Sibusiso Wiseman Zuma resembles that proverbial prophet – highly honoured 14,079 km away from his native Durban in Denmark’s capital Copenhagen.
One would be forgiven for saying the former Bafana Bafana star, scorer of 13 goals in 67 caps for the national team, is more likely to be recognised in the streets of Copenhagen than he is in the sandy beaches of his native eThekwini.
Outside FC Copenhagen’s Telia Parken Stadium, there is an inscribed statue of the iconic footballer. It’s a unique statue, primarily because it captures what few tribute monuments ever try to do – a man in mid-air. It captures, in stone, the exact moment Zuma pivoted, leapt off the turf and connected with the ball perfectly, sending the Copenhagen faithful into a frenzy.
They had waited a whole decade for that very moment. Zuma’s gravity-defying goal had come in the dying minutes of a season defining match, one that would determine whether or not FC København (the club’s Danish name abbreviated as FCK) would lift their first title in 10 years.
The beauty of that goal, distinctly his best out of the 55 he netted in 188 outings for the club, was matched only by its significance. Years after he scored it, the club would make sure that the moment lived forever, carving with stone the likeness of the flying Zulu bloke from Hammarsdale, some 40 km west of Durban’s city centre, who gave them one of their greatest ever club moments.
The boot that splendidly struck that bicycle kick is still proudly displayed at the club’s fan shop.
“Two days earlier, we’re preparing for the Copenhagen derby against our biggest rivals Brøndby IF, playing 11 v 11. I hit the post with a similar bicycle kick, and my teammates went crazy. I told them I was going to score a goal like that one day, but I didn’t know it’d happen two days later,” the man popularly known as ‘Rhee’ tells FARPost.
Nicolai Perdersen, a nurse in Copenhagen, was in the stadium on 10 June 2001 when Zuma scored that superb goal. He remembers the electric atmosphere around the arena when Rhee’s thunderbolt rattled the back of the net.
“I was sitting on the pitch. The entire stadium was driven into a frenzy. Even the Brøndby players went up to him to say it was a nice goal,” says Pedersen, who has the shirt Zuma was wearing that day hanging in his closet at his Alleroed home, north of Copenhagen.
That strike was voted the Danish Superliga’s goal of the decade. In 2013, Copenhagen fans voted it as the greatest moment in the club’s history. Seven years earlier, he had been voted the greatest player to ever represent the Danish giants.
But while they were spellbound by that goal in Copenhagen, Denmark’s most populous city, back in KZN those that grew up with him were not surprised at all. They had seen him do it countless times in the dusty grounds of Hammarsdale.
“It’s a pity each time he scored with a bicycle kick when we were younger, we didn’t have the technology to record and show the videos to the world. It was nothing new to us, he did it all the time when we were young,” says Sizwe Magubane, Zuma’s childhood friend.
Undoubtedly, in Copenhagen, where he was given the iconic number 10 jersey, Rhee is a god amongst men. Throw a stone in the middle of town in Copenhagen and you will hit a fan with a Zuma replica jersey.
And obviously, it was not just what he did on the pitch that won him a special place in the hearts of Copenhagen enthusiasts.
When FARPost speaks to people that faithfully followed his incredible five-year stint with the highest ranked Scandinavian club in the UEFA team rankings list, it becomes apparent why the man is as eminent as he is far from home. It doesn’t matter that the last time he pulled on the FCK white and blue jersey was exactly 15 years ago. In fact, even those that weren’t born then treat him as the cult hero he is to their folks.
Luckily, for the younger generation, they get to relive some of the moments that earned their South African hero a place in the FCK Legends’ Club last year.
“Before every home game, the club plays a video clip of its big moments for about five minutes while fans sing a song. On any given day, they’ll show 3 or 4 of Zuma’s goals,” says South African embassy worker, Kgosi Sekwati.
Perdesen remembers the days the Puma from KZN would not be allowed to rest by fans.
“He understood how important it was for the fan just to get that autograph and a photo and would often say ‘Nic, I’ve got to do this man’,” says Pedersen, who has previously spent Christmas with his celebrated friend in eThekwini.
“Zuma the Puma”, Copenhagen fans christened him.
The former Orlando Pirates forward, who turns 45 on Tuesday (23 June) reveals that when he was not stalking the opposition goal, he preferred to spend time interacting with fans. Sometimes, driving around with Nic, who started off as an admirer before growing to become one of his closest friends, just to go and buy street food. “I’ve always treasured that connection with fans,” says the modest Zuma.
