Jabu Mahlangu (then Jabu Pule) in action for Kaizer Chiefs in 2002. PHOTO: Gallo Images
Naturally gifted players like Jabu 'Shuffle' Mahlangu and Thabiso 'Skapie' Malatsi are the reason why people fall in love with the beautiful game.
Whenever Mahlangu caressed the ball with his tiny size seven soccer boot, one overzealous commentator would scream: "I told you that this Daveyton boy knows how to make love to a soccer ball. The ball is glued onto his feet and it's following him everywhere like a lovelorn girl." A bit of a hyperbole, yeah, but such was Mahlangu's artistry that it drew such hilarious exaggerations – everyone was in awe.
Not only were his skills a marvel to watch, but his life story was what dreams were made of. When the acne-ravaged teenager entered the field to make his debut for Kaizer Chiefs in 1999, he gave hope to the young and hungry boys in the townships that if you pursued your dreams, the sky was the limit.
He had a bit of a boyish mischievous look and was unkempt – a common sight in ekasi. But when the ball rolled onto his path in the second half, he was not daunted by the capacity crowd. He calmly swept the ball into the net – the entire stadium was electrocuted and went into a frenzy. 'Shuffle' had announced his arrival.
Sadly, he was not ready for the big money, fame and glitz and glamour that came with being a pin-up boy. From being the guy who was not sure where his next meal would come from, all of a sudden his net salary was R25,000, excluding bonuses and sugar-coated tips for the Man of the Match gongs – all for a 19-year-old.
Two years down the line, the veneer began to crack. Life without parenting and guidance, and newfound hangers-on got the best of him. Now sucked into a life of fast cars, booze, girls, wayward friends and drugs, it looked like he was working very hard to go back to poverty. Chiefs could no longer protect him or cover his tracks from the prying tabloids.
He was later nicknamed 'Ngwana wa Tshwenya', aptly so for his misdemeanours. Then he was joined at Chiefs by his Daveyton homeboys and it all went pear-shaped.
Chiefs supporters have still not forgiven Mahlangu for going AWOL in 2001, resulting in the club losing the league title. Instead of pitching up for the penultimate match, he absconded with teammate Patrick Mbuthu and were alleged to be having a lekker time, sipping copious amounts of expensive booze with the beautiful young women of Azania who were hanging around the young soccer stars like ornaments.
History...Bad"Naughty" Boys of RSA Soccer— IbholalaseMzansi (@Cafulele1) January 6, 2021
Did I miss anyone?🤔 pic.twitter.com/16NyMTydPs
At that time, Mahlangu was spending more time in Jozi night spots than at training. But funnily enough, he was the man for big occasions. And whenever he was thrown onto the pitch, he turned it on like a rock star. At one point, then-Chiefs coach Muhsin Ertuğral berated his sober players for not performing like Mahlangu. "I don't know what to say, but this guy performs better than the guys who don't drink. So why don't you all drink?", he was once quoted as saying.
When Pule's homeboy and childhood friend Malatsi was promoted to the first team around 2002, it was a rigmarole. On the field, their combination did not quite gel, but when it came to booze and flings, they went well together like gin and juice, literally and figuratively.
As if that was not enough, another boy from Vutta, as Daveyton is affectionately known, Junior 'Aghahowa' Khanye also made his way to the senior team, upgrading Chiefs manager Bobby Motaung's headaches to migraines.
Ironically, Khanye made his debut for Chiefs when his mate and icon 'Ngwana wa Tshwenya' went on another one of his escapades. Khanye won the hearts of the Amakhosi die-hard supporters when he scored with a sweet, long range bazooka against Mamelodi Sundowns at Odi Stadium. And just like his two homeboys, fame got into his head and his career went down the drain – taking his front teeth with and leaving him with the trademark grin he sports these days.
In their prime, the three players would smuggle booze into the team hotel or even bribe hotel bar staff. "We paid them R200 to smuggle beer to our rooms on the nights before matches. I'd say, mamela [listen], I just want 12 Heinekens. Tomorrow we're playing, but forget about it," Mahlangu later told Sunday Times.
Michael Nkambule was earmarked as the man to redeem the image of the cursed township. He showed promise and discipline and even went abroad to play in the French Ligue 1. He returned to Amakhosi and he lost his spark. He became a journeyman and hopped from club to club before he disappeared into oblivion.
Besides the drinking, partying and almost getting killed for having an affair with another man's wife, Khanye got himself into one major problem: he bought his driver's licence and as a result, caused a lot of accidents on the roads. 15, to be exact, as he recently told Marawa YouTube TV.
In an interview with Kick Off, Khanye said of Nkambule: "[He] did not smoke or drink but unfortunately because he comes from Daveyton our past was attached to him. He was branded troublesome just because of that."
Mahlangu would commit one of the biggest drinking booboos when he went to Austria to play for Mattersburg FC. He got so sloshed that he passed out and fell asleep on the autobahn (highway) – such a mishap and danger is almost unheard of in the Schengen countries where there is no speed limit. Trucks and other automobiles drive at maximum speed on the autobahns, and that left the club chairman so terrified and disturbed that he sent Mahlangu back home.
Motaung was also gatvol. And the joke doing the rounds was that he and Amakhosi would no longer sign players from Daveyton. The fans too had had enough and threatened to sjambok the troublesome rascals whenever they went AWOL.
But spare a thought for the players. Daveyton is a tiny and underdeveloped township in Ekurhuleni. It borders Gauteng and Mpumalanga in the east. There aren't a lot of positive social activities and extra-mural programmes that keep the youth off the streets. The place is well known for its bouncy and booming nightlife.
So, players have to find their way to professional leagues on their own and by the time they hit the big time, their livers have taken quite a beating from the waters of mortality. Even yours truly was a victim of the unfortunate circumstances.
Currently, Mahlangu is the most stable of the lot. He has established himself as a respected soccer analyst on SuperSport. He is still mentioned as one of Chiefs' best players of all time, even though he never fulfilled his potential. Khanye is following in Mahlangu's footsteps and making inroads as a TV pundit with his cutting-edge analysis (he also does acting). Malatsi recently released a kwaito album with a budding producer. As for Nkambule, he is chilling at home and would often be seen passing time at the local grounds watching diski.