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South African female football heroes continuously raise the country’s flag high through their on-the-pitch performances. Their track record speaks for itself. Although various sporting bodies and stakeholders are exploring ways to ensure that women’s football in this country gets recognition and adequate financial backing, that road is still met with bumps and hurdles.

Banyana Banyana won the COSAFA Women’s Cup seven times, including last year against Botswana, led by captain Andile Dlamini, 29. She is currently the goalkeeper for Mamelodi Sundowns and is one of the most capped national players with just under 100 appearances in the green and gold.

A lot of women in the football industry, including the players, have been vocal about inequalities and pay gaps compared to their male counterparts. Despite their passion and outperforming Bafana Bafana, most women, unlike men, still cannot financially sustain their livelihoods from their football earnings and still find themselves having to juggle a full-time job in addition to being a full-time professional footballer.

As we continue with our ‘A Woman Belongs’ theme, we get to know Andile Dlamini – the woman who made it against all the odds. She has perfected her craft and did not let the stumbling blocks hold her back.

She shares how her journey in football has been and what her future looks like.  

Q. You have been playing for more than 10 years, why did you decide to play football and how was that decision received by those close to you? 

Playing football has always been my passion, ever since I was a little child. My uncles introduced me to football from a very young age, when they used to play a game called “Tin Tin” I used to watch them play, and I fell in love with everything that was going on, the dribbling, passing, and tackling. Then I was eventually given a chance to play, you could say my love for football started then.

I took that love of football from Tembisa, where I’ve played with the likes of Lefa Hlongwane who now plays for Maritzburg United FC. It was exciting times for me, just to see how boys played or treated a girl who was playing football with them, and after some time Lefa took me to a girl’s club where I felt comfortable and fell in love with the sport.

I was shy at first because I was transitioning from playing with boys to now playing with girls, but my passion and love for the sport grew, and that’s how my journey began.

Q. You have received awards for your hard work and sweat on the pitch, including the 2019 COSAFA Goalkeeper of the Tournament award. Do you view such accolades as important for players?

Receiving that award was unbelievable for me because I wasn’t the only goalkeeper there, and honestly speaking when I received that award I thanked God because I knew he saw the effort I had put in and saw how well I worked with my teammates.

Individual awards are important because they show your progress. As individuals, we all have goals, and if your goal is to win the tournament, win specific awards, and tick all the boxes, that’s incredible, it also boosts your confidence which helps you grow as an individual. It shows that others believe and see the capabilities and talent you have, so yes for me, it is important.

The likes of Cristiano Ronaldo, Messi and Portia Modise, have won a lot of awards and it is all due to their hard work. Thembi Kgatlana just won “African Best Player of The Year,” and I felt extremely motivated by that, as I’m sure many others were.

We honestly need such awards, not only to be seen and boost your confidence but to also inspire and motivate others. My mission is not to be seen out there, but to motivate others because I know through my talent, I can motivate someone who needs it and could be looking up to me.

Q. It took several years for you to get the recognition you deserve, briefly walk us through how your journey in football started to get to where you are right now.

It started with an opportunity to play for Mamelodi Sundowns. They allowed me to be seen on a national level. I was then selected for the u20’s, where I had the opportunity to play with Kaylin Swart.

Then about six months later, I was called up to the national team by coach Joseph Mkhonza. I enjoyed my time with him and all the other assistant coaches. I can say each coach had a role to play in helping me grow.

When I got the opportunity to play at the World Cup, I was extremely excited. How this had come about, was them seeing my training and improvement in every aspect of my game.

During the December holidays, while most people went home to their families and loved ones before the World Cup, I went to Bloemfontein and trained with coach Sean Louw and he assisted me where I needed help. We looked at my training videos to spot where I could improve.

By the time we got to camp I had improved, to the point where I was given the chance to play. This is kind of a big deal because as a goalkeeper, only one is selected to play and usually for the entire match. Even if not selected, it’s important to show your support to who has, because they need it in those moments.

I’m just so appreciative of the opportunities and getting to travel and see other countries and playing against players I’ve only ever seen on the TV screen.

Q. What challenges do women face in Football?

The challenges we face as women in football are tackling our jobs while still playing the game. Some clubs, like the one I’m fortunate enough to play for, do pay us monthly.

However, I have spoken to other women though who don’t get paid, and that becomes an additional challenge. Some women must come from their full-time or part-time jobs and still give maximum effort at practice because you run the risk of getting benched if you don’t perform to the best of your abilities.

I do believe that the national team, club teams, and the national league are portraying and making sure that women’s football gets the respect and love it deserves.

We are also thankful to you and different media houses, who bring attention and positively portray women’s football. We need that, and for people to want to, and get to, know us on a personal level. 

All this puts a spotlight on the industry and will hopefully bring sponsors and better change to our lives.

Q.? Talk us through the transition of playing different positions and why you gravitate more towards the goalkeeping position.

For the ladies team I played as a defender, but for the boys’ team, I was a striker who used to bang in the goals.

