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Mshishi against all odds

Cyril Mlaba

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In the township slang, “Mshishi” is a nickname with no direct translation. It’s bestowed on someone who is smooth or slick. Themba Zwane – unassuming and only recently emerging from his shyness of youth, yet the most destructive attacking force in the Premier Soccer League (PSL) right now – earned this nickname as a teenage footballer in reference to his exquisite skills.

Those who know him say it was part Zwane’s quietness that saw the prodigious talent overlooked as professional teams snapped up teammates Thabo Matlaba, Mthokozisi Yende and Punch Masenamela from Tembisa’s Mahlangu Tigers around the time South Africa was hosting the 2010 Fifa World Cup.

The late bloomer has eclipsed those early teammates. He is the source of the backheel surrounded by three defenders. The body swerves to beat a player that resulted in an opposing defender being forced to literally eat grass. His vision, control, and final pass make Mamelodi Sundowns tick.

The Mahlangu Tigers coach in the 2010s was Jerry Sikhosana, the Orlando Pirates legend Zwane grew up four houses down from in Khalambazo Section, Tembisa. It was watching “Legs of Thunder” destroy Kaizer Chiefs in Soweto derbies on television, then arrive home in the flesh, that stoked young Zwane’s dreams of not only playing professional football but also doing it with magic.

Zwane’s mother, Lindiwe Zwane, died when he was “10, 11”, the Sundowns player says. Zwane’s dad, Mandla Mnguni, provided for him and his three half-sisters, although he left his father’s home and Khalambazo as a teenager to move in with his grandmother, Anna Mnguni, in Tembisa’s Ivory Park section.

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His family was poor but “we were just okay, because our father was always there for us”, he says

Sikhosana knew Zwane “as a babatjie (baby), when he was born. I mean, I was close to the family,” says the ex-Buccaneer