Hlompho Kekana, a 35-year-old simple guy from Zebediela, Limpopo. “Village boy”, Denis Onyango and others prefer to call him. To many of us, he’s affectionately known as Gonzalez. What an incredible professional footballer and a great human being!
You don’t have to be a Mamelodi Sundowns supporter to appreciate and acknowledge this good-hearted footballer’s exploits on the field. His level of consistency, professionalism, passion, good conduct as well as his leadership qualities are clear for everyone to see. The dark-skinned legendary player is cut from a different cloth!
For the past five seasons, you can check the records, there’s one name that has been a regular feature in the annual PSL awards and that’s Hlompho Kekana! He’s become synonymous with the PSL awards and whether he’s won or not, the bottom line is that he was always a worthy nominee. Whether it was for Footballer of the Season, Players’ Player of the Season, Midfielder of the Season or Goal of the Season, his name has always been among the best players in the league and that’s no mean feat! You will be hard-pressed to find this level of consistency, at the highest level, in any league and I’m sure some people will agree with me that there’s a case to be made about the number of awards Gonzalez has not won when he had done enough to ascend to the podium to collect an award or two! Despite all of that, Kekana has never been shaken by his poor record at the awards and he’s never even spoke ill of the system or questioned anyone’s logic. In fact, he always encouraged and congratulated those who had beaten him to the podium, showing great sportsmanship. Interestingly, there have been a couple of times where he was beaten by a teammate that he helped guide to a great season.
There are hundreds of players who are yet to make an appearance in the PSL nominees’ list, but this Zebediela lad, ageing as he is, continues to make it a point that his name is mentioned among the best in the league. He never gets tired or used to it, which is commendable. I feel there’s a need to immortalize Kekana into South African football history’s books because he’s earned that privilege. I also feel not enough respect, admiration and love is given to this fearless leader because it is one thing to play competitive football, earning everyone’s respect, up to your late 30s, but it is a whole different story doing it at the highest level, captaining the most successful team in the last six seasons and playing regularly and consistently so. I don’t think he’s getting enough credit for what he’s achieved and continues to do. He’s not been a token captain but a regular feature and even keeping younger players on the bench, which takes a lot, although Hlompho has managed to make it look so easy. He does it so effortlessly. With seven league titles to his name, he remains one of the best to ever do it as the most successful captain in the PSL era. This giant is more than just a footballer!
It is quite intriguing and funny, at the same time, that the Kekana I met more than a decade ago – to this day – remains the same person on and off the field! That is definitely one of the reasons he’s been so consistent and accomplished so much. I first met Gonzalez after he had signed for SuperSport United from Black Leopards, in 2008. The Tshwane-based club had booked him into a B&B somewhere in Tshwane, while they were in the process of sorting out his accommodation. Unbeknown to me, I had come to Kekana’s place with a friend, who told me about a friend he wanted to visit before we left Tshwane. To my surprise, this friend was Kekana, and his infectious smile and laugh was the first thing I noticed as he made sure we felt at home, in his little apartment. You’d have been forgiven for thinking we had been friends for years, thanks to the warm welcome I enjoyed without even introducing myself. His crazy stories, appetite for laughter and caring for others blew me away and I only told him I was working for Soccer Laduma towards the end of our visit. Those who are in our industry will tell you about the importance of keeping our job titles away from new people as much as possible, lest you get a different treatment. People are usually uncomfortable and suspicious around the members of the Fourth Estate, but that wasn’t the case with Kekana. He was just like an ordinary guy from next door and that’s how this humble living legend has been to this day. We have to normalise giving people flowers while they can still smell them instead of showering them with praises posthumously.
Kekana deserves everything he has achieved so far and it would be a disservice if he were to hang up his boots without getting the PSL Chairman’s Award for his contribution to the Beautiful Game. He can’t miss out on big awards and the Chairman’s, that would be an injustice of great proportions. The same thing happened to Siyabonga Sangweni who, despite being the best defender in 2011/12, was beaten to the crown by his namesake, Siyabonga Nomvethe, much to the disappointment of many. Kekana, Nomvethe and Sangweni, are players that should never be lost to South African football as they are true role models, who are all about the game. There are many others and I feel we need to make enough noise about such players so that they inspire the young ones and give them something to look forward to. Our up-and-coming players should model their game on the likes of Kekana, on and off the field, so that we can have a healthier, more competitive pool of players to choose from instead of our star players making the headlines for all the wrong reasons.
Yes, it is not easy to remain the same person after achieving half of what Kekana has achieved, but if he can do it, so can the next person. It can’t be easy being that humble, successful, passionate and focused because with more success come changes, some not so good, and even the attitude. Not with Kekana. This guy will go on the CAF Champions League sojourns and, due to club commitments, he would not be able to honour interview appointments during the day, but he would not mind waking up at 06:00 to do the interview he had agreed to. In this day and age, not many people would avail themselves to the media at such ‘ungodly hours’, but the pride of Zebediela is such a man of his word that you never even worry about him letting you down because what you see is what you get with him.
Bro Hlompho, I know this will come as a surprise to you because, despite everything you’ve achieved so far, you always put others ahead of you and shy away from publicity. However, I feel you deserve a special mention in this week’s column. Keep up the good work on and off the field, with the hope that you’ve planted seeds in your teammates and colleagues. Our football would be richer with more of your kind. Thanks, Gonzalez, for being you! Thank you for your contribution to our Game and may you continue to be the role model, a force, a great human being and a professional that you are. God bless you, ‘Village boy’!