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Doctor Khumalo cannot believe time has gone by so fast.
“Has it really been 20 years?” he laughs. “It feels as though it was just yesterday. I still remember that night very clearly.”
But how could he forget it? After all, that was the night that catapulted him into international stardom; that was the night when he helped set in motion SA’s ascendancy up to the top echelons of continental football.
Back in 1992 (July 7, to be precise), at Durban’s Kings Park Stadium, Khumalo scored a penalty that saw us mark our return to international football after many years of isolation with a victory.
Bafana Bafana beat mighty Cameroon 1-0 at the beginning of a three-match series that ended in a tie.
“You know, I only got to realise just how big that penalty goal was way after the match,” Khumalo said on Thursday, ahead of Saturday’s 20th anniversary of SA’s maiden match as a member of Fifa.
“I think it was about two hours after the match; I was in my room and I received calls from CNN and the BBC. They asked me ‘Mr Khumalo how does it feel to score the first international goal for South Africa?’ It really hit home what I’d done because here were these people from so far away talking to me about the goal. And later there were even more calls, at one time this one journalist even spoke to me through a translator. It was unbelievable.”
Twenty years on, Khumalo finds it unbelievable that their groundwork for the country’s senior national team has literally crumbled: “I must say it is really a painful situation that Bafana have gone on to become what they have. We’d laid down such a good foundation, but now there’s no one holding the torch and the flame is slowly but surely dying.”
That night at Kings Park and for many more years that followed, not many would have bet on Bafana falling to its current pathetic status.
“We were kings that night,” Khumalo remembers “We’d not just beaten a Mickey Mouse team, but the Indomitable Lions of Africa, the World Cup quarterfinalists. And credit must go to Bra Stan (Screamer Tshabalala, who was the first coach), who I feel is not really being acknowledged for what he did for SA football.”
Khumalo remembers the pre-match team talk: “Bra Stan told us that while Cameroon may have played at the World Cup they did not have our skills and he instructed Zane (Moosa) and I to use our skills and never to release the ball until we’d beaten one or two players. And he even called them by some funny names to make us feel they are not superior to us.”
When Bafana got a penalty Khumalo remembers captain Neil Tovey instructing him to take it.
“No one wanted to take it, but I could not say no to the captain and I went forward. I can still hear the crowd going wild. But the dressing room was even wilder, as Bra Stan kept shouting, ‘Where are they Lions? The boys beat them.’”
For Khumalo the victory turned him into a big superstar.
“When we got to Cape Town for the next match I had microphones, tape recorders and TV cameras thrust into my face. And they were all asking me how I felt at having united a nation. I could not answer because I was not really aware of the impact that win had on the country, honestly,” he said.
But later I got to see that we had played our bit in helping to usher democracy into the country. And this was more evident four years later when we won the (African) Nations Cup and all of South Africa celebrated together.”
Looking back, Khumalo is grateful to have been provided with the opportunity to have an impact on many lives. “If you remember, I was not in the initial squad, but when Bra Stan took over he called me up. And I am really thankful that he believed in me. I’m also grateful for all those politicians who worked hard to have us back in world football. They helped change our lives.” – Star Africa