“Wow! The boy from Coconyane is here”, chuckles S’Bu every time he sees me.
The correct spelling of the village where I was born and raised is Cokonyane; it’s in Taung, North West. The name of that nondescript small village was somewhat intriguing to larger-than-life S’Busiso Mseleku. I knew his name from reading his articles. One of the best writers of his generation, who this country could be proud of.
Then, one day in the early 1990s, shortly after I joined the media industry as a young commentator, I saw the man – the owner of the revered name, S’Busiso Mseleku. It was at the old Soccer City, then still called FNB Stadium. I was with the man S’Bu referred to as “My size”, another venerated football fundi, the late Cebo Manyaapelo. When you saw them both, you understood why they referred to each other thus; both of them chubby. With their affable personalities everyone felt at ease in their presence.
“People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did,” goes the misattribution to Maya Angelou, “but people will never forget how you made them feel.” That was S’Bu.
He was always cheerful so that I at times wondered if he ever knew how to be angry.
He was very particular about how his name was written and often corrected anyone who got it wrong. Unlike many, his name has an apostrophe, with two caps. I think I once asked him why, but I can’t remember what he said the reason was. It was not important. What was important was to get it right.
It was when he was still at the Sowetan alongside Sello Rabothata and Molefi Mika that they coined the name Bafana Bafana, shortly after readmission of our football by both CAF and Fifa.
The then newly-formed team had just held their own against the Indomitable Lions of Cameroon who became the first Africans to qualify for Fifa World Cup quarterfinals two years earlier in 1990.
With other veterans of the country’s journalism, Dr Thami Mazwai, Sy Lerman and William Cooper, he had earlier written a book chronicling football’s contribution to the struggle, aptly named Thirty Years of South African Soccer.
Before modern technology forced media convergence, he was among the first to be in newspapers, and on radio and television. At the time, with City Press, he was also an analyst with SABC Sports, and excelled in both.
When I was writing the book The Politics of South African Football several years ago, my publisher Rose Francis gave me a list of names from which to choose a writer we could approach for a foreword. I chose S’Bu and called him for the honour.
Before then I had, alongside him and Timothy Molobi, attended an investigative journalism workshop organised by Wits University. One of the speakers was one Andrew Jennings who exposed graft in Fifa through his BBC programmes, and had written several books on corruption in sports.
During the break S’Bu asked me how the book was coming along. I jokingly said it would be nice if he could contribute. He said, “Anything you want; feel free to ask.”
I reminded him of that when I asked him to write a foreword. He said I should send him manuscripts and I duly did. I must admit, at times I wondered if he was serious for it was taking forever and Francis wanted material published but couldn’t do so till we had the foreword.
To this day I am grateful for her patience for I do not think anyone of the names on that list would have done so as candidly as he did.
He took time to read the manuscript and wrote carefully; his astuteness summed up in his intro and outro. “While there are plenty of anecdotes about South African soccer – some hilarious, some sad and others bordering on the absurd…
“It is certainly a must read, not only for football fundis but even for the man in the street who doesn’t give a hoot about the ‘game of the pig skin’”.
You were a real raconteur. Thank you so much S’Busiso Mseleku. Repose in eternal peace.
Koonyaditse is a spokesperson for the North West department of community safety and transport management and author of The Politics of South African Football. He writes in his personal capacity