JOHANNESBURG – I am terrible with goodbyes. I prefer to make a silent exit without the fanfare because I get all emotional and soppy, which isn’t good for my street cred.
So to protect my street cred and tissues, this isn’t a goodbye. It’s rather a note until we meet again. This is my last column here because today I start a new chapter elsewhere. This is no April Fool’s joke.
The time I have spent at Independent Media, just over a year now, felt longer than that because of the many firsts I had experienced here and just how much I grew in a short space of time.
It’s here that I went on my first trip beyond the borders of South Africa, to cover Mamelodi Sundowns’ CAF Confederation Cup playoff with Ghana’s Medeama in May last year.
Like the rookie that I was, I left without the right adaptor to connect to the socket they use on that side. The friendly hotel staff bailed me out, though. But the adaptor they borrowed me didn’t work on match-day because there was no electricity at Sekondi-Takoradi Stadium.
If I’d known that earlier, I would have used my laptop sparingly to prolong its battery life. I wasn’t that smart then, and I suffered the misfortune of having it die before I could send the match report.
Thankfully, I had most of it saved on my e-mails draft, so I just continued from there and sent the report.
It was a frantic finish to what was an emotional day, nervous on my first international assignment, driven by the desire not to screw it up.
Sundowns players had a similar attitude, not wanting to screw it up after winning the first leg 3-1. Somehow they did, losing 2-0 to be eliminated from the Confederation Cup after AS Vita knocked them out of the CAF Champions League.
The Brazilians’ disappointment was short-lived after CAF announced that Vita were kicked out of the tournament for using a suspended player, and that Sundowns would take their place in the group stage.
That trip to Ghana ended up meaningless in the greater scheme of things. But it played a big role in toughening up Sundowns before they went on to become African champions.
The club endured a lot of dirty tricks before and during the match. They had to force their way on to the stadium to train on the eve of the game after having been denied entry.
After finding their way inside, Sundowns had their training session watched by Medeama players and officials. That was before they wanted to kick Sundowns out, saying that their time was up when, in fact, it wasn’t.
Pitso Mosimane stood his ground, saying his team would train. While he was arguing with the Medeama officials, Manqoba Mngqithi and Rhulani Mokwena were putting the team through their paces.
If it wasn’t for the Ghana experience, they wouldn’t have been able to go to Setif – take the game to them in their own backyard and be unfazed as fans threw missiles.
That trip was also an eye-opener for me. I invested in the right international adaptors. That’s why it was a breeze when I was in Zambia for the Brazilians’ clash with Zesco United in the semi-final of the Champions League.
But even that trip wasn’t without its challenges. The sim card I had loaded data on didn’t have a signal at the stadium. The positive was that the auditorium had wi-fi. But you couldn’t see the match in the auditorium.
So I wrote my match report and after the referee blew the final whistle, I rushed to the auditorium to send it before going to the post-match press conferences.
These two trips prepared me for how not to panic under pressure in a foreign environment. That, along with advice from Bra Jakes (Matshelane Mamabolo).
I realised that playing and covering football on the continent isn’t for sissies. You need to be calmer than Buddha or you will lose your mind.
That calmness was needed in the Cairo traffic that saw me travel more than five hours on a route that should take just over two hours. I wasn’t complaining. I had, after all, seen Sundowns make history by winning the Champions League.
By the time I covered the men’s and women’s Africa Cup of Nations in Gabon and Cameroon, the first time I did that outside our shores, I was an experienced traveller on the continent.
That’s why I am grateful for the opportunities this paper (The Star) gave me, helping me grow as a journalist and a person.
* Sports Editor’s Note: All the very best, Njabulo, nice working with you.