Siyanda Nyanga: The boxer’s son carving a niche in football

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Sometimes the apple doesn’t necessarily fall next to the tree!

Siyanda Nyanga, recently crowned DStv Diski Challenge Rewired Player of the Tournament, is that ‘stubborn as a mule’ apple that chose to roll far away from the tree.

His dad, Siyabonga ‘Kid Chocolate’ Nyanga, was a national boxer between 1999 and 2008, battling it out for the national title thrice.

For the longest time, he was a sparring partner to departed four-time world flyweight champion, Jacob ‘Baby Jake’ Matlala.

Even the great boxing icon Muhammad Ali likened him to Joe Frazier – the first boxer to beat him – during his visit to Johannesburg in 1993. ‘Kid Chocolate’ was a 14-year-old amateur boxer at the time of that unforgettable visit.

“I was privileged to meet the great Muhammad Ali in the early 90s while I was still an amateur boxer. He had come to South Africa and visited Dube Boxing Club and while he was there they gave us an exhibition bout. I was touch sparring with a guy called Mohamed Hassan.

“Muhammad Ali walked into the ring and told me I was fighting like Joe Fraizer. I was quite young and so people screamed because they were so happy for me,” the retired boxer tells FARPost during a two-hour interview at his Protea Glen, Soweto home.

So, it made all sense when his partner of 21 years – Fatima Nyanga – bought their eldest son some small boxing gloves and a punching bag. She was almost sure they were raising the next big thing in boxing. But the universe, as it often does, had other ideas!

“I once bought him gloves and a punching bag when he was about four because his father was a boxer and I thought he would take after him,” Mrs Nyanga opens up to FARPost.

The youngster, who turns 19 early next month, remembers how that beautiful gift ended up in the dustbin as good as unused. Of course, his eager young self tried playing around with the gloves and punching bag, but it just didn’t have enough thrill as the soccer ball had.

“I remember the gloves and punching bag, but ibingekho egazini [I didn’t feel it],” the teenage prodigy tells FARPost.

If ever she thought there was hope the boy would end up retracing his steps to follow dad, ex-Kaizer Chiefs and Ria Stars forward Thembinkosi Biyela put an end to those hopes. With a ‘sledge hammer’ even. Nonetheless, to the boy’s benefit.

Interestingly, Mrs Nyanga didn’t even know who Biyela was when he made that prophecy that shattered her pugilism hopes.

“He was doing Grade R at Nkulisweni Primary School when Thembinkosi Biyela looked for me after watching him play.

“When I was introduced to him, he told me that the boy had so much talent and could go very far in football.

“I didn’t know who he was at the time. It didn’t even make sense at that point because he was so young.

“So, I just described him to Siyanda’s dad who identified him as a former professional footballer,” she says, adding that she played football with boys at George Khoza High as a teenager.

At least that prophetic utterance by a man who retired two years before her son’s birth [7 August 2002], gave her an inkling of the magnitude of talent their first-born possessed. After all, she just wanted the best for her son.

“The fact that a man who played football at the highest level saw something in this boy when he was so young showed us there was potential,” Senior Nyanga, who hung his gloves on 5 September 2008, adds.

Another gift package would follow for the little man. This time, it was his preferred soccer ball and a portable backyard goal post and net. Now, that was the gift that the boy nicknamed ‘Mthuthu’ delightedly received.

While the gloves and punching bag ended in the garbage can fairly fresh, the ball and goal posts were used, or better still, abused to the last thread.

“When we threw the soccer ball and goal post net away, they were totally finished, he had really made use of them,” she adds.

At that point, young Nyanga had landed in the hands of Zondi United, an amateur club in Dobsonville, a township in greater Soweto, Johannesburg.

Two years later, Tshepo Nzama, affectionately known as Coach Pando, took him under his wing at Shining Stars.

“I saw a wonder, I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. The boy was extremely intelligent, I told his parents that their kid was very talented and was going far,” he tells FARPost.

His 42-year-old dad recalls how Nzama’s commendations came as a cue of Biyela’s words. The bible scripture that says ‘by the mouth of two or three witnesses every word shall be established’ rang true at that moment.

His mother started to believe the boy was onto something great. Indeed, he was and still is!

