THE WAY FOR OTHERS
Black local soccer stars plied their trade in the US and Europe at great personal cost
With the passing of Darius “Ndoro” Dhlomo last month, another curtain – on the history of black South African footballers – has fallen.
Dhlomo was one of the pioneers of black football and pursued a career in Europe signing for Dutch club Heracles Almelo at the relatively senior age of 27.
At his first training session with his new club, his team-mates discovered him missing.
“We could not find him. And only after a short while did we see him again. He had changed somewhere else because he simply could not believe that black and white players used the same changing rooms,” recalls Dhlomo’s former team-mate Henk ten Brink.
It was not the first “lesson” the midfielder learnt in his first months in the Netherlands.
Dutch sports historian Jurryt van de Vooren met Dhlomo in 1985 when the two crossed paths in their work as anti-apartheid activists.
“Dhlomo told me at our first meeting that when he arrived at the airport, he could not believe highranking club officials, who were white, carried his bags.”
Dhlomo, who joined Heracles from Durban’s Baumannville City Blacks, was an excellent footballer and tennis player. He was also an accomplished musician, playing drums and singing, and a boxer who had won the South African middleweight division.
He continued these activities after joining Heracles and even boxed professionally in Europe.
The Durban-born player was one of six black footballers who moved abroad in the space of a few years.
Steve “Kalamazoo” Mokone and David Julius were the first and signed with Coventry City and Sporting Lisbon, respectively. They were followed by Gerry Francis, who joined Leeds United, and Herbert “Shordex” Zuma, who also signed for Heracles. A short while later Albert “Hurry-Hurry” Johanneson joined Francis at Leeds.
This was followed by a lengthy lull, which was only broken in 1968 when Kaizer “Chincha Guluva” Motaung joined Atlanta Chiefs in the North American Soccer League (NASL).
The Kaizer Chiefs supremo was the first of many black South African footballers to join NASL clubs. The late Patrick “Ace” Ntsoelengoe and Namibian-born Herman “Pele” Blaschke followed five years later and opened the floodgates as Bernard “Dancing Shoes” Hartze, Phil “Mr Jones” Setshedi, Ephraim “Jomo” Sono and others joined the NASL.
The overwhelming majority of – if not all – black South African footballers who played in the US not only returned to play for local clubs during the off-season, they returned home at the end of their NASL careers.
Dhlomo and his fellow pioneers however, opted to remain in Europe once they had hung up their boots.
Dhlomo and Zuma stayed and passed away in the Netherlands and Mokone moved to the US where he died earlier this year. Johanneson struggled with life after football in England and lost the battle with his inner demons aged 55 in 1995.
Francis continued living in the UK before moving to Canada, while Julius stayed in Portugal.
Van de Vooren said Dhlomo took a conscious decision at the end of his career.
“He was a very political man and when he finished playing football he had to choose between telling people about the evils of apartheid, knowing he would not be able to return as long as the white regime remained in power.
“He decided it was more important to do political work in the Netherlands than return home.”
But even for those who were not as openly political as Dhlomo, staying in Europe came at a great personal expense.
Bhanoyi Zuma, whose father Herbert passed away in May last year, said there was not a day that went by when her parents did not miss South Africa.
“When he joined Heracles, he signed the contract without knowing fully that he would be staying there for good.
“He played a few games outside South Africa and thought it was something similar. When he realised he would be staying to play football in the Netherlands, he came home during the holidays and my mother and us kids stayed in Durban.
“A few years later, she took us to the Netherlands and, at first, she thought she would be there just for a lengthy holiday.
“But then everything was arranged. There was a house and we kids were well looked after, so a few months turned into years and she is still there.
“They decided to sacrifice for us. They thought there were better opportunities for us children in Europe, so even though they wanted to return to South Africa they stayed in the Netherlands because they wanted to give us the best they could.”
Bhanoyi Zuma – also the niece of former Bushbucks player Vusi “Stadig My Kind” Makhathini and Mbongeni “Mpimpi” Makhathini, who also moved to the Netherlands in the late 1960s and played for FC Utrecht and other clubs – says one of the main reasons players like her father were not as recognised as those for whom they paved the way was because there was no television at the time.
“They were recognised mainly by those who saw them play, but it is so long ago that memories fade. There is virtually no footage of them playing, so memories are the only things that keep them alive.”
One can only hope the likes of Zuma, Johanneson, Dhlomo, Francis, Julius and Mokone – who paved the way for Motaung, Sono, Ntsolengoe and later stars such as Lucas Radebe, Benni McCarthy and Steven Pienaar – are somehow imprinted in the memories of those who were too young to see them play.
PIONEER SA Indians captain ‘Links’ Padayachee (left) and SA Africans captain Darius Dhlomo (right) at the 1956 Kajee Cup at Durban’s Curries Fountain stadium