The early years
Like many young boys his age, Masuku played the only sport on offer at his school and community–football. Growing up in the community of Makhosini, a dusty village located in the southern part of Swaziland, he simply had no choice but play football as it was the only sport on offer to boys his age.
At the time ‘Young Stars’ was the popular local team that nurtured young talent. It was popularly known as ‘The Flying Squad’ under the stewardship of the legendary Kabayi Lushaba and Tamati Dlamini.
“While a student at Makhosini Primary, I played for the junior team under the leadership of our disciplinarian player coach and teacher A G “Sweet and Low” Mfeka. In the team we had guys like Morgan Mzinyane, Sipho Mkhabela, Danddy Masondo, Welcome Msiza, Aggricolah Muzi Dlamini and many others. We would play against schools like Mahamba Primary as well as Makhonza Primary which boasted of players like the late Selby Matsebula,” Masuku recalls.
These were all footballing giants of Masuku’s generation and to have played with them was more than an honour to him.
High School Football
In 1967, a year before the country gained independence, Masuku enrolled at the then whites’ only government school, Evelyn Baring High School in Nhlangano. Strangely, at this stage he did not fancy himself playing football anymore. He was the first batch of black students enrolled at the school.
When a certain Mr Val, a teacher at the school, instructed him to play football for the school he refused. As punishment, together with others who refused this instruction, they were ordered to write an essay titled “Wild animals come from Africa.”
Instead, a rebellious Masuku wrote an essay titled “All wild animals come from Europe.” As punishment he was expelled from school. Without prospects of finishing his education he began to look for an alternative school to finish his education.
Luckily, he found an equally decent school at St Christopher’s High school but Harry Telford, a principal at Evelyn Baring, recalled him back to Evelyn Baring . He came back a changed young man, at least with regards to playing football again.
By 1968 he had returned to playing football and a year later was drafted into the senior school team. So good was he that by 1971 he was appointed the school team captain.
“The team was one of the best and all conquering in the country. There were great guys like DC Thwala, Ferrington Khumalo, Patrick Mdladla, Harry Nxumalo, Machawe Mavuso, Sikelela Mdziniso to name just a few. The principal, Mr Telford, who had played his football in England, was our coach. We played just about everyone from other lower schools in Makhosini and Madulini as well as other high schools within the vicinity. We also played against semi-professional football clubs in the country”, Masuku recalls.
It was during this period that former Maseyisini Member of Parliament, the late Rodgers ‘Bomber’ Matsebula, spotted his talent and recruited Masuku to join Nyamane Wanderers.
This was a huge club in the local community and to play for them was without a doubt a huge honour. To understand what this meant at the time, consider this; it was only him and one other student who were allowed to leave the school hostel and play for their team outside the school on weekends.
“Nyamane Wanderers and Hlatikulu Tycoons were very close and travelled together to play games in places like Pongola, Empangeni and Vryheid in South Africa. Tycoons had great players like Reggie Matholeni, Mbekwa and Pro Dlamini to mention a few,” continues Masuku.
Journey with Mbabane Highlanders Football Club
Mbabane Highlanders Football Club is normally referred to as the aristocrats of Swazi football because of their iconic status and success over many years. In his life, Masuku never knew he was to one day sign a “life contract” with the club.
His first ever contact with the club was way back in 1970 when he was still a student at Evelyn Baring High School. Back then, a high school team playing against established football clubs was normal.
“In that year, the great Mbabane Highlanders came to play us at the school’s sports ground just below our hostel. They came with players like Stanley Matsebula, Casper, Mainline Shaw, Piet Ndlovu, Phola Msibi, Timer Mthembu, Andreas Ginindza and many others. These were the country’s footballing greats,” Masuku recounts.
Not surprisingly, a week after that historic game, two prominent supporters of the team returned to the school and presented Masuku with a pair of new Adidas soccer boots.
“I had never owned that brand before. These supporters were Capital Vilakati and Enock Dlamini who, coincidentally, was to marry my sister in subsequent years. The boots were an instruction and an endorsement that I was now recruited to join the team,” narrates Masuku.
By 1972 Masuku had completed High School and soon left his dusty rural village of Makhosini for Mbabane, the country’s capital city. On arrival he stayed with Chris Masuku at a place called Rondo Centre.
“Here there were a lot of rondavels mostly used by prison warders. The Mbabane Prison was then situated where the country’s Central Bank is presently. This was before the prison facility relocated to its present location at Sidvwashini. With the rondovels abandoned, many took shelter in them, so did we,” explains Masuku.
Coincidentally, when the young Masuku arrived in Mbabane, he did not report to the Highlanders ‘family’. As someone who loved playing football, he found himself playing for Mbabane United Brothers, a local club, for a brief period.
As fate would have it, he was spotted again by two prominent members of Mbabane Highlanders Football club who reconnected him with Highlanders. Recalls Masuku: “Consequently, the two, Seawater Ginindza and Excellent Masuku (who was from Hlatikhulu in the southern part of the country) gave me a stern instruction to go join Mbabane Highlanders immediately. The rest, as they say, is history.”
However, cracking into the first eleven at Mbabane Highlanders proved difficult for Masuku. After all, this was a well-established club with a long history of attracting the best players the country could offer. The team already had well known stars who couldn’t be benched that easily, especially by a boy of Masuku’s age.
“As a player I had to understand this footballing dynamic. I waited patiently for my time. It was not until the team’s centre back, Zwelonke ‘Sport’ Dlamini got injured that I got a chance to play. And from there on, I never looked back. I cemented my position as as a right fullback for the club. The team also travelled outside the country to play teams in Nelspruit, Barberton, Witbank and many other areas,” he recalls.
Former Mbabane Highlanders great, Sam ‘Gawula Mbazo’ Mavuso excitedly recalls, “I played with Mario, Puma Matsebula and others in that great team. We won every tournament hence were called ‘The Money Devils’. We were feared everywhere we went, even outside the country. Mario used to play positions 2 and 7 if I recall correctly.”
In 1974, the team underwent transformation and restructuring both with the playing style and management personnel. Subsequently, the older generation found itself being phased out.
“In the transformation process, I was tasked as the Secretary of the club and became the youngest ever,” Masuku tells us.
In the early 1980s, the once famous Mbabane Artisans Football Club managed by the late George ‘Mzomba’ Tsela was adopted as Highlander’s junior team. Masuku was tasked to go and work with the technical team as coach for a few years.
In the mid 1980s, Masuku was recalled to again come and serve as Highlanders Secretary. This is a position he held until 1989. A year later he was incarcerated and charged with treason together with other members of PUDEMO. His political journey would from then on occupy much of his life and his footballing life would fizzle gradually in the memory of most people.
Masuku is still very much attached and loyal to Mbabane Highlanders Football Club. He is serving in the Patrons structure of the club with several others. When he has the opportunity, he watches the club’s games.
As a member of ‘Inkunzi Emnyama’, as the club is affectionately known, he also keeps up to date with developments in the club.Masuku is proud that he is one of several people from the Shiselweni region who have played for an elite club team in the country.
Some of these included Excellent Masuku, Vivian Shaw and Levay Makhanya just to mention a few.
“In all the years I have been in football, I have observed that for their success many football teams relied on training and combined it with either prayer or supernatural help,” he says in jest.
“oh on a different note, I also played table tennis,” he says with his trademark smile. Gwaza Nkunzi!!
Nomvula Ntjangase is a student at Limkokwin University of Technology. She is contributing this article as part of her learnership at school.