WHEN hearing “Ventersdorp”; and the discussion on what the North West town is best known for, the lady at the adjacent table pipes up “for the man who fell off his horse”.
Itumeleng Khune smiles, yes Ventersdorp will always be synonymous with Eugene “ET” Terre’Blanche, but Khune is its modern-day “favourite son”.
The Kaizer Chiefs and Bafana Bafana captain knows ET’s horse well: he has encountered it first-hand.
“When I was about seven years old, my mom Flora and I were getting some things at the Spar supermarket in town, when Terre’Blanche came inside the shop on his horse.
“He galloped through the store, while someone filled his basket for him. It freaked me out. He really thought he owned the town, and that he could do as he wished,” says Khune.
The next time he encountered ET not long after was far scarier.
“Back then we watched TV using a car battery. When it ran low a friend and I went to the garage to charge the battery and on our way we encountered Terre’Blanche at a four- way stop in his bakkie, with his dog in the back. He stopped right in front of us and yelled at his dog to tear us apart,” Khune recalls, the memory still vivid.
“He did not want to see black people and whenever he came across any he would send his dog to chow us. Luckily that day, there were traffic cops across the road and we were spared and made a hasty getaway, but it was not a nice experience”.
Ventersdorp certainly needed a new reference point to shed its AWB stigma, and in Khune it could not have asked for a better poster boy.
Khune comes across as assured and relaxed, with great stature and presence, and a maturity and wisdom that is very affable.
It’s hard to fathom that he will only later this month turn 30. “Itu” seems to have been around as a flamboyant leader on the football pitch for many years. At his relatively tender age, he’s already played more than 270 times for the fabled Kaizer Chiefs and has amassed 82 caps for the national team he leads.
His road to professional foot- ball is an often-told one, but one worth telling again.
When he arrived for trials at Kaizer Chiefs in 1999, before even reaching his teens, he started out as a defender and passed the trials held by Chiefs’ renowned development coach Terror Sephooa. He passed it again a second time as a striker, but was dealt a hammer blow when chest problems and severe cramps put paid to any career as an outfielder.
“I had already taken all my belongings from Ventersdorp and enrolled in a school in Joburg. As a young boy I had dreamt of playing for Kaizer Chiefs, I was hopelessly in love with the club, and playing for them was all I ever wanted. I was devastated, but refused to give up on my dream,” says Khune.
Told by Sephooa that his Kaizer Chiefs journey was over, he simply stuck around, and stood behind the goals at every training session, and with his bare hands dived and threw himself at every ball that came his way behind the posts.
He acted as kit manager, as physio, whatever he could to keep his Kaizer Chiefs dream alive.
Such was his dogged determination that he eventually made it at the club as a goalkeeper in their under-13 team, with Sephooa moved to tell him: “I am proud of you, you stayed positive, you worked hard and refused to give up on your dream.”
Khune has become one of our most recognisable, and marketable sports stars.
He is proud of his journey, but has lots of milestones to chalk up yet.
He has committed to Kaizer Chiefs and to being a one-club man.
“To achieve what I have in my career means the world to me. So many players dream of getting the opportunity to play for Kaizer Chiefs and I take my responsibilities as an ambassador for the club very seriously.
“I’m not a club legend just yet, and it’s something I aspire to. Being a role model takes a lot of sacrifice, you have to carry yourself well off the field.
“I make mistakes, but people must find inspiration when they look at you.
“So I am happy to give people my time, they deserve it, without them I would not be where I am today,” Khune says, as he politely accommodates requests for his picture in the busy mall.
He’s had a good spell too as Bafana Bafana goalkeeper and captain, the stand- out being walking onto the pitch at Soccer City for the “breathtaking” opening match of the 2010 Fifa World Cup at Soccer City and bursting into tears as his good friend and club and national teammate Siphiwe Tshabalala
Bafana Bafana goalkeeper Itumeleng Khune blocks a ball during a training session at AW Muller stadium at the University of Johannesburg.