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There were no fireworks, but Jele was dependable

Happy Jele’s long service and commitment to Orlando Pirates is a rarity in this era. Sure, he did not have an explosive career, but he outlasted many other Buccaneers
Thu, Jul 21, 2022

PHOTOS: Orlando Pirates Facebook

He may have not been as suave as Mbulelo ‘OJ’ Mabizela or in the class of Nick ‘Bazooka’ Seshweni, but Happy Jele really made up for what he lacked by being at Orlando Pirates for 16 years. Jele, 35, with his trademark long legs, was a dedicated Pirate in the Sea Robbers’ ship. He easily outlasted more talented players than him because of his commitment to his work and craft. He grabbed the opportunity when it was presented to him, and he gave it his all.

‘MaGents’ as Jele was affectionately known, this week bid farewell to Pirates supporters after spending an incredible 16 years at the club. He arrived at the club as an acne-prone 19-year-old from sleepy Middelburg in Mpumalanga, and such longevity is an achievement on its own – in an era where loyalty means absolutely nothing. Footballers are often accused of changing clubs as if they were socks and for crossing the floor for quick bucks. Not Jele!

He never made headlines for the wrong reasons. He was a trusted aide of the club and various coaches he played under. Unlike many of his colleagues and peers, he was never caught on the wrong side of the law. He surely deserves a testimonial match for the service he has given the Buccaneers. For that, he is on the same landscape with legends such as Lucky Lekgwathi, Thabo Mooki, Michael Manzini and Doctor Khumalo who dedicated their careers to their clubs.

In one match, he even took the goalkeepers’ gloves and stood between the poles when Jackson Mabokgwane was red carded and the Buccaneers had exhausted their substitution quotas – he was that kind of a player.

But the late legendary sportswriter Louis ‘Figo’ Mazibuko, may his soul rest in peace, always referred to such characters as suffering from what he termed “presenteeism”. According to him, these are the kind of people who are first to arrive at work and the last to knock off and there isn’t much the company can do about them – the type of individuals who are always present, never rock the boat and never create any fireworks.

With Jele, the club needed to downsize and they offered him a role within the non-playing staff, which automatically meant a massive salary cut from the mountain of earnings that he has accumulated since he joined the club in 2006.

Jele has not slowed down or showed any signs of ripening and he politely but flatly refused the Iron Duke’s offer because he will soon get a club and continue pocketing the big bucks that the players earn. He is not ready for the school-teacher salary that comes with administrative work. He can still push for about two to three seasons.

Former Sowetan editor Fikile-Ntsikelelo Moya is a die-hard Buccaneer and he agrees: “Happy Jele has one year experience he has repeated for 14 years. This guy has not improved for all the 14 years he’s been a pro. I doubt if any Pirates player has given away more penalties than this fellow. Not even objectively lousy defenders like Scottie Simpson, Pedro Sculli or even Linkford Setlalekgosi in the late ‘70s and ‘80s compare,” Moya recently wrote on his social media page.

“I’m not saying he was rubbish. He had potential. But potential is a transition stage. You can’t stay that forever. He was also a nice guy and a disciplined professional. He should have opted for an administrative role,” Moya explained further.

Besides him not providing fireworks in all these years, which resulted in a handful of Bafana Bafana appearances, Jele is still worthy of a raucous send-off which is fit for someone who arrived at Pirates as a boy and left as a mature man.

After more than 400 matches, 18 goals, eight trophies, four Bafana Bafana caps and a couple of own goals, Jele still deserves a testimonial match so that he and the fans can bid each other a proper farewell.