How do you begin to speak about a man who served our footballing circles so loyally for over 13 years? Thabang “Chillies” Lebese was one of the most loyal as well as dedicated footballers of our time. He played for Kaizer Chiefs for seven years from 1993 to 2000, but this move was one which he initially resented and actually felt guilty for. The guilt arose from him growing up his whole life as an Orlando Pirates fan, playing for all amateur clubs that began with “Orlando”, such as Orlando Hotspurs and Wanderers.
His talent was unavoidable and was eventually spotted by a man who has never had talent far from his eye – the late Eliakim Khumalo, father of the Doctor. Mr. Khumalo initially approached Lebese with the offer to play for the Amakhosi, but he declined citing his faith to the Ghost Ship. Eventually he was swayed and joined the Glamour Boys where he would play close to 220 games before leaving for Ria Stars.
He said that he regretted leaving Chiefs, but he could no longer sit on Muhsin Ertugral’s bench. Following his stint at Ria Stars he joined his childhood team – Orlando Pirates. He is one of the distinguished few to play for the three Soweto Giants of the time, including Moroka Swallows.
Such was the kind of man that Lebese was that he joined the Buccaneers without a contract. Irvin Khoza and him had an enormous amount of respect for each other and they did their business dealings with mutual understandings. He only stayed with Pirates for two seasons but still managed to win a PSL title under the guidance of Gordon Igesund.
Following this success, Roy Borreto arrived to coach Pirates and brought a whole host of new players with him, this caused Lebese to leave – a decision which he said he came to regret as much as the one that caused him to leave Chiefs.
Following this Lebese’s life never reached the levels of fame and success that he previously enjoyed. His life ended unfortunately and through a common ill of our country – that of the HIV/AIDS virus.
There is a lesson to be learned in every tragedy and the one that must stick with us today is that the virus does not discriminate. Success and good fortune will not protect you from the deadly disease – only you can protect yourself through safe sex measures.
Thabang’s life serves as an inspiration and a reminder. Of what you can achieve and what you can lose, all in one lifetime, and it is all in your control.
Thank you for the memories.