Johannesburg - Banele Africa’s mom drives from Cosmo City where they live, drops him off at school in Orange Grove and then heads off to her job at Maponya Mall, Soweto.
Three days a week, his parents Uber him from Maryvale College, Orange Grove, to his soccer club in Randburg for practice. On the days in between, mom has to double back and collect from school. The Grade 10 learner stays at school long after his schoolmates have all left because it’s easier to travel directly from school to soccer practice, instead of going home first.
Despite the many kilometres, long hours and huge expenses, Banele said it will all be worthwhile when he ends up playing for Manchester City in the English Premiership League.
Yes, this local youngster has very big dreams indeed. And at just 16, the talented youngster already plays for his school’s senior team and he is part of the U-19 squad at Velocity Soccer Club in Randburg. To add to his credit, he’s already attended a two-week soccer clinic in Valencia, Spain, and aims to use what he learnt there to make a name for himself locally and internationally.
“I know that the competition is tough to make it to the club. It’s tough at school and at my club. We always do well so that keeps me going,” Banele chuckled.
Having only started playing soccer in 2022, Banele’s rise through the ranks has been nothing short of meteoric.
“At my club, we work as a team. It’s not just about one player. I’d like to think that I am good, but we have to work as a team. Even when new members join, I know it can be scary for them. I am that guy who always makes them feel welcome. They are part of the team after all,” he said.
But the youngster also knows, and it has been drilled into his head over and over, that his education must go hand in hand with his achievements on the pitch.
“My parents always tell me that I must excel in both. I am so grateful for their support and I will finish school. I have an interest in architecture, commerce and agriculture. I haven’t decided yet, but studying after completing matric is definitely on the cards,” he smiled.
But it’s not just the support from his family, Banele’s departure date for Spain clashed with his last exam, but the principal and staff at Maryvale College made allowances for him to write his exam earlier so he could get on that Valencia-bound plane.
But Banele admits that being talented can be exhausting.
“After soccer practice, I still have homework. But when I think of the soccer players I admire, Lionel Messi, Luka Modrić, Kevin De Bruyne, Cristiano Ronaldo, Mohammed Sannie, I imagine what they must’ve endured to get to where they are right now. That gets me through it.”
And when he’s not at soccer practice, at school or doing homework, Banele relaxes like most teens do – online gaming.
“My favourite game right now is ‘Call of Duty’. And no, it’s not just about shooting at things. It teaches me strategy. You need strategy in soccer,” he said.
While Banele showed a keen interest in cricket when he was in primary school, for him, it’s all about soccer now, even during the school holidays.
“I do sometimes miss out on holiday stuff with my friends and family, but it’s also the only time the club can really do uninterrupted training. This is when my dedication is truly tested. It is what it is, I guess, but I know it will all be worthwhile,” Banele said.