Banyana Banyana’s Refiloe Jane and Rhoda Mulaudzi off to Australia
They’ve made history in SA women’s soccer with their move to a pro league in Australia. Here Refiloe Jane and Rhoda Mulaudzi talk football and friendship
FOR YEARS, they’ve set soccer fields ablaze with their fancy footwork. The dynamic duo, who became friends after causing goalies sleepless nights during their time together at Colchester United, struck fear into the hearts of defenders with their dangerous dribbling. Now Refiloe Jane (26) and Rhoda Mulaudzi (28) are making history together. In October, the power pair will become the first South African women to play in the top-division women’s pro league Down Under after signing with Australian side Canberra United. It’s a dream come true, Refiloe tells DRUM. “It’s not just anyone who gets such an opportunity. We’re grateful to the coach for giving us this shot.” The coach she’s referring to is Heather Garriock. The Australian heard of the twosome’s talent from local soccer scout Tshepo Bafuwi, and signed them after a two-week trial in August. But getting to the trials wasn’t easy. Accommodation would be taken care of – all Rhoda and Refiloe had to do was book flights. But with a return ticket costing a whopping R19 000, Rhoda began seeing her dreams fade. “Four days before the trial, I still didn’t have money for the flight,” says Rhoda, who works as an intern at Safa. Then Refiloe came to her rescue. The Banyana Banyana vice captain, who’s currently studying towards her master’s in sports marketing, earns a salary playing university soccer. She offered to cover R13 000 of the costs and Rhoda came up with the remaining R6 000 through fundraising.
Refiloe’s kindness helped revive Rhoda’s career, and the midfielder is still stunned by the gesture. “What she did was amazing!”
Their struggle didn’t go unnoticed by the Australians – and neither did their shine. “It was hard for them to get here and then to come in to a different environment and play, but they’ve done very well to adapt and really stood out to me,” their new coach said in a statement announcing their signing.
Refiloe’s technical ability is “simply outstanding”, Heather says. “And in Rhoda I can see the pace and aggression I’m looking for upfront.”
For Rhoda, who hasn’t played for the national team since October 2017, the endorsement was just the motivation she needed.
“There was a time when I felt I should retire from football and focus on something else but for some reason I kept fighting and kept on pushing – only to find there are people out there who still believe in me,” she says.
FOOTBALL has been in their blood since they were kids, Refiloe and Rhoda tell us. Soccer is the only sport Kliptown-born Refiloe knows. “I was surrounded by my brothers, Frank (31), Mpho (36), Thabo (34) and Emmanuel (34), who played street football, so it was the only thing I was exposed to.
“In primary school I discovered athletics and I competed in the 100m and 200m. But when I found football I excelled in it.”
Her love of the beautiful game has seen her play for Colchester United in 2007, Mamelodi Sundowns (2012-2013), Vaal University of Technology (VUT) from
2013 to 2016 and Tshwane University of Technology (TUT) from 2016 to 2017.
She turned professional in 2012 when she was called up to the Banyana Banyana squad for the first time, but the star striker reveals it wasn’t an easy move.
“It’s difficult going from the amateur league to Banyana because the level [of play] at the national team is very high. You compete with other nations that have national leagues and that’s where you can see we are far behind because we don’t have a professional league.
“Having a competitive professional women’s league will boost Banyana,” Refiloe adds.
Rhoda is also well-travelled in the women’s game. She started her career in Venda, where she was born, and joined Colchester in 2007. She played for Sundowns from 2010 to 2012, and from 2014 to 2018, and VUT from 2012 to 2014.
She was five when she fell in love with soccer. “I used to play with boys, including my cousins, and when I moved to Johannesburg to study I realised I love football more than anything.”
With a move to the professional league secured, both players can now focus on playing the sport they so love. But due to the lack of investment in the women’s game, female footballers often have to work while chasing their soccer dreams.
“It’s difficult for players to give it their all when they’re balancing work with playing sport,” Rhoda says. “I remember coming from work on a Friday night and going to a game. I was tired. It was such a high-intensity game I couldn’t finish it because I could feel my calves cramping and I couldn’t run.”
According to a former player, women footballers who play university soccer are offered scholarships that cover their fees and accommodation. They also get a stipend, while those playing in amateur leagues earn a paltry maximum of R6 000 a year.
While there’s no minimum wage in sport, a report published in 2015 revealed Kaizer Chiefs goalkeeper Itumeleng Khune earned around R480 000 a month.
RHODA and Refiloe’s move brings the number of South African female footballers playing overseas to five. Banyana captain Janine van Wyk, Thembi Kgatlana and Linda Motlhalo now all ply their trade in America with Houston Dash following years in South African soccer.
In her time at the helm of the national team Vera Pauw said the bulk of the squad was good enough to play abroad.
And Rhoda believes the Dutch coach deserves credit too. “Coach Vera taught us to be professional even though we didn’t have a professional league. At first we played without structure but . . . she changed everything. She taught us how to behave as players.”
Vera helped change the way players eat, train and think, Rhoda says. “She gave us such confidence. Even if you had a bad game she’d tell you never to undermine yourself.”
Both players have the backing of Banyana’s current coach, Desiree Ellis, who says their move to the pro league “gives kids hope that if they do well the opportunities are there”.
The two plan to make the best of their big break when the Australian women’s league kicks off in October, and they’re focused on making a home there.
It’s an exciting yet daunting move, but Rhoda and Refiloe know they can rely on each other. “Rhoda is a sister to me,” Refiloe says. “On and off the field, we’re family.”
‘It’s not just anyone who gets such an opportunity. We’re grateful to the coach’
Banyana Banyana attackers Refiloe Jane (left) and Rhoda Mulaudzi (far right) have both secured a move to Australian pro league Canberra United.
For Rhoda the Australian league is a chance to prove she belongs in the national squad.
FAR LEFT: Banyana coach Desiree Ellis supports her star players’ transfer to a pro league. LEFT: Refiloe and Rhoda both credit former coach Vera Pauw for their success. RIGHT: New coach Heather Garriock.