'Hard work' paved way for Bongani Khumalo's rise to the top
Bongani Khumalo was 17 in 2004 when South Africa were awarded the rights to host the biggest football event six years later, but such was the hype that Khumalo told himself the opportunity of representing his country on home soil couldn’t be missed.
After completing matric at Clapham High School in 2004, Khumalo joined the University of Pretoria in the then National First Division, making 50 appearances and scoring five times during his two years at the club. In 2007 Khumalo joined top-flight side SuperSport United. With central defensive partner Morgan Gould they formed a solid unit as they won the Absa Premiership title for three successive seasons.
The duo was part of the Fifa Confederations Cup squad as Bafana crashed out of the semi-finals but there’s no doubt the ultimate dream was to play in the World Cup. However Gould missed out due to a knee injury, while Khumalo partnered captain Aaron Mokoena in the heart of defence.
“When it was announced that the World Cup was going to be played in South Africa, I was in matric, playing at Arcadia Shepherds. So, for me the goal was to be part of it. That was something that was realistic, considering it was going to be on home soil,” Khumalo said.
“The challenge was there even for professional players at the time. Personally, all I did was to take the challenge, work as hard as I could and prepare myself so that I am ready if the opportunity actually does arrive.”
To say that the global showpiece found Khumalo ready would be an understatement. The Manzini-born player played in all three group stage matches, during the draw with Mexico, loss to Uruguay and win over France.
However, it was in the game against the French that Bongani showed his prowess as a footballer, scoring Bafana’s second goal as they won 2-1, although they failed to progress to the knockout stage.
“There were so many camps before the World Cup, and a lot of players gunning for a starting position. Obviously with the captain being a centre-back, it was clear that there was space for only one more. So, I didn’t focus on anyone else but myself in terms of the work,” Khumalo explained.
Top of Khumalo’s priority during the global showpiece was to represent his national team with aplomb. That he caught the eye of English Premier League side Tottenham Hotspur, who moved him to White Hart Lane in December 2010, was a cherry on top.
“The World Cup can be a springboard for anything. That’s where the legends are made. You are literally showcasing your talent in front of the world. But going into it, you don’t think about such but representing your country, yourself and family - hoping to do the best that you can,” Khumalo said.
Khumalo didn’t make his mark in the EPL, after injuries derailed his progress, but the experience he amassed during loan spells in the English Championship and with Greek Super Ligue 1 side, PAOK Thessaloniki, was invaluable.
That experience refined Khumalo as he went on to become one of the most decorated players in the PSL.
Upon his return to local football, Khumalo won his fourth league title, the MTN8 and Telkom Knockout at Bidvest Wits, while he’s an MTN8 winner with current employers SuperSport this season.