DURBAN – Bafana Bafana midfielder Kamohelo Mokotjo says it really feels good to be back in the national team set-up after he decided to quit in 2016 due to personal reasons.
Subsequently he applied for a Dutch citizenship and renounced his South African citizenship, making him ineligible to play for Bafana Bafana.
But stand-in coach Owen da Gama recalled him into the squad for the international friendly matches against Guinea-Bissau and Angola.
He then had to go through the agony of reapplying for a South African citizenship, which was granted just in time for him to face Guinea-Bissau where he put up a stellar performance in a 3-1 victory at Moses Mabhida Stadium in Durban on Saturday, 25 March.
In his first ever interview since his ordeal, Mokotjo spoke frankly and explained what really happened.
Matlhomola Morake: Kamohelo good to see back in the Bafana Bafana fold. How are you feeling?
Kamohelo Mokotjo: I am feeling good and very excited because we have a new generation of players, more so I feel excited that I am able to be a part of this talented generation. It’s always been a priviledge for me to play for the national team, and that hasn’t changed.
MM: What you are talking about almost didn’t happen….
KM: I am very grateful to SAFA and the Department of Home Affairs and Foreign Affairs, both in South Africa and in the Netherlands, for granting me back my citizenship, and I must say that if it wasn’t for SAFA I would not be here. I will forever be grateful to them for what they did for me. They worked tirelessly to make sure that everything ends well.
MM: Can you briefly tell us what happened?
KM: Well I applied for the Dutch citizenship and renounced my South African citizenship, making me unable to play for my country. But the national team included me in the squad to play two friendly matches and they said to me that I must be in camp and they will find a way to sort out my issue. I came because I trusted them and believed they would. In the end the outcome was positive and all credit goes to them.
MM: What a constrasting week for you. You were training with the national team not knowing whether you will play or not, and the next thing you put out a great performance against Guinea-Bissau.
KM: The football part has no politics, when it’s game time it is game time and nobody can talk. I have trained well the past week, so I felt I was ready but I was just waiting for the go-ahead from both ministries that I mentioned above. I am just happy about the outcome, I am still young and willing to represent my country. I felt I had some unfinished business.
MM: Was there any stage when you felt like giving up this, where you thought this exercise of re-applying might not come right before the two matches?
KM: No, not at all hey. Everyone was working round the clock and pushing hard to make it work – from SAFA to the government. I put all my trust in them, they showed faith in me, and when people do that you have to trust in them. All the intentions were good, I just had to stick it out because it was just a week and I was good with that. Everything worked out for the best and I am happy now.
MM: The decision you took of not wanting to play for your country anymore must have been a difficult one to take?
KM: It’s always tough making that decision because I sacrificed everything, but I had to make that decision because I am 26 and my club career is going well, and it was time to make the next step in my club career. I have had an amazing club career for the past few years and I just wanted to take it to the next level that’s why I took a Dutch citizenship.
MM: Was there every a problem between you and former Bafana Bafana head coach Shakes Mashaba?
KM: There was never a problem, he made his choices and as a player you have to respect those choices, then you go back to your team, you keep performing and hope you get a chance in the national team. But it’s all in the past now, I am back in the national and that’s all that matters now more so because the future looks bright for this team.
MM: Was that a sad episode in your life?
KM: It was hard. I am a human being and I have emotions. It was really hard but I have been through worse as you know it’s not easy being a foreigner in Europe. You have to be ten times better than other players and I had to maintain that level. I was not really worried whether people said I was good or not good enough for the national team, I knew my time would come. I just knew I had to wait for it because I am person with a lot of mental strength.
MM: You say you are man of mental strength but someone would say then it means you were not strong enough when you decided to quit your national team?
KM: I actually did that for my club football. It’s about continuous growth, whether you are moving from club to club or level to level. I just wanted to be in a place where I could be in the national team and fit in without any judgement.
MM: How is getting for the Dutch citizenship going to help in your career?
KM: Basically, I am a European and I can move to any club I want (but they have to send me offers first), I can move to England where I feel like the league suits me, but its not up to me, I need to put in the work, and clubs need to approach me. But it gives me more options. There's another factor, I have lived there my entire adult life so its what I am used to, but South Africa is home. But I trusted in the authorities – which is SAFA and the government – who said they will sort out my situation because I have always wanted play for my country, and I will not change. I was born here, my family is here, this is home but I ply my trade in the Netherlands where I believe I have become a better player. Compliments to SAFA for sorting out the issue and giving me this opportunity once again, I will grab it with both arms.
MM: There is a lot of quality in this team, where do you think this will lead us as a country?
KM: I have honestly never been so confident about a team before and about the national team selection in my entire career than I am of this one. With this team it’s really simple for me – we can qualify for all competitions that are on offer and we can make it past the group stages. We have the technical ability, element of surprise, and the tactical side will come with the coach. So it’s about going in the right direction that the technical team will lead us into as players and as a team, that’s the most important thing. I feel like this is perhaps the best Bafana Bafana squad that’s ever been produced – we should not let ourselves down because it will have a negative impact on our careers and on the image of our country.
MM: Having said that, it emphasises the point that you are happy to be back….
KM: Yes of course, and also it’s players that I am used to. We have waited for so long to play with each other again, so it felt good in our match against Guinea-Bissau. We look at each other and see how everyone has grown, and matured. That’s really exciting, not just as a player but as a person. Deep down we are still the same kids that we were when we first met.
MM: So here you are talking about the Class of 2009 – the U20 squad that went to the FIFA World Cup in Egypt under Serame Letsoaka… (South Africa was in Group F with Honduras, United Arab Emirates and Hungary. SA drew 2-2 with UAE, lost 4-0 to Hungary and beat Honduras 2-0 to advance to the last 16 where they lost 2-1 to Ghana)
KM: Yes I am talking about Darren Keet, Thulani Hlatshwayo, Ramahlwe Mphahele, Thulani Serero, Andile Jali and Kermit Erasmus, while Themba Zwane I met in the U23’s. And we also have other players in the current squad who are very very talented, and there are still those who are not even in this team. The only difference I want to see is that the national team becomes a team of results and efficiency with good football obviously, not just flashy, good football without results.
MM: In essence you are glad your ordeal is all over?
KM: Of course, I am happy it’s is all in the past. Now I need to focus on the present and the future and, once again, I will forever be grateful for all the help and support I got from everyone. It feels good to be playing for my country again.
Bafana Bafana travel to East London to play their second international friendly match where they will face Angola at Buffalo City Stadium. Kickoff is at 7pm.
The South African squad will arrive in East London on Sunday afternoon and will have a light training session at Sisa Dukashe Stadium in Mdantsane at 7pm.