August 2018 saw Zuka become Young Bafana’s first graduate to be awarded a professional contract in South Africa. He is not the biggest. He is not the strongest. However his talent is a gift which far outweighs any disadvantages that his size may bring.
In January 2014 Young Bafana decided to develop the first of three performance teams. Trial training sessions were organized to screen talented players from Lwandle Township.
Becoming a part of Young Bafana offers a rare opportunity for many children and adolescents to cross the boundaries of the township in order to be promoted as an athlete. This enables them to participate in games and tournaments in Cape Town. In addition, Young Bafana supplies all transport and equipment, as well as nutrition after each practice. School lessons are also provided for the children.
One of the applicants, a small, rather slender boy seemed to stand out from the start. The boy, who went by the name of “Zuka” (short form of the weapon Bazuka) immediately caught the eye of the coaches. His strengths were clearly identified in his technical skills, his speed and distinctive game intelligence. He certainly lived up to his reputation in Lwandle where he was known as one of the most talented players by his peers.
Along with his teammates of the newly founded U15 Performance Team, Zuka made the 10km (return) journey to training up to five times a week on foot. The team, coached by Young Bafana founder Bernd Steinhage spent their first year training without shoes.
Zuka’s squad was promoted three seasons in a row – to Cape Town’s highest youth league. In addition, Zuka and his team reach the final of the Coke Cup 2017, South Africa’s biggest amateur tournament.
Zuka has always been seen as a player who does not speak much or put himself in the foreground. He often seems absorbed in his own thoughts, often isolated but never unpopular in the team. While other players are focused on their free time right after training, Zuka is still focused on football and thoughtful about his performance.
On the pitch, he stood out as one of the most alert and communicative players. He was always exemplary in his time management with Young Bafana and is extremely respectful to the coaches.
In order to keep fit, in addition to the football training, Zuka went jogging about three times a week at 5 o’clock, in front of the school, for two hours. His dedication to his game was admirable.
Zuka loves the offensive game. One of his most popular, and at the same time most effective moves, is dribbling with the ball, cutting inside and at the edge of the box, and then finishing off with a goal full of finesse. Similar to the favorite move of FC Bayern player Arjen Robben, just on the other side of the pitch.
Another unique characteristic for which he is known in the Township, is his goal celebration. As a rule, he performs a summersault, followed by some artistic footwork.
Raised by a single mother, Zuka lives in a small corrugated iron hut along with five other family members. Supporting the family could be a challenge and so Zuka attempted to bring in some revenue for the family.
On December 16, 2015 Zuka was attacked by three criminals in the street after he managed to raise some money for his family. One of the gangsters was armed with a broken glass bottle. In the ensuing scuffle he stabbed Zuka in the middle of his face. The wound needed 24 stitches. Though thankfully, the bottle missed his left eye by only a few inches, the scar will remain a part of him for life. Zuka overcame this trauma and concentrated on returning to the pitch as soon as possible.
Though Zuka has a great love for the game of football, his commitment does not only stem from his desire to become a professional footballer. To move beyond the circumstances of his life in the township will afford his family some relief from the incredible financial strain they are under.
In the 16/17 season, the 1.65cm winger scored a total of 35 goals for Young Bafana in the highest youth league in Cape Town and received the Golden Boot Award at the end of the season.
When asked what he would want to achieve next, Zuka confidently exclaimed: “I want to play for the Kaizer Chiefs *, Coach.”
* The Kaizer Chiefs (16 million members) in South Africa is the equivalent to Bayern Munich in Germany.
After hearing this, Young Bafana founder Bernd Steinhage waited for the right time and contacted the management of Kaizer Chiefs to arrange a trial session for Zuka. After some fundraising to cover the costs of the trip, Bernd and Zuka set off to Johannessburg to follow Zuka’s dream.
The head coach of the Kaizer Chiefs’ U-23 team was immediately impressed and expressed his interest after the first trial. The promise of a place in the team was not long in coming.
Zuka continued to show his determination when he first arrived in Johannesburg. For the first two months, he was unable to live in the boarding school due to an availability issue. A temporary solution was found and Zuka lived with his cousin during that time. The cousin’s home was 40km from the Kaizer Chiefs’ training ground. It was no small feat for this 18 year old from the small township of Lwandle to find his way every morning to training and home again in the evening in the big city of Johannesburg. Fortunately Young Bafana was in a position to help Zuka financially with the extra costs this incurred.
During his time training with Kaizer Chiefs Zuka proved his value and worth despite the greater competition on the pitch. He became the top scorer in the diski side and helped the team reach and win the Diski Shield final versus Sundowns.ome again in the evening in the big city of Johannesburg. Fortunately Young Bafana was in a position to help Zuka financially with the extra costs this incurred.
Zuka played for the “Diski” team of the Kaizer Chiefs, meaning the reserve team, which provides or “feeds” the first team with fresh talent. In the Diski League, the other reserve teams of the Premier Soccer League are also represented. The public interest in the Diski League has grown so much in South Africa that the prime time games get screened on national television.
A TV commentator had the following to say of Zuka:
English: “He is always there; he is always in the mix. That’s why he can finish that ball because he sniffs the opportunity.”
Zuka began a new chapter in his journey in August 2018. Together with his mentor, Bernd Steinhage, he has decided to accept a 2 year contract with South African second division club, Ubuntu Cape Town FC. Zuka is currently playing with a no 13 on his back. The move has facilitated many advantages. He has more time on the pitch, has improved as a striker and also appreciates living closer to his family again.
Although Zuka is not officially a Young Bafana player anymore, he will always be a part of Young Bafana, and he will continue to be advised and regularly visited by his mentor Bernd Steinhage.
The fact that Zuka has the number 13 on his back, is testament to his hard work and irrepressible beliefs. He has come from a small township and has already achieved something remarkable. It’s a journey that Young Bafana as a training club and the residents of the Lwandle Township are very proud of.
He says that his greatest encouragement is the certainty that God is by his side.
His journey is far from over. His big dream: PSG.
Bonne Chance, Zuka!