have to know them to help them. He just had to know of their dilemma. There was no vetting either once his kind heart was set on assisting someone. And there was no stopping him.

So, 12 years ago, while visiting ASD Cape Town, an academy in the Mother City, he stumbled upon one ‘uncut gemstone’.

His mission at ASD was straightforward. He had to share his career journey.

‘Tera’ had to explain how a boy from Gugulethu – a township notorious for its ever-surging crime – without topflight experience in his native South Africa, had become the linchpin of a far-flung football club KRC Genk in Belgium.

Possibly, none of those boys had an idea who Genk was. Maybe some of them didn’t even know there was a country called Belgium.

Nonetheless, the man standing right in front of them had grown up like them. With very little to his name as a small boy, but an avid longing to make something out of his raw football talent.

But, thanks to determination and an unmatched zeal, he packed his bags and left familiar territory as a little-known entity to move to a city 13, 024 km away from his birthplace.

So, it all made sense for them to pay attention to him. He was on the pathway to greatness, just the way they all desired.

When the inspirational chit-chat was done, the young boys trotted onto the pitch to play a game they all loved.

One endowed teenager in that group stood out for Ngcongca on that day. Upon enquiry, he was told the boy’s name was Ayanda Patosi.

Fortunately, Ngcongca was not one to see things and quickly forget about them. He genuinely understood the giant obstacles that stood in between this boy and destiny. And he took it upon himself to be the wind beneath his wings.

Eager and gifted Patosi, who had lost his dad a few years prior to that life-changing meeting, didn’t have the comfort of a new pair of soccer boots. His cassette vendor mom could barely afford.

There, Ngcongca saw an opportunity to touch a young life.

Weeks later, upon returning to his base, his lifelong partner, Linda Racaza, would get a call. Racaza, who was based in Cape Town at the time, had to take a pair of Nike boots to this stranger her kindhearted man had just met.

“He said ‘this boy is good, I can’t let him go’. Ayanda was probably 15 at the time. He (Ngcongca) was in Belgium. He said ‘take boots for him and make sure he has all the stuff he needs. He probably won’t have the little I can offer’,” she tells FARPost.

Racaza has not forgotten how much ‘Tera’ stressed that this little boy from an equally crime-ridden Site C in Khayelitsha was destined for dizzy heights in the world of football. It was as though he carried a burden in his heart to empower the youngster.

Of course, there were other boys like Sive Phekezela, Lindani Ntamo and Ebrahim Seedat who had also caught the eye of Anele.

“I’d go to the academy and bring boots for him (Patosi), there were a few other boys as well,” she recalls.

Anele, at the time, was a Nike endorsed athlete and would get a budget allocation. Each time he was picking up the latest boots, he would also shop for Patosi.

Sometimes he would exhaust his budget and have to dig into his own pocket to buy for Patosi. He did this with utmost generosity. Interestingly, Patosi, currently a winger for Iranian side Foolad, has lost count how many of those charming packages he received.

“He used to send me soccer boots,” Patosi tells FARPost from his Khuzestan, Iran base.

As if that kindness was not enough, when 16-year-old Patosi, together with Ntamo, were invited for a few months by Genk later in 2009, Anele would not let them stay in a hotel. He wanted his Cape Town boys closer to him.

“He wouldn’t let us stay in a hotel, he said we had to stay in his house,” recalls Patosi.

And so, ‘Deco’, as Patosi was affectionately known at ASD, stayed in his house and enjoyed every single nicety the Bafana Bafana right-back treated himself to.

He got even more, a few ‘brotherly’ claps when he went wayward. “No-one knew this, but he’d clap me when I did funny things, he took that brotherly role.

“I would be angry for a moment but later realise he wanted to correct me as a big brother and I’ll forever be grateful for that,” he says.

More than anything, Racaza knew exactly what Ngcongca wanted for these boys. He wanted them to believe in their abilities and soar as high as they could.

“He would push and make them believe they could actually play anywhere in the world as long as they’re strong and willing to take the challenges that come with being away from their families,” she explains.

His love knew no bounds. Never just extended to those who had chosen the same career path as him.

Michael Dlamini, who grew up in Durban, is testament to that. He found himself stranded in Genk after being dumped by his Dutch lover. Dlamini was left to sink or swim on his own.

Luckily, Ngcongca’s Ghanaian teammate at Genk had introduced Dlamini to Tera.

In Genk, a mining town with a population of about 65,000 in the Belgian province of Limburg near Hasselt, any black person seen around would naturally be associated with the football club.