When I got to Mamelodi Sundowns, coach Anna Monate converted me into a striker. Then my late coach Brian Dube transitioned me into the goalkeeper role. Which frustrated me at the time, because when you’re a football player who loves to score goals and celebrate, I didn’t think goalkeeping had those moments.

My coach then advised me to find a male and female goalkeeper who inspires me, and at a young age I found Thokozile Mndaweni, and I ended up loving her and everything she did on the pitch. Itumeleng Khune was my other goalkeeping role model, and I’ve always thought to myself that I need to meet both of them at some point, (which I eventually did).

I’ve always wanted to play with, and learn from Thokozile because I started getting comfortable and began to like my role change.

At first, I remember not wanting to be a goalkeeper, but I can confidently tell you I’m glad I didn’t give up and so fortunate and appreciative of my late coach Brian Dube for changing my position because it has opened so many doors and opportunities for me.

As a child, you might not know what your coach sees, but if they see that potential in you, give it a try because they could know better.

Q. You have spoken about how your mom has always been your biggest supporter and how she played a pivotal role in your career. Do you have people within the football fraternity who moulded you into the football player you are today?

My mom is the greatest of them all. She moulded me into the strong woman that I am today. She made sure that I had my first pair of football boots, the Nike “Tiempo” which were amazing and expensive. I’ll never forget that moment because, at some point, she didn’t want me to play football, so it was a good shock. I enjoyed wearing those boots. I used to call them my “lucky boots.”

There are quite a few people who have played an important role in my journey, Amanda Dlamini, Simphiwe Dludlu, Portia Modise, Muneera, and then were my coaches on the national team, Tina Sonke, Daz, Seline, Vera – (who made sure I got my kicking power & distance down) a whole lot of women who motivated and helped me along my journey, who I’m grateful for.

They’ve helped me recognize and create my brand as a player, that can hopefully be respected and motivate other children to build their brands moving forward. I Believe they’ve instilled that in me because I still have those conversations with Amanda Dlamini & Simphiwe Dludlu, which I appreciate them for.

Q. During your spare time, you used to coach a division for the JVW team in Randburg, Why was this important for you?

It was important for me as a player to coach the young girls as I never got the opportunity that JVW development is giving them, to be coached by “Banyana Banyana” players or a player that I looked up to.

It is important to develop female football players from a young age and give them the information that we’ve gathered throughout the years and different levels of the sport, from club to national level. This is vital. After all, we need growth and a lot of youngsters getting involved because we are also getting old.

So, it is up to us to give up and coming youngsters opportunities we never had, instil work ethic and positivity while they are young. JVW gave that opportunity because everything they did was well planned, set up, and professional.

It was great training for me as a coach, as we had to make sure everything was sorted. From the equipment to the practices, to taking the register, and practicing professionalism across the board.

I’m currently coaching goalkeeping in Soweto, for both boys and girls. I’m trying to encourage and show them that it is possible to get to where you want to go despite your upbringing, if you work and train hard enough you can make it wherever you want to go.

Q. You have embraced your talent of singing, will you be releasing a single soon?

I can’t say much for now, but there’s a song that ‘Big Dreamz’ has released featuring Nqobani and myself. I’m still working on that project for now, and I know greater things are still to come.

That side of my career also matters, I’m just giving it time. I know that when the time is right, I will release the material.

Q. You are currently one of the most capped national players, what is the strategy that leads to that?

I think it’s discipline, consistency, hard work, and gelling well with your teammates. I always tell people that if you’re consistent, nothing should stop you. I looked up to Janine and Portia and others who have more caps, and I’m encouraged by them because it’s consistency that got them there.

Q. Covid 19 has affected us all. How has it specifically changed the game in football?

It has delayed women’s football because there was a time where football was stopped. It has delayed me personally because I’m still recovering from COVID. I was isolated at home and recovering from the side effects.

It’s also affected our lives because we’ve lost a lot of people that we loved and looked up to.

It’s something I hope the country takes seriously and recognizes that it does exist because I think some people still doubt it, but I am speaking from experience.

It can also be a distraction because I’m someone who loves to train, I am now not able to. I had to stay home and not train, it has delayed women’s football because even as we speak, we should have been weeks into the league. 

Q. What are your career aspirations in football? Do you have any plans of playing for international teams?  

I’d like to reach 100 caps for the national team, always push and strive to be the best in the world, and make a difference in women’s football.

I would also like to see the different leagues get development sponsors so that we can keep the momentum going.

Going overseas? I feel I’m currently playing for the best team in the world and my contract says so, if something happens, it happens. For now, I’m just focusing on Mamelodi Sundowns, and I believe everything will happen in due time.

One thing this pandemic has taught me is, you might plan for your future, and something disrupts that plan. So, whatever tomorrow brings, I might have a different mentality, and it’s okay to change my mind. In life, I take things the way they come. The most important thing you could do is prepare because when the opportunity meets you, it becomes a success.

…And yet another inspiring story of a black woman who is making the best out of her life even though life keeps throwing lemons at her. Hopefully, in the future, we won’t be narrating black women’s stories with the inclusion of the struggles that are man-made, such as patriarchy. But we will be telling stories of women who succeeded without having patriarchal stumbling blocks along the way.