Siyabonga Ligendza: Unwavering in the face of adversity

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Siyabonga Wes-Lee Ligendza undoubtedly has the world at his feet!

At just 18 years and four days, he is deadly in and around the box, pacey, skilful and technically gifted.

The boy also has the necessary physique and that predatory instinct in the box. It’s tonnes of potential, no doubt.

And so, when my colleague Prince Sobayeni indicated that Ligendza is in the country and his family is inviting FARPost for his birthday celebrations I just couldn’t pass up the opportunity.

I was so eager to finally meet this highly rated Cardiff City prodigy I’d been reading about for months.

The Leicester-born star then sends us a location on Friday 4 June. Coincidentally, he shares a birthday with my lovely mother uMaKhumalo. All the more reason for me to go and celebrate with the young man.

We insist on arriving early in the morning in Soshanguve, some 30km outside Pretoria, because we want to be back in Jo’burg in time to watch the final round of DStv Premiership fixtures.

His mom, Evelyn Manotsepa Ligendza, who was kind enough to pay for the youngster’s flight from Wales to Johannesburg so he could honour a national Under 23 call up, is okay with us arriving early morning.

It’s the umpteenth time the youngster is in South Africa, the last being five years ago. Of course, after his birth in Leicester he returned to stay in Pretoria with his grandmother Mashikwane Lena Mosaka, 77, for about six months.

As soon as we arrive, I have so many questions for him and his mother. His aunt Ntebeng Margaret Mondlane, an elder sister to his mom, welcomes us in and it’s a good 10 minutes before Ligendza joins us in the lounge.

For a moment, I thought Aunty Ntebeng was actually his mother until he asked if the queen was back from the shops.

His left foot is in a plaster and he comes in crutches. My mind races back to the day Prince told me the boy had just broken his left leg while training with trialists at Tuks at the recommendation of David Notoane, the national Under 23 coach.

Forget that he is in crutches and won’t get to play a game he so loves for another six or so weeks, he comes beaming with a convivial smile. That welcoming and reassuring grin like a Cheshire cat.

With that British twang, garnished with the utmost humility and respect, he greets us as he leans back carefully not to hurt that foot that often produces wonder strikes in the English Under 18 League.

About 20 minutes later, his mother joins us and the journalist in me has a myriad of questions. Luckily, this courteous and hospitable family have warmed up to us and are comfortable giving an ear to two inquisitive journos.

Why would a boy with an option to play for four national teams, three of them better ranked and organised than South Africa, opt to play for Bafana Bafana one day?

Ligendza was born in Leicester, in the East Midlands, England to a South African mom and German dad, but has lived most of his life in Wales.

How on earth would he opt for Mzansi, after having to pay his own flight ticket to join the Under 23s with the hopes of making the cut for the Olympics’ squad, when Wales and England also have him under the microscope?

In fact, he has previously played for the Wales Under 18 national team. And the fact that one of the biggest clubs in the tiny nation bordered by England to the east, the Irish Sea to the north and west has offered him a two-year extension barely three months after signing his first professional contract says he should be a priceless gem at least in their eyes. Not just for now, but for the long haul!

“I decided to come and play for South Africa because I want to do it for my grandmother,” the well-spoken teenager tells FARPost.

“As I grew up, my grandmother has always been a huge inspiration for me and that’s the only thing I really want to do for her and play for my country one day.”

Undoubtedly, the young man treasures family. Perhaps that is the reason we are introduced to one family member after another in that snug Soshanguve home.

“I love my family, I don’t know what I would have done without them,” he adds. Rightly so, what would he have done without his mother after suffering that excruciating injury that required R100 000 surgery?

Who knows, with the South African Football Association [Safa] and the man who invited him for the Under 23s, Notoane, nowhere to be seen immediately after the injury he could have been taken to Steve Biko Hospital.

We all know what happens in public hospitals. I’m actually reminded of a story I once did during my days as a news reporter [in 2017] at the now defunct The New Age. It was so close to home I’d never forget it.

A friend’s brother was run over by a car on a Saturday around 5pm in the Johannesburg CBD and broke his left foot. You could tell the pain was unbearable and piercing.

My friend was in Durban at the time and asked me to take his brother to hospital. I literally had to ask someone to help me lift him into the car. He couldn’t put his foot down.

I took him to Hillbrow Clinic at 7pm, and after a frustrating two hour wait we were referred to Charlotte Maxeke Hospital.

We arrived at Charlotte Maxeke just before 8pm. I sat with him waiting until 3am the following day. I eventually left to go and rest as I was on duty the following day.

He had not been attended to, no pain killer given. He was only given pain killers at 10am in the morning after a 13-hour horror wait.

Now, that’s public hospitals as we know them. Thank God this young man’s mom was around to take him to one of the best bone specialists in town.

“They put metal to align the bone nicely. I’m told the orthopaedic surgeon who helped Siya has helped a lot of top footballers in South Africa,” Mama Evelyn tells FARPost.

Interestingly, Notoane, who works for Mamelodi Sundowns at Chloorkop, some 80km from Soshanguve, has never seen the youngster since he arrived in the country a month ago.

Nonetheless, the boy remains positive and upbeat about what the future holds as far as football is concerned.

“These things happen in football, I’d really love to see the boy who broke my leg just to let him know it’s okay. I’m told he’s feeling guilty, but I don’t think he did it on purpose,” explains the teenage forward.

The rude awakening in South Africa has done little to dampen his spirit. In fact, he insists he would be proud to don the Bafana jersey one day.

“My grandmother has never watched me play football. She probably thinks I just play on the streets, she doesn’t know I do it professionally.
“My heart would be glad for her to see me in Bafana Bafana colours one day,” he says.

Gogo Mosaka, who lives in Makapanstadsome 30 minutes from Sosha, doesn’t know her grandson is on the cusp of breaking into The Bluebirds first team.

Maybe she’s still stuck up with Siya – the street dancer. But the boy has long evolved into a prolific striker responsible for 51 goals in three seasons at different age groups.

“I can dance, I can move,” says the young striker, who came into the spotlight when he emerged as the top goal scorer in the 2019/20 season at Under 16 level.

This was after netting an impressive 24 goals before being promoted to the Under 18 side and subsequently the Under 23s.

“Siya used to be a street dancer, he loved dancing and was good at it,” his mom confirms as she bursts into laughter.

For a moment, it sounds like a joke, but she is dead serious. Ligendza chips in to explain the dramatic transition from busting a groove on the street to notching goals on the football pitch.

With their move to Swansea, a soccer crazed town, a flirtation with football was just inevitable.

“I enjoyed my dancing but my friends would often invite me for football. So one day I gave in. When I was young, my mom and I were always late for everything, so we turned up at half time and my friends were losing 4-0.

“I got in and scored six goals and we won the game. That’s how Cardiff saw me,” explains the former Wales youth international.

Thereafter, what was meant to be a six-week trial, ended at just 14 days after they were convinced he was a talent for keeps.

He has been at the Skybet Championship club for the past nine years and now looks forward to gaining promotion to the senior team. “I want to be playing for the senior team by the end of this season,” he boldly declares.

With such determination, even that injury, Safa’s shenanigans cannot stop him. The sky won’t even be the limit!

RELATED STORY: Esrom Nyandoro: The charismatic teenage actor turned football star

By Mthokozisi Dube

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