DURBAN – Mkhanyiseli Siwahla. Remember the name?
No doubt you are having flashes of that incredible afternoon back in 2004 when a young, tiny dark player was running in wild celebration after scoring on debut.
He was only 15 back then when Ajax Cape Town took a gamble not many of their counterparts would dare to take.
And so a star was born. Or so everybody thought, until it all came crushing down for the lad from Cape Town.
Instead of fulfilling the promise his immense talent suggested he would, Siwahla lost the plot and his off the field antics not only delayed his progress, but actually led to him being kicked out of Mpumalanga Black Aces back in 2013.
He had also played for Bloemfontein Celtic and FC Cape Town prior to joining Aces.
“When Aces fired me for disciplinary issues, they told me all the doors in football would be closed for me,” Siwahla, now 29 and much wiser, reflects. “To hear that I’d never make it in football was like a death sentence. And I actually considered committing suicide.
“I had lost all hope. The idea of being denied the one thing that was close to my heart – what was I going to do? Football is my life and without it life would not have made sense. And so I thought to take it.”
But, thanks to a supportive mother who stood by her son during the lowest point of his life, Siwahla did not end his own life.
Instead he moved to Botswana where he played for Mochudi Centre Chiefs for a while before returning home last year.
“I joined the Upington team Morester Jeug, who play in the ABC Motsepe League. I enjoyed myself there.”
Now though, Siwahla is out in Poland – working hard to resurrect a career that should have been widely celebrated given his immense talent.
“I am in Poland after securing a two-year contract with Proch Pionki. I’m really grateful for this opportunity to start all over again, and my dream is to play for one of the top clubs here in the next few years. I believe age is still on my side.”
Granted, he still has the time in his legs to play for a little longer, but does he have the character to steer clear of the off-the-pitch lifestyle that saw him unravel in the past?
“Look, what killed me back then was the fact I didn’t realise I was a huge figure in South African football.
“At that time I was young and I didn’t understand fame, I just didn’t know how to handle it. And the fact I came from a not-so-good background did not help as I had no idea how to handle all that big change in my life.
“And of course I mixed with the wrong people. Don’t get me wrong; I am not shifting the blame. I know I was responsible for my downfall.
"And now I’m glad God has offered me an opportunity to revive my career. I’m now in a new country with new challenges, and I plan to grab the opportunity with both hands.”
He has a good reason too, Siwahla having recently become a father.
“I have a baby boy now. So I always have to work hard for him and my family who have been a pillar of strength for me. They were there for me in tough times. I’ve learnt the hard way, and I don’t want to go through that bad experience again.”
The experience he craves is to wear the country’s senior national team jersey.
“I want to play for Bafana Bafana,” he says “I played for all the other national teams, the Under-17, 20 and 23 national team. Now if I keep on doing well, I don’t doubt that I will make my Bafana debut some day.”
What a story that would be!