‘Time for my mom to sit back and enjoy fruits of my success’

Following a career-changing move from Stellenbosch to Philadelphia Union in the US in July last year, South African rising soccer star Olwethu Makhanya has wasted no time to give his mother a break from her backbreaking hustles.

The 19-year-old towering defender, who plies his trade in the fast-growing Major Soccer League, told Sunday World he has stopped his mother from waking up very early in the mornings to work as an informal trader.

Makhanya’s mother has relied on her hustle for many years to put food on the table for her family in KwaMakhutha, a sprawling township south of Durban.

“My mother has been a pillar of strength for the family. For many years she has been hustling for us as a street vendor at Isipingo firms,” Makhanya said.

Isipingo is a busy industrial town near the township of Umlazi, south of Durban.

“Following my dream move to the US, I sat her down and told her to stop worrying because I can take care of the family now. I am proud to tell everyone that with the little money that mommy made under the scorching sun and sometimes rainy days, it helped me and my elder brother when I left home at the age of 16 to look for greener pastures in Johannesburg,” said Makhanya.

Reflecting on his remarkable journey, which included him winning the Nedbank Cup Most Promising Player award, the soft-spoken and media-shy central defender said he did not know Philadelphia scouts were tracking his progress.

 “They came down for our Nedbank Cup game where Stellies beat Sundowns 2-1 at Athlone Stadium. They were impressed with my shift on that tough day and after negotiations with my agent Rob Moore and Stellies, the deal was signed, sealed and delivered.

“The move took me by surprise because I was just beginning to assert myself into the team since it was my debut season, having been with the Diski [reserves] team the previous season,” said Makhanya.

His transfer to Philadelphia is a landmark move as he became youth-oriented Stellenbosch FC’s first export. But long before his break at Stellies, Makhanya had endured several rejections at many Premiership clubs, where he had hoped to be signed for their reserve sides. He finally got lucky with Black Leopards, where he turned out for its DStv Diski Challenge reserve side.

After leaving Leopards for Marumo Gallants, also in Limpopo, he took a chance to attend Stellenbosch FC trials. He was picked and made most of the opportunity given to him until he quickly broke into the senior team.

Makhanya had been home after the end of the MLS season in late October, just in time before the snowy conditions engulfed most of the US – more so the Eastern Seaboard, where Philadelphia is located.

This week he returns to the US to join his team for the pre-season training camp to be set up in the warmer Florida as Philly and the rest of the East Coast are still experiencing extremely cold winter weather.

Makhanya will return to the US spiritually emboldened after partaking in the Shembe church’s gruelling three-day pilgrimage to the holy Khenani mountain in Ndwedwe north of Durban.

“The walk to the sacred mountain is an annual custom for us church members and undergoing it has reinvigorated me and will no doubt bring me endless blessings in the new year. I am ready to conquer what’s in front of me.”

Makhanya, whose role models are former Kaizer Chiefs defender Tefu Mashamaite and Manchester City’s John Stones, is also busy with an online financial literacy course.

“I want to equip myself with business knowledge because I want to venture into investing in future,” said the man who proved a good omen for Stellies en route to being crowned inaugural Carling Black Label Cup champions.

He surprised his former teammates by arriving in the change room before the semifinal clash against Richards Bay in Durban. He also brought his “lucky charm” before the final against TS Galaxy, also in Durban, on December 16.

“I am satisfied and happy with life in Philly. It is a friendly city with good people and beautiful buildings. I am looking forward to rejoining my teammates and I promise them luck from home.

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