Nelson Mandela Day offered Siyabonga Ngezana a chance to skip down memory lane and also reminded him what he still needs to do, even though he has realised some of his dreams.
The lad from Sebokeng visited his former school, Altmont Technical High in Soweto, on Wednesday as part of Kaizer Chiefs’ outreach programme and 67 Minutes for Mandela in honour of the late former President.
The 20-year-old was a hit because a year ago he was with them doing his matric, now he is a first-team player of the most supported club in the country.
But the journey to get where he is wasn’t easy, especially balancing school and being an athlete after he was promoted to the first team while he was in Grade 11.
“It was difficult but through the support of Kaizer Chiefs, my family, Altmont and my teachers I was able to adapt,” Ngezana said.
“My teachers helped me catch-up on the lessons I missed due to the camps and matches I had to attend. I owe them a lot. They would give me all the work to go with to camp and ensure I caught up even on Saturdays so I don’t fall behind.
“I passed because of the support my former coach (Steve Komphela) gave me. He told me school is important. There is time for school and there is time for football.”
Ngezana will continue juggling school and football.
“I want to continue with my studies,” he said. “I was planning on doing it earlier but I missed the registration cut-off at Unisa. They told me to come in August to register. I am still going to continue with my studies.
“I am looking to study something that’s related to football because that’s my life now. The club offers bursaries. They pay for everything to make sure we’re set. There are a lot of players who have made use of that. Brylon Petersen, Ryan Moon and Bernard Parker are studying with that bursary. I am going to follow in their footsteps.
"I would only return to engineering (which I did at school) later in my life because it needs a lot of attention and time. It would be hard for me to continue doing engineering while still playing football.”
The 20-year-old had a storming breakthrough season in the last campaign. He played 15 games in the Premiership since his debut against Mamelodi Sundowns, fitting in seamlessly in what turned out to be the best defence in the country.
He will face the same team next Saturday in Chiefs’ start to the 2018/19 season against the Brazilians.
But before that, Amakhosi will do their final touch-ups at Mbombela Stadium today (3pm kick-off) against Cape Town City in the Mpumalanga Cultural Xperience Cup.
This pre-season friendly will afford Ngezana and his teammates an opportunity to impress new coach Giovanni Solinas before the campaign-proper starts.
“It’s not going to be easy because there are changes this season,” Ngezana said.
“There are new players and a new coach. Things won’t be the same as they were last season. For us as players, this is going to be a good season because of the changes.
"I will need to work hard to cement my position. Where there’s no pressure there are no diamonds because pressure produces diamonds.
"I am ready for what I will face.”