‘Toki’ Dlamini doesn’t do it for an armband, but rather just to be happy with a ball at her feet
AMANDA DLAMINI speaks just like she plays. Every word is thought out, but not to a point where she comes across as robotic or clichéd. It all comes naturally to “Toki”.
Just like it comes naturally for her on the field where plenty of thought is taken with every pass. And if Dlamini isn’t making Banyana Banyana tick, the midfielder is the team prankster.
But the technical team got her good when they tricked her into the captaincy in 2011. They told her that she would do it for just one match, against Zimbabwe in December.
After that match, she was told the same thing for the next game, and the next, until almost two years passed and she still wore the armband.
She had a huge impact, leading her country to their first participation in the Olympics in 2012. And while Dlamini relinquished the role last year, she is still referred to as captain. It’s a compliment that reminds her of the anguish she went through when she decided to step down.
“I thought about it for three to four months, before I announced it, whether it was the right thing to do or not,” she said. “I asked myself was I willing to compromise my happiness and potential because I am clinging to a title?
“It was about the passion for the sport, wanting to grow and do better. I think I have been able to do that (after stepping down). I was hurt quite a lot (after the decision) because I got a lot of messages on social media from people who were disappointed. Some of my teammates also expressed disappointment,” Dlamini added.
“But it was something personal that I had to go through. There’s never been a day that I regretted it. I have realised that being captain isn’t just about the title or the armband, but about the work that you do and your interaction with people.
“People still refer to me as the captain even now. It’s not because I wear the armband, but it’s the manner I present myself to them and the way I represent the nation.”
Dlamini will represent Banyana for the 100th time tonight against the world’s No 1-ranked team, the United States, at Soldier Field in Chicago (7pm kickoff). She will become the fifth player to have reached the milestone in South African football.
The 27-year-old was initially unaware of her achievement until after Banyana’s second friendly against the Netherlands last month, when she made her 99th appearance.
Maybe because Dlamini didn’t think she would make it this far, let alone earn a second cap after her debut against Nigeria in 2007. It was July 27, five days after she turned 19, when she came on as a substitute.
But she did what then-coach Augustine Makalakalane told her to do: “Go out there and give me a reason to call you up for the next camp.” Dlamini has been in every camp since, whether the coach was Makalakalane or Joseph Mkhonza, and now Vera Pauw.
Dlamini is one of the most recognisable figures for Banyana. She is an ambassador for several leading brands, and has also done some TV analyst work.
Dlamini considered quitting a number of times for a betterpaying job. But she didn’t. She worked hard so that the women who will come after her don’t have to suffer like she did. It’s the same mentality that saw her start the Amanda Dlamini Girls Foundation.
But all those struggles are worth it now that she is at the top – enjoying the fruits of her labour. She has fun for a living.
“I have known football all my life,” Dlamini said. “It’s my life. When I am playing football I am at my happy place. It’s a sacred space. There are challenging times, but I constantly bear in mind that I am living my dream. I can’t give up on it.
“Every training session, as tough as it is, I need to apply myself because I need to play the following game. It’s the standards that I set for myself. That I want to accomplish certain things and grow as a player.
“Just being in the national team is amazing. You get to travel. I have realised so many dreams because of football,” she added. “I’ve been to tertiary through a sport bursary. I have travelled the world.
“I am being recognised by some of the biggest brands in the world because of football. That’s where my life is, on the football field.”
AMANDA DLAMINI: Will play her 100th match for Banyana