Hlanti’s journey of pride
Early career challenges spurred Wits defender to push hard for his dreams
SIFISO Hlanti, with a smile and no grudges, looks back with pride at the challenges and rejection he faced in his journey to become a South African champion.
The 27-year-old Bidvest Wits’ left back was part of the AmaZulu team that was relegated, but was sent to train with the reserves before that, after he spoke out on his intentions to leave the club.
Even his start in the Premier Division wasn’t easy.
He struggled for game time at Golden Arrows, was shipped out on loan to Chippa United in the first division, helped them gain promotion only to return to Abafana Bes’thende and still not break into the starting XI.
“It was a long and hard journey to get here,” Hlanti said. “The one thing I learnt is that if you want to grow as a person, you must face challenges so that you know what you are capable of. It was good for me.
“They showed me how tough I am, but they spurred me to push even harder to realise my dreams. Now I tackle every challenge that I face head on.”
After leaving Usuthu last year, the lad from Newcastle joined the Clever Boys, made his Bafana Bafana debut, won the MTN8 and played a big part in Wits winning local football’s elite league championship for the first time in their history.
His performance in the league earned him a nomination for the Absa Premiership Defender-of-the-Season award that was won by his captain Thulani Hlatshwayo.
“I am filled with pride when I look back at what I went through and what I have now,” Hlanti said.
“The hardest part was when I was still at AmaZulu. It was a tough time for me, especially what happened towards the end of my contract (when they made me train with the reserves). I was rewarded by joining a team like Wits and I was part of making history, winning the league for the first time in the club’s history.”
Wits start their MTN8 title defence against Hlanti’s former club, Arrows, at Bidvest Stadium tomorrow at 8pm.
Unlike last season, the Clever Boys will start this campaign with a big target on their back as league champions, with every club looking to upset the Kings of South African football.
For Hlanti, this season is about continuing living the dream after getting over the nightmare start he had at the beginning of his professional career.
“I am a bit sentimental towards Arrows,” Hlanti said. “They gave me my big break of playing in the PSL. They helped me realise my dream. I wouldn’t talk too much on the bad things that happened there.
“The situation I was in is something that youngsters need to learn from, that you will go through challenges, but they shouldn’t define you or take away your love for the game. Playing against Arrows means a lot for me. I will try to do my best because at the end of the day it is not about them, but about me and Wits. We have to go through to the next round as the defending champions.”
CAN THEY DO IT AGAIN? Thulani Hlatshwayo of Bidvest Wits holds aloft the trophy as Wits are crowned the 2016/2017 Absa Premiership champions following their match with Kaizer Chiefs at Soccer City in Johannesburg on May 27 this year. PICTURE: BACKPAGEPIX