By Robson Sharuko
HARARE-JABU MAHLANGU has transformed himself from being a wayward footballer, whose life appeared to have disintegrated into ruins, to become a SuperSport analyst.
David Mkandawire and Junaid Hartley, meanwhile, have taken the first steps, in a spectacular rehabilitation exercise, which could see them barking instructions from the bench.
Mahlangu, who used to be known as Jabu Pule during his heydays at Kaizer Chiefs, is regarded as one of the best naturally-gifted footballers to come out of South Africa.
Sadly, he will also be remembered as a star, who wasted his talent though drugs and booze, with his love for alcohol costing him a career in Europe where his contract with SV Mattersburg in Austria was cancelled after just eight months after the midfielder crashed his car while under the influence of alcohol, during the 2004/2005 season.
That incident happened shortly after Chiefs finally lost patience with the wayward star, by refusing to extend his contract in 2004, with the Amakhosi leaders having – for about five years – chosen to overlook his bad boy behaviour because of the value he used to add to the club on the pitch.
Mahlangu was twice sent into a rehabilitation clinic by SuperSport United in 2005, to try and help him overcome his drinking and drugs problems, before the Pretoria club – just like their Johannesburg rivals Kaizer Chiefs – sacked him that year after the midfielder missed a number of training sessions.
A member of the Bafana Bafana team that took part at the 2000 Olympics and 2002 FIFA World Cup finals, it was reported that, prior to the team’s departure for their World Cup adventure, the then South African President Thabo Mbeki told him, “Jabu, you must behave yourself,” as he shook hands with all the players, wishing them luck in South Korea and Japan.
But Mahlangu has been given another chance and is now a pundit on SuperSport in a remarkable turnaround of a life that appeared skidding towards ruin.
The South African Football Players Union (SAFPU) believe they can also help former Zimbabwe international Mkandawire, who had turned into a destitute in Johannesburg’s Kempton Park area, and former Bafana Bafana midfielder, Hartley, whose life has been dogged by drug abuse, find a way back from the wilderness.
Mkandawire, who had stints with AmaZulu in Zimbabwe, the University of Pretoria in South Africa and even played in India, made headlines this year when his sorry plight, where he had turned into a destitute in Johannesburg, was the subject of intensive media coverage either side of the Limpopo.
Having been spotted begging in Kempton Park, the story attracted widespread media coverage in South Africa and Zimbabwe, with South African radio and television personality, Robert Marawa, joining the bandwagon of those calling for the former footballer to be helped.
Zimbabwe international striker Tendai Ndoro played a leading role, calling for help for his countryman, while a number of high-profile Zimbabwean footballers and ex-footballers working in South Africa, including legendary Warriors skipper Peter Ndlovu, heeded the call to help Mkandawire.
His mother travelled from Malawi to help her only son, in a family of six children, with her bills being footed by the likes of Tapiwa Kapini, Tendai Tanyanyiwa and Ndoro.
SAFPU helped put Mkandawire and Hartley into rehabilitation at the Weskoppies Psychiatric Hospital in Pretoria.
And, after they were released from hospital, the SAFPU leadership threw them into a coaching course, the CAF D licence, which they completed recently in a massive step towards their return to football.
The course was run by SAFPU in conjunction with the South African Football Association with the players union providing the funding for Mkandawire and Hartley’s participation.
“We wanted to help him out to move from the streets. We then came up with an idea to take him to a coaching clinic as his wish was to be a football manager after his playing career,” SAFPU boss, Tebogo Monyai, said.
“It’s our mandate to help our members and David is one of them.”
It is very likely the duo, with the help of SAFPU, will have to start from the very bottom, coaching school children, but it will still represent a significant step for them, in their return from the wilderness.
“We believe the most important thing is skills development and we will be making arrangements for him to take up a coaching course,” Monyai, who quit competitive football this year at the age of 37, told the New Age newspaper.
“Thereafter we will place him at a school where he can coach and build himself up as a coach. We are aware of his dream to become a coach and we want to make it a reality.”
Mkandawire has always insisted he wants to plunge into coaching.
Hartley, who is also being given a second chance, played for Orlando Pirates and Bidvest Wits in South Africa before attracting the interest of Portuguese club Vitoria Setubal and then playing in France.
He was part of the South African national Under-20 team for the 1997 FIFA World Youth Championships in Malaysia and his star appeared to be shining brightly before drugs took over which ruined his dreams.
Whether both Hartley and Mkandawire will make it as coaches remains to be seen but what is clearly heart-warming is that their lives, which appeared to have gone off the rails, are slowly being shaped again, with a big help from colleagues who refused to see them wasting away.