Unsurprisingly, when FARPost contacts Biyela – a man who was feared by defenders for his prowess in front of goal he remembers that day vividly as though it were yesterday. And, it is not shocking to him how much ground the boy has covered!

“I’m so glad it’s coming together, the boy was so impressive as a youngster. Trust me, young as he was, I thought he had everything it takes to become a good footballer.

“I told his mom that all he needed was the guidance of his parents,” Biyela, who had his best stints with Ria Stars and Moroka Swallows, tells FARPost.

His parents have graciously chaperoned him in his journey despite his snub of the sport that brought fame to his spry dad.

While turning out for Shining Stars, his parents moved from Dobsonville to their new home in Protea Glen in 2008.

“He refused to move with us because he wanted to continue playing under Coach Pando,” his dad explains. It meant residing with his maternal grandmother, Nontuthuzelo Jamela, who unexpectedly walked in during the interview on Sunday morning.

Seeing the arrangement was unsustainable, he had to move to a club closer to home – Glenridge United – where he spent a year.

“He would be at training whether it was raining or sunny, the boy loved football,” Andile ‘Lefty’ Khumalo, pictured below, tells FARPost.

Just like any other footballer, he faced his biggest heartbreak in 2016 when he tried his luck at Highlands Park.

“I was going to trials for a week but I was rejected at the end of it all,” he says before his dad chips in indignantly.

“They rejected him because of his height at Highlands Park and the fact that he would get to training late since he was coming from school.

“But I always told him that if there’s something in you, someone will see you,” Senior Nyanga quips.

Rightly so, University of Johannesburg coach Kgabo Ditsebe, pictured above, quickly spotted his talent during a trial.

“We hosted trials and he came with his peers from his club. He was 15 and what impressed us was his ability to run at defenders and play in between the lines,” Ditsebe tells FARPost.

In no time, Molefi Ntseki, who was at the helm of the national Under 17 team, picked the pint-sized attacking midfielder for the 2018 Cosafa Under 17 Championship, which took place in Mauritius.

“The national Under 17 coaches saw me in a friendly match they played against UJ. I didn’t immediately train, I actually feigned an injury because I feared I was unfit. But I eventually made the final squad and had a great experience in Mauritius,” the youngster recalls.

That successful Amajimbos stint then caught the eye of his dad’s favourite club, Orlando Pirates, and Mamelodi Sundowns.

“Pirates wanted me and I trained with them for one day. They asked for my clearance, but the coach [Ditsebe] told me the clearance was already with Sundowns,” the youth international says.

Dad’s Buccaneers approached the boy directly while the Brazilians courteously went via his club and subsequently his parents.

“Sundowns’ proposal made more sense to us because they were willing to wait for him to complete the school year before joining them. They also offered to take care of his tuition fees.

“We felt the arrangement would not disturb his studies since he would move and stay closer to school and their training base at the start of 2019. So, we opted for Sundowns,” his dad explains.

In 2019, he joined the Brazilians’ youth team. “I get goose bumps each time I watch him although his mother is the one who often goes to games,” Senior Nyanga says, jokingly adding that his son couldn’t stand watching his boxing matches.

His much-publicised goal against Cape Town City in a DStv Diski Challenge tie – a pile driver of note from just outside the box this season reminded Khumalo of a similar goal he scored in the amateur ranks.

“We were playing Real Hearts and the match had just started when he scored the goal. I remember him running towards me after scoring. I was wearing a white shirt and he jumped on me. I fell to the ground and the shirt was so dirty,” ‘Lefty’ says with pride.

The boy’s ingenuity has not gone unnoticed. His bedroom is full of medals and trophies that include Player of the season in 2018 while at UJ and Top goal scorer at Siphiwe Tshabalala’s annual Shabba tournament in 2017.

The energetic and exciting jersey number eight was key in the road to the Diski Challenge Rewired final against AmaZulu with an assist for the last-minute winner against Orlando Pirates and that astonishing strike against Cape Town City in the semi-finals.

The skilful youngster, who is never shy to take on defenders and spray passes like confetti at a wedding, also picked up back-to-back man-of-the-match awards in those games.

He looks to build on the past season by progressing to senior team football. From his dad’s boxing career, Nyanga, who is under revered agent Jazzman Mahlakgane’s stable, wants to borrow the discipline element.

He is aware that discipline is the refining fire by which talent becomes ability!

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By Mthokozisi Dube