Cape Town - In an exclusive interview, Bafana Bafana captain THULANI HLATSHWAYO talks about South Africa’s expectations at AFCON 2019, how he learned of leading the side and listening to R&B with Idris Elba.
Sport24 asked: What does it mean to have qualified for AFCON 2019?
Thulani Hlatshwayo: Bafana Bafana is loved in the country, but we hadn’t qualified for a major tournament in a while. Even in the team itself, we said we don’t want AFCON 2019 to come to South Africa because we want to earn qualification the right way. (Morocco was stripped of the hosting rights and South Africa was in the frame to host the event before Egypt got the seal of approval). We did well during the qualifiers and only conceded two goals, which were an own goal and a penalty. The defence performed well and we knew that when we qualified for a major tournament such as AFCON it would unite the country, and it did. In terms of qualifying, I believe it came down to the togetherness we have in the team. The mood in the Bafana the camp is nice and everyone knows one another and I think that is what has worked. Many of us in the senior national set-up have played together from junior national level so we know one another on and off the field. (Hlatshwayo has represented South Africa at under-17, under-20 and under-23 level as well as the senior set-up).
Sport24 asked: How would you assess Bafana’s chances in Egypt?
Thulani Hlatshwayo: Many might say that we have to draw against Ivory Coast and Morocco and beat Namibia. But if you want to be the best, you must beat the best. With the group that we have, I’m confident that we will be able to advance to the next stage of the tournament. Even though SAFA told coach Stuart (Baxter) that he doesn’t have a mandate, for us it’s about truly discovering our identity as a team and developing from there. But developing doesn’t mean that we have to go and add a number because we play well away from home. We have noticed that we have managed to collect a lot of points away from home in qualifiers. Bafana Bafana hasn’t being doing well over the last few years and when we play at home we know how our supporters are. They love football, but as a player you will be criticised and there will always be pressure. But whenever we play away we feel we are on a mission to represent the country and don’t have those voices, with a language barrier. When thinking back to AFCON 1996, I recall Neil Tovey lifting the trophy alongside former presidents Nelson Mandela and FW de Klerk. I feel sport speaks one language and it unites everyone.
Sport24 asked: How do you enjoy wearing the captain’s armband?
Thulani Hlatshwayo: When previous Bafana Bafana coach Shakes Mashaba was at the helm, the captaincy was rotated. Sometimes Dean Furman and Itumeleng Khune would be the captain and other times I would wear the captain’s armband. Itu was the one who was more experienced than us and he would lead the side most of the time. However, when coach Stuart took over, he said he would speak to the captain in the team, but wouldn’t call him and say, “You are my captain.” So when we went to the first camp under coach Stuart, I was sitting in my room and the coach then made the announcement in a press conference. No one alerted me that there was a possibility of me becoming the full-time captain, and I didn’t know until I saw my Twitter feed buzzing. Since being named Bafana captain, it’s been a lovely road. We have a lot of captains in the team from their respective club sides, which makes my job easier. (Hlatshwayo has been named in the provisional 30-man Bafana AFCON squad and is set to lead the nation at the continental showpiece from June).
Sport24 asked: How would you compare Baxter with Gavin Hunt?
Thulani Hlatshwayo: Gavin Hunt and Stuart are two different types of coaches, but they always want the best out of a player and they push you to your limit. Coach Gav is more old-school and Stuart is more of a modern type of coach. I’m fortunate to be playing for both the coaches and they communicate a lot with me and call me Tyson. In terms of how I got my nickname it was because I was a lookalike of the boxer when he was younger. I earned the nickname from the township in which I was growing up and it has stuck. Sometimes when you don’t like something it sticks with you, but I ended up accepting it. It suits me now because I’m known as a tough on-field competitor.
Sport24 asked: How do your tattoos tie into your life and family?
Thulani Hlatshwayo: The tattoos on my body represent my story. My one tattoo says, “Est.1989”, which is the year I was born. I have a hand prayer and a family in a hut on my arm – my childhood –and I also have the date and time when my son, Thato, was born inked on me. I have a soccer ball held by a lion because I see myself as the king of the jungle on the field. I also have a quote, which reads: “I have learned that people will forget what you say, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” Another tattoo of biblical reference reads, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” I also have the words “love, hope and faith” etched on my skin and a tattoo of me holding my son. Not only fatherhood, but marriage has changed me as a man. I have been married for one and a half years to Kenosi. I tied the knot with my partner and best friend. For me, marriage was just a formality because we had been together for so long. Since I got married everything has been good, which is what a lot of soccer players in our space struggle with. They don’t have that discipline, they are not eating healthily and they are not having enough sleep and they do such a lot of bad things. Having a wife and child keeps me disciplined. That is what it has done for me and it can only be an example to the other guys. In terms of style, I love shoes and accessories, but I’m more of a track pant kind of guy. I’m chilled style-wise and don’t usually choose big brands such as Gucci and Louis Vuitton. I prefer to wear what I’m comfortable in.
Sport24 asked: Who would be your dream dinner guest and why?
Thulani Hlatshwayo: If someone had to play me in a film of my life, it would be Idris Elba. I like him as an actor and would enjoy him as a dinner guest. There has been talk (in the media) that he may be the next James Bond, but I don’t think it will happen even though I would like it to. In terms of the soundtrack of the evening, I enjoy listening to the type of music where you can still have a conversation at the same time. I am soft and like soul music, Afro pop and R&B instead of Hip hop.