Four matches, four wins, three goals, and over five assists – that is the story of Banyana Banyana defender Bambanani Mbane, who is currently in Belarus on the books of FC Dinamo Minsk in the Belarus Premier Women’s League.
The Sterkspruit, Eastern Cape-born defender is enjoying life and her football in the cold Eastern Europe.
“Actually, it is much better now. When I arrived in February it was a culture shock – I could not believe that people played football under such conditions, it was freezing,” said Mbane from her apartment in Belarus.
“I come from the Eastern Cape where it is cold, and moved to the colder Free State to play for Bloemfontein Celtic Ladies – but it is nothing compared to what I experienced here. However, I am getting used to it now and we are moving to summer so it is okay now.”
“When they say never give us, you have to believe. I never thought it would happen that I would find myself in this part of the world. And when the opportunity came, I grabbed it with both arms,” added Mbane, affectionately known as ‘Juice’ to her compatriots and legion of fans in South Africa.
“In fact all my new teammates call me ‘Juice’ because I introduced myself like that – the coach, fans, the chairman, everyone.”
She takes up the story as to how she got to Belarus. “To be honest, I didn’t know about Belarus before, except that we had two Banyana Banyana players here – Letago Madiba and Rachel Sebati.
“I was approached by Tumisho from the [Bloemfontein] Celtic first team, asking why I am still playing in South Africa – and he gave me his agent’s contact details. The agent called in November to say they have found a team for me in Belarus, but they were working on some details.
“And the following month they furnish me with flight details, and I needed to go get my visa, then I think to myself – ‘this is really happening my prayers have been answered.”
But then tragedy struck, her brother passed away during that time. She continues: “I am in a race against time to get my things on track and also have to take care of my family that was going through a difficult time.
“So I rush to Johannesburg to start my visa application – the challenge is I have to wait for three days to get it, so no training and one of the conditions of signing was I had to pass a medical and a fitness test. Now that gets me worried.
“I returned to Bloemfontein and I trained twice a day to get back to fitness and then had to rush to the Eastern Cape to bury my brother and then fly out to Belarus. One thing I told myself is that I was not going to fail, I swore that I was not coming back to South Africa – I had to sign that contract.
“The training was tough but I made it. There were five of us (African players) on trial – two didn’t make it. I had gone there as a centre-back, and the coach said while I was an intelligent player my height will make it difficult for me to play in that position. So he moved me to right back where I excelled, and now he is singing my praises, saying don’t judge a book by its cover.”
The matter has made her excited, but sad at the same time.
“I am glad I got a chance to bury him and then leave for Belarus. I was heavily stressed for her because she was shattered. The two of us are getting better and we have to accept he is gone,” said Mbane with a lump on her throat.
“What also helps is that I speak to her on a daily basis, there’s not a day that goes by without hearing her voice, so it is a lovely healing process for us. Knowing in the morning and at night that she is fine makes me focus on the job here and not having to worry too much about her.”
But Mbane starts smiling again that when she talks about her move. “I am not representing myself only here, there are many girls back home who want to be in this position, and my being here must open the doors for them,” she said.
“The coach said something profound, that if Bambanani is such a good player maybe the club should look to South Africa for more players, and that already is a plus for women’s football. All I want to see is our football going forward, I have not given up on winning the Women’s AFCON,” added ‘Juice’.
“God places us where our services are needed, which means I have a purpose to be here and I cannot afford to mess the opportunity. I am playing at a high level this side and this can only help the national team when I return home. I have to thank many coaches that helped me on my way to where I am, they all played a crucial role in my development.”
Mbane has already featured in the four matches since the start of the league, and she has found the net three times from her newly acquired right back position. They have won all four matches: 7-0; 7-0; 10-0 and 2-1. The last victory was in a derby against rivals FC Minsk this past weekend.
“Off the field the only struggle I have is with the language but we have a translator and that helps a lot. I spend most of my time in my apartment and do some cooking. I also visit the city centre where you find there are not many black people, but I am having a good time here.”
What makes things even easier for Mbane is that her side is top of the league table, and she gets to wear her favourite number 13 jersey, which she used to don for Celtic and Banyana Banyana.
RELATED STORY: Banyana star Mbane off to an impressive start in Belarus
Edited by Tokelo Martin Mokhesi