After hearing about Siyabonga Doctor Sangweni’s retirement from professional football because of a niggling knee injury that kept him out of the game for most of this season, my mind was flooded with memories and stories of the man they call Ntsimbi.
For a hard-tackling, no-nonsense defender like Sangweni, injuries are a daily occurrence, as the Dondotha-born defender was known to never pull out of a challenge. Any player who came one-on-one with the powerful defender will confess that the experience was generally nightmarish, as he wasn’t a player that just barked, but had a ferocious bite as well. The soft-spoken defender stole the limelight while in the colours of Lamontville Golden Arrows under the guidance of Manqoba Mngqithi, among other coaches, who shaped his game and led him to become one of Arrows’ first ever players to be called up to the national team. He had an uncompromising attitude on the field, while always portraying a laid-back manner off of it.
I remembered the aggressive tackle he meted out to his younger brother, Thamsanqa, when Pirates came up against AmaZulu. The two brothers went into a challenge just outside of Pirates’ area and, surprisingly, there was no love lost between the two, with Thami obviously coming off second best and requiring some medical attention in the process. Ntsimbi went into the challenge with such aggression that I couldn’t believe he was facing his blood brother. He went in as though he was defending against Kingston Nkhatha, Bernard Parker, Nathan Paulse or Jeremy Brockie. Before the game, there was so much love shown between the two brothers, hugging and laughing, but that quickly disappeared when the game started. It was only after the final whistle that the hugs and laughter reappeared, resulting in the now famous picture of the two Sangweni brothers walking off the field with their surname and the jerseys both numbered 21 proudly displayed on their backs.
When speaking to the older Sangweni after the game, I asked him about that vicious tackle on his younger brother. He dismissed it by simply saying something along the lines of, “I don’t have a brother on the field.” He also mentioned that Thami should expect no preferential treatment from him as they both had a job to do for their respective clubs. When I pushed him by asking why he didn’t just put in a body-check instead of such a strong tackle, Ntsimbi wouldn’t budge on his standpoint. This made me realise that although he is a man of few words, his actions speak far louder; his tough-as-nail attitude supersedes any emotional affiliation.
Then I recalled when Orlando Pirates, Mamelodi Sundowns and Kaizer Chiefs were all linked with Thami as his days at AmaZulu neared an end. I decided to phone Ntsimbi to ask about the possibility of his younger brother joining him at Bucs. As Ntsimbi was already at Pirates, I assumed the Black and White stood a great chance of snatching up his brother, who was in such demand. To me, at face value it looked as though it would be very easy for Pirates to use Ntsimbi to lure his younger brother to the club, but after that phone call I was left with a completely different understanding of the man. Ntsimbi made it clear that he wouldn’t interfere in his younger brother’s business, other than to give him advice if it was requested by Thami. Now, it doesn’t get more professional than that because it would have been quite simple for him to convince his younger brother to join him at Bucs. After the phone call I was left with a renewed respect for Ntsimbi, and history will show that Sundowns eventually won the race for the younger Sangweni’s services.
In another memorable incident, our Siyagobhoza crew reported that a disruptive member of Bucs’ dressing room was put in his place by the uncompromising defender, a story Sangweni was furious made its way to our newsroom. The story goes that this teammate, who has since left Pirates, was furious at his lack of regular game-time and decided to have a heated argument with the coach at the time. According to our insiders, the rest of the team sat quietly while the argument ensued, until finally the Dondotha-born defender rose and went up to the offending player. He quietly told him to be silent and show some respect for the coach and the rest of the team. When the teammate refused to listen, Ntsimbi held him against the wall… and that was it – game, set and match! Order was restored and the coach went on with his team talk. That’s the kind of player current Bucs coach, Eric Tinkler, and his technical team will now have to do without… a teammate Bucs’ players will sorely miss.
Ntsimbi was respected by his teammates and opposition alike. During one training session at Orlando Stadium ahead of a Soweto Derby, Benni McCarthy kicked a ball onto Sangweni’s head after a training session. The former Bafana Bafana striker picked Sangweni’s head as a target out of everyone who was enjoying a water break, listening to Caretaker Coach Augusto Palacios. The look on Sangweni’s face after the ball struck him was enough to see Benni almost on his knees, begging for forgiveness! Some teammates close to the action laughed and shouted something to the effect that Benni had done it on purpose, as they fished for a reaction from Sangweni. Benni rushed up to the hulking defender to apologise and embrace him, just to be safe. To see the great Benni McCarthy almost on his knees apologising to Ntsimbi was a sight to behold! It further proved the level of respect Ntsimbi’s teammates had for him.
That’s the kind of person the South African football fraternity will miss. It is saddening, but the man has played his part and it is time for him to turn his focus to his family, his livestock and managing his football team. Thanks for representing the country with pride whenever you donned Bafana colours, Ntsimbi. Go well, buddy!