Dlamini, pictured with Ngcongca above, found himself mistaken for a football star. When he disclosed he was actually South African wanting to eke out a living in Genk, he was immediately connected to his compatriot Ngcongca.

Little did he know that one day that association would work to his favour.

So, when the poop hit the fan there was no one else to look to besides his countryman, a man he lovingly refers to as ‘Gondwe’.

“I phoned him and told him I was stranded and, without thinking twice, he invited me into his house.

“I stayed with him for two and a half years. I ate what he ate. I remember he would bring me a newspaper every day to try and find a job.

“I still have plenty clothes in my closet that he bought for me during that period.

“Sometimes he would even give me money to send to my family back home,” says a forlorn Dlamini.

Fast-forward many years later, Dlamini now calls Belgium home permanently. He holds dual citizenship and is enjoying a turn of fortunes.

It is no wonder that other Genk stars like Kevin De Bryune, now at Manchester City, and Real Madrid goalie Thibaut Courtois were regular visitors to his ever welcoming home.

The two Belgium national team stars paid tribute to Anele, who died at the age of 33 on November 23, 2020.

Ngongca’s generosity, however, didn’t stop in Western Europe. Even when he returned home to join Mamelodi Sundowns, he never stopped.

Four years ago, another boy from Gugulethu, Yanga Baliso, was coming to try his luck in Johannesburg.

Again, the two didn’t know each other. “That guy did a lot for me, he took good care of me,” Baliso tells FARPost the moment the name Anele is mentioned.

Baliso was trying to carve a niche for himself at Orlando Pirates. Ordinarily, he would stay at the clubhouse. But Anele would opt to bring him closer to guide him.

Again, Racaza would be asked to accommodate this stranger in their home.

“None of it was ever a problem for me,” she says.

Baliso reveals that living with Ngcongca’s family gave him homey stability far from home.

“It helped me a lot because I could settle properly, I didn’t struggle, he would just give me the car to drive to training, and I would eat properly.

“Linda used to cook and she was very good in ensuring we had a proper diet for athletes. I could feel my body at training. I’d get enough sleep…,” says Baliso, who turns out for IFK Mariehamn in Finland.

Even in September 2019 when he had to move overseas after leaving Pirates, Ngcongca would share lessons from his successful eight-year stint in Belgium where he enjoyed cult hero status.

Above all, he would make the 23-year-old midfielder aware that he had the world at his feet. In his discernments, Baliso could go as far as ‘the eyes of his mind could see’.

“I always wanted my career to be the same as Anele’s,” he admits.

“Ha, ha, ha, he had these sayings he’d use to encourage me. He’d say ‘take everything that belongs to you and leave them with nothing’.”

In honour of his departed idol, he has adopted his favoured jersey number ‘16’. Interestingly, back in Genk, where he had more than 200 appearances between 2007 and 2015, his former club confirmed it would honour him posthumously by retiring the number 16 jersey.

“I’ve changed my jersey number to 16 to honour his name,” Baliso adds.

More than anything, Baliso learnt Ubuntu from Tera. “I’ve learnt a lot about being a good human being than being a soccer player from Anele. Even if he didn’t know someone he’d sit with them and talk to them for an hour or two.”

In Iran, Patosi missed six games after the passing of Ngcongca. What cut his heart the most was that he missed that last video call hours before he died in that horrific car crash. The on-loan Cape Town City star was busy in the gym when Ngcongca tried to reach out to him.

Maybe he wanted to say goodbye. Perhaps he wanted to let him know he was proud he had made it that far. Who knows?

“It was bad because I couldn’t even travel to the funeral. I tried everything to, at least, come and bid farewell to him but all was in vain.

“This is actually the first time I talk about this. When the season is over here in a few months’ time, I will come down and pay my last respects to him.”

One of the biggest lessons Ngcongca taught Patosi was never to neglect his family.

“He’d celebrate all my achievements especially when I did something big. But he would challenge me and say, ‘I see you’ve done all this but what have you done for i-oledi’? So, when I bought a house for my mom, he went to see it with his mom and you could tell he was super proud of me,” Patosi recalls.

Exactly two months, two days after his untimely death, the many stories you hear about him are a stark reminder that the man left his fingerprints on many hearts.

Truly, money will not last. Fame will not last. But how you touched others will always stay behind. You may be gone Tera, but your spirit lives on! Rest in power, dear brother!

RELATED STORY: Anele Ngcongca: Under my skin, in my heart…

By Mthokozisi Dube

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