Kick Off

‘I will recover’


From a career whose longevity relied on commitment, Bernard Lushozi has continued living in that space past the playing days. Despite the hard tackles he dished out, Lushozi is a soft-spoken gentleman who has studied despite poor health that left him partially blind. KICK OFF’s Lovemore Moyo went to the south of Johannesbu­rg to speak to the former Moroka Swallows and Orlando Pirates player.

Bernard Lushozi was always destined to play football. Born 57 years ago in Orlando, Soweto as the second last born of nine kids from his mother, who was the younger of two wives to his father, Lushozi was raised in Zola, which is where he attended school.

His brother Richard kept goals at Orlando Highlander­s and was succeeded by Patson ‘Kamuzu’ Banda.

Late into his teens, Lushozi was recruited from amateur football club Jabulani Black Dragons to Moroka Swallows by the late David ‘Pine’ Chabeli.

“Within two weeks, I went from playing on the dusty hard ground to the grass. Plus, I wasn’t coming from a developmen­t structure. We were quickly thrown into the lion’s den, and it got even worse the following year after the split [between National Soccer League and National Profession­al Soccer League in 1985] which demanded us to play more as some players left Swallows to form the rival Birds.

“Imagine filling in for giants like Joel ‘Ace’ Mnini, Aubrey ‘ The Great’ Makgopela, Frederick ‘Congo’ Malebane, Aaron ‘Roadblock’ Makhathini, but we had to adjust as soon as possible.

“I realised that we are now in a profession­al set-up, and you are paid even though it was R50 for a win with a salary of R600, which ultimately went up to R6,000 when I retired in 1998 at Orlando Pirates.

“Back then I had to adjust my behaviour, sleeping patterns and eating right,” recalls Lushozi.

Jumping into the Bucs ship

Lushozi would stay at Swallows from 1984-1989, enjoying regular football playing in defence, but was unlucky not to win silverware as he arrived just after the Mainstay Cup success of 1983 and missing out on the 1989 BOB Save Super Bowl when he broke his leg towards the end of that year.

After spending 1990 without playing, he found himself at Pirates, where he built a reputation for taking no prisoners in his approach.

“I lost in the two JPS finals that I played while at Swallows, which were against Chiefs, so we were victims of Chiefs’ in success those years. Swallows thought I wouldn’t play football again, but it was luck in disguise because I went on to bigger things at Pirates. I was recruited to Pirates by a teacher at Zola High during a time when the team was weak. I became a regular right away and forgot about the fact that I had broken my leg. I became harder at Pirates because breaking my leg made me tough,” says Lushozi.

For all the success that he missed out on at Swallows, it came in abundance at Pirates where his game count was also in triple figures.

The trophy list count included the BP Top Eight, BOB Save Super Bowl, Castle Challenge, the domestic league, CAF Champions League and the CAF Super Cup.

“I blossomed at Pirates and became more popular and managed to grow in many aspects of life,” he says when talking about the continenta­l adventure.

“We were just coming out of Apartheid and were not aware of the significan­ce of winning the Champions League. I guess that was very important because at times when you know, it induces anxiety. We only started to realise when we were in the final that this is bigger than we had imagined.

“After we drew [2-2] at home in the first leg, we told ourselves that we are going there to play football and whatever happens, so be it.

“The strength of that team was that we didn’t fear anything that is human, and we also undermined anyone who didn’t come from Soweto or around Jozi. To us, Abidjan was like the farms, and we couldn’t be beaten by people from the farms.

“We thought of ourselves as being the only knowledgea­ble and intelligen­t people. We saw ourselves as being more civilised based on what we saw of the kind of places where they lived. They lived in the bush. I guess that worked for us.

“Then, when we got back the reception made us realise that this is huge. I feel sorry for the current players because they will never be appreciate­d like us as football is now competing with many other sports like rugby and cricket, which we never saw in the township before.

“With us it was only football for the people, which is why players from the past are still popular. Even when I walk in the mall at my age, people still recognise me because people from back then didn’t have alternativ­es to follow which were competing with football,” says Lushozi, who retired while at Pirates in 1998.

Power of education

Leaving football wasn’t an issue for Lushozi as he had started studying for a higher diploma at the Vista University after the injury at Swallows gave him a scare over his future income.

“The injury I got at Swallows warned me, so as soon as I recovered, I went to school. I was lucky that I was surrounded by people who loved education. The first woman I was married to encouraged me to go to school, plus I had many life coaches.

“I played for Swallows while still doing my Matric and I was told not to drop my studies by senior players like Aubrey Makgopela. I failed that year but kept trying.

“Through studying while playing for Pirates I was promised an administra­tion job, but I took a teaching job in prison in the end. The boss at the prison [Modderbee Correction­al Services] was friends with [Pirates chairman] Irvin Khoza. Teaching was compatible with playing because I had enough time in the afternoon.

“I taught in prison for seven years and it was there that I discovered that most people


in there were not identified for their learning disability, and so ended up as victims of crime. The problem was with their teachers and so it was then that I became interested in intellectu­al disabiliti­es,” he explains.

Following his time teaching in the prison, his next job was as principal at the Albertina Sisulu Centre in Soweto, where he has worked since 2005.

“I have been working as a principal for the past 17 years because I realise that if I have to work in a special school then I have to understand how intellectu­al disability has been conceptual­ised. A special school needs the speciality instead of just having ordinary teachers,” he says.

Unfortunat­ely, in the post football playing era, Lushozi has had to deal with healthrela­ted challenges. While going through the hardships of divorce from his first wife in 2001 he discovered that he was diabetic.

Three years ago it took a turn for the worst when his eyesight started getting blurred, which is one of the symptoms that come with the metabolic disease, along with extreme fatigue and weight loss.

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