If the testimonies about his prowess in front of goals are anything to go by, then he had every right to pursue the dream. But, as life would have it, things don’t always turn out the way we want them to.
Thoko Madalane, his classmate at Orhovelani High School in Thulamahashe, Bushbuckridge in the late 70s, has quite an interesting mental picture of young Eliot, as they often referred to him.
“It was a boarding school so after lessons around 4pm he would go and change and wear those football shorts made up of lightweight fabric with an elastic waist to go to the ground to play football. I played netball, so I’d see him [passing in front of the netball courts] as he walked to the football grounds.
“Bekuyikudla kwakhe [it was his food]. When we went to the dining hall in the evening, Eliot would still be in those shorts after playing football,” Madalane tells FARPost from her Bushbuckridge base.
The dream was kept alive even after he was done with school, turning out for a local amateur club in Bush – Gere Magigwana FC in the early 80s. He would either slot in right in the heart of midfield or play up top as your traditional number nine.
“The father [to Fortune] was a legend. He was a superstar. I remember him from his days at Gere Magigwana FC. He was a dribbling wizard and a scoring machine,” says Laison Quba Makaringe.
The general feeling during those days was that scouts never really went to rural areas to search for talent.
“During those days, soccer bosses were only looking around Gauteng [for talent], they didn’t come to the rural areas where he often played. Perhaps that is why they never got a chance to see him,” adds Quba.
It all made sense in the late 80s when he joined the great trek to Gauteng. Soweto giants Orlando Pirates, Moroka Swallows and Kaizer Chiefs were already in existence.
Any boy who thought their talent was worth their salt wanted to play for any of the Soweto sides. And so, in search of ‘greener pastures’, he relocated to Tembisa, north of Kempton Park on the East Rand in Gauteng.
He had high hopes the move to Gauteng would set him on course to attain his dream. Luckily, he was no stranger to Tembisa.
“My dad owned a house in Tembisa so I would often visit on school holidays and I’d play football there,” he says.
For a couple of years, he had to settle for Tembisa Bush Bucks and, according to those close to him, his greatest footballing year was 1987. He supposedly rattled the net an incredible 107 times in that particular year, earning himself the nickname ‘Sputla’.
“He was an unbelievable football player. He could dribble a lot and score goals,” says his brother Harold Makaringe.
In fact, during that year, it was normal that he would score four or five goals in one game. “I could run, dribble and shoot very well. I was always practicing,” he tells FARPost.
Having done so well in Tembisa, Makaringe thought he would give his dream a shot, trying his luck at Pirates and later Swallows.
“I tried my luck at Orlando Pirates and then Moroka Swallows but things didn’t work out. I think in some places I was the reason things didn’t work out because if I felt neglected or overlooked I’d just give up and tell myself my opportunity would come,” says the Bucs faithful.
At the age of 30, disaster struck. He was involved in a car accident that effectively ended his dream. “It was painful,” he admits.
Aged 31 in 1993, just a year before the end of apartheid minority rule, his second child was born.
He named the boy Fortune Makaringe.
At that point, his previous attempts to impart his football skills to his older son Brian was seemingly hitting a snag. The boy just wasn’t as passionate. Nonetheless, he was not about to give up.
“I knew I had the talent and I didn’t want to die without imparting it onto my sons. So I thought to myself ‘I’d rather teach them’,” Senior Makaringe says.
The arrival of Fortune on 13 May, 1993 meant another try. So, as early as four, young Fortune started showing passion for the game. Even better, he had a penchant for dad’s favourite team – Pirates. Each time they were playing, he would be rooted right in front of the screen.
But there was a little condition.
Steve Lekoelea, clad in his famous jersey number 10, had to be playing for him to watch. “He would go and sit outside if Steve Lekoelea wasn’t on the field. He’d tell us to call him when ‘Chippa’ is introduced. He loved him so much,” reveals Makaringe Senior.
When asked about his early love for the Buccaneers, Fortune immediately brings up the day he broke their television set after Bucs lost a game.
“I loved Orlando Pirates from a very young age. I remember one day I broke the TV after Pirates had lost,” the Buccaneers midfielder tells FARPost.
His dad also harks back to that day. “We were losing to Sundowns in the Rothmans Cup. He was so angry, he cried, he hit the TV [with his soccer boots’ studs] and broke the screen,” he says.
While it meant buying a new TV set, it was pleasingly apparent that his young boy’s passion was ‘in the right place’.
Their Vosloorus home’s backyard became the training ground. His dribbling wizard dad, who also owned an amateur club Juventus, started teaching him how to weave past opponents in a game situation.
“I had soccer balls at home, so I would teach him how to dribble. I’d also take him to my team’s games with older players on weekends.”
He, however, admits that a part of him never thought he would see his boy don skull and crossbones one day.
At 15, playing in an Easter tournament in the East Rand, Fortune was spotted by Swallows kitman, Bra Junior Molefe. After being recommended to Swallows, the teenager had a stint with the Dube Birds’ development side before being snapped up by Maritzburg United, where he began his professional career.
“When he started at Maritzburg United, I said ‘yes’. I had a feeling he would come back to Johannesburg. So I said to him, ‘you’re not staying too long in Pietermaritzburg’,” says Makaringe Senior. “I knew the team he wanted to play for.”
Between 2015 and 2019, he featured for the People’s Team, fast carving a name for himself in local football circles.
“The team I wanted him to play for finally approached him. I never had second thoughts when I spoke to those guys [Pirates], I didn’t give them a problem.”
Maestro, as Fortune is affectionately known, was unveiled as a Buccaneer in July 2019. It was the zenith of a long awaited dream, not just for him, but for his trainer dad.
Admittedly, each time his son trots onto the turf in Bucs colours, ‘Sputla’ feels as though it were him.
“It feels like it’s me who’s playing for Pirates when I see him in action, I was talented, but I never got a chance to play professionally. I’m very happy for him,” he says.
But he’s not yet done. His younger son, Ian, pictured below, is equally a budding talent. Coincidentally, he plays as an attacking midfielder like his brother.
“The boy is gifted, very few footballers can compete with the small boy. He watches his brother and gets coached at home. People will be surprised the day he makes it professionally,” he says with all confidence.
The 19-year-old, who currently plays in the SAB League for Golden Boys FC, eliminates opponents with such ease, has an eye for goal and tremendous shooting prowess.
But, for now, Senior Makaringe is reveling, living the dream that eluded him through Fortune.
By Mthokozisi Dube