And there’s one incident Perdersen will never forget.
“So, this one time we’re walking in the city centre (in Copenhagen) and someone shouts his name from the second floor of a flat. This guy was in the shower at the time. He asked him to wait so he could just come and take a picture with him. We waited for him while he dried up and dressed up,” Pedersen says.
It came as no surprise, especially ahead of the 2002 FIFA World Cup, when Copenhagen fans were converted to Bafana Bafana followers, often coming to the stadiums clad in the white, green and gold Bafana shirt.
“We regarded him as the second ambassador, not just for South Africans, but also for Africans in Copenhagen,” Sekwati, who hails from the West Rand in Jozi, adds.
He was thrilled by the Zuma documentary flighted in cinemas, celebrating the modest star.
“I don’t know any other player here who had that done for them years after they left a club,” Sekwati says.
Bizarrely, he tells of several moments where Rhee would literally beg a fan not to kneel before him. Would they even listen? All they wanted was to express their adoration for a man who took the Danish Superliga by storm in the early 2000s and found himself ranked 29th in the 2001 FIFA World Player of the Year award.
Zuma’s story, of course, does not begin in Copenhagen where he is praised and worshipped. It does not begin in the Bundesliga either where he moved to Arminia Bielefeld after his successful stay in Denmark. No. Zuma’s dream for the big stage hatched in Hammarsdale, where an athletic Rhee was a jack of all trades and a master of them all.
Athletics, basketball, dancing, you name it, Zuma did it all.
Interestingly, Magubane says Rhee played almost every position including goalkeeping.
“He’s been a goalkeeper before, played in defence, midfield and as a striker. He was better than most of us in all positions, so when we were losing in our R30 or R50 money games and he was playing goalkeeper, we’d move him to play upfront so he can score goals. When we were winning comfortably, we’d have him play goalkeeper so that no one scored,” Magubane explains.
The former Bafana skipper, who also had stints with Mamelodi Sundowns, Vasco Da Gama and SuperSport United, remembers how he came close to guarding the goalposts at Pirates when William Okpara seemed to have picked up an injury.
“Okpara got injured and my teammates knew I was good in goalkeeping because at the start of training sessions I’d often go to the goalposts with gloves on and have someone take shots. So, everyone was looking forward to see me in goals, but Okpara was able to continue with the game,” Zuma says.
It all makes sense for a youngster who could play the beautiful game four times in one day.
“Early in my teens, I’d go for a run early morning every day at 04:30AM. I’d then play football four times in one day, sometimes with the Police team in my area,” Rhee says.
He remembers sitting next to Magubane’s elder brother, Bheki, in class at Wozanazo High School. Magubane, who Rhee reckons was more talented than him and the best passer of the ball he ever played with, went on to shape Zuma’s career, warning him not to fall for the same traps that he had fallen for.
“The guy who inspired me was my best friend Bheki Magubane – he was a far better player than me. Unfortunately, he never got a chance to go far professionally because he broke his leg during a trial. I was able to go as far as I did because of Bheki. He told me to stay away from girls and alcohol,” Zuma says.
Before he got fame at Bucs, Rhee was just another unknown at African Wanderers. He credits the little-known club’s late owner Vusi Mkhize for steering him in the right direction. Mkhize saw him in action once after an invite by members of the community to come and see ‘Hammarsdale’s next best thing’ and he snapped him up immediately.
Likewise, Copenhagen did not have to see him twice before luring him to Telia Parken.
“They were on a pre-season camp in Port Elizabeth and happened to watch a televised game between Pirates and Umtata Bush Bucks. I scored two goals (for Pirates) and that evening I received a phone call that I had to fly to PE the following day to train with FC Copenhagen,” Zuma says.
Before he even touched the ball, they were asking him if he would be on the returning flight with them to the Danish capital. And, as they say, the rest is history. But, like other diski stars in South Africa, Zuma saw young talents, like Magubane, that did not live long enough to realise their potential.
“Sadly, some guys who were better died before they made it. I saw so much talent in my neighbourhood,” he says with sorrow in his voice.
Rhee is one of the few that made it out of the dusty streets of Hammarsdale. He is that rare flower that managed to bloom and reach for the sky. Now he is on a mission to discover and nurture the next Zuma.
“The legacy is to build sports centres around South Africa, starting in KZN. I want to give young black kids the opportunity to be able to go overseas,” Zuma concludes.
But this time, he is searching for a prophet that will equally be honoured at home.
By Mthokozisi Dube