Most in South Africa will be familiar with Doctor Khumalo, the man who scored the country’s first ever international goal and who holds the record for the most appearances for Kaizer Chiefs. But where did his magnificent footballing DNA come from? Well, from an equally magnificent footballer, of course…
Nicknamed ‘Pro’, short for professor for the astute footballing wisdom displayed, Eliakim Khumalo was an enigma because the gentle way in which he carried himself was in stark contrast to the toughness he displayed on a football pitch. In a time of rough and tough footballers, ‘Pro’ apparently made a point of being gentlemanly and courteous in all his interactions. Yet on the field, he was merciless, moving the ball in such a manner defenders were always left reeling, one step behind.
Eliakim was a member of one of the original Soweto Giants – Moroka Swallows – and epitomized loyalty by staying at the club for roughly 216 games, scoring close to 90 goals in that time. It was also at this time that one Kaizer Motaung was establishing one of the biggest clubs in South Africa.
‘Pro’ became one of the first recruits of Amakhosi, joining the team in 1971. He would go on to play 90 games for Kaizer Chiefs and score close to 40 goals in that time. Sadly he was only able to play a watered-down version of international football due to the apartheid laws of the day, and the closest Eliakim would get was for Transvaal on 30 occasions, helping them to victory in the 1963 and 1973 African games. He would go on to coach Chiefs six times, leading them to three NPSL titles, after which he headed up the development side, where he helped turn his son Doctor into a venomous footballer and unearthed fellow Hall of Famer, Thabang Lebese.
Anyone who spent time around the Khumalo family is quick to explain just how close Doctor and the Professor were. They will recall how Pro would have to buy Doctor a new pair of shoes frequently because of how quickly he would wear them down from running in the streets, constantly playing football. That is why this story is all the more heartrending – South Africa has a way of showing you its beauty and its struggles at a glance.
Doctor Khumalo went on to help South Africa to its historic 1996 Africa Cup of Nations win, probably one of the proudest moments of his father’s life. Tragically, a few months later, Eliakim was no more, South Africa robbed of a hero through the bullet of a gun when Pro was murdered in a hijacking outside his home in Soweto. It is for that reason that we have a smile in our heart and a tear in our eye when we remember Eliakim Khumalo.
Thank you for the memories, ‘Pro’, and rest in peace.