Thabiso “Boyzzz” Khumalo moved away from South Africa at age 16 to make the most of his soccer skills and the scholastic opportunities they unlocked in the United States, and he’s since spent most of his professional career here in USL and MLS.
But this month he’s pining for his homeland. Khumalo grew up in Soweto, South Africa, his home just a short walk from where Soccer City Stadium stands as the gleaming centerpiece of his nation’s long-awaited chance to show itself to the world.
His commitments to United are keeping him in the States, but he’s doing his best to immerse himself in the World Cup, spending nearly every waking hour absorbing the spectacle via TV, internet and phone calls home.
“Every time I call my friends, I can hear everybody’s excited. I listen to the radio and read the newspapers —it’s the biggest event in the world, so of course I wish I was there,” explained the D.C. United winger after one of his club’s recent training sessions.
“I think I need to stop calling my people, because they’re the ones that make me want to go and experience this thing.”
The tournament’s first weekend of action unfolded in vibrant fashion and one of Khumalo’s tips has already proved to be a prescient one. Last week he predicted great things for two mercurial South African talents who take their inspiration from the streetwise style known as kasie soccer.
“Our soccer is different. I don’t know if people understand the way we play because it’s a more flashy, skillful type,” said Khumalo. “It’s not hard, like you’ve got to run all over the place. It’s all about skill and There’s a guy by the name of [Siphiwe] Tshabalala, and another guy, Teko Modise —if you watch those guys, you see the South African townships.”
Tshabalala hammered a majestic strike to help South Africa earn a 1-1 draw against Mexico in the tourney opener and Khumalo believes that Bafana Bafana will continue to be inspired by their nation’s passionate support.
“Here [at United] we have a sign that says, ‘The Home of the 12th Man in the stadium. That’s the 12th man, there,” he said of the South African fans and their blaring vuvuzelas. “For South African players, that’s a lift-up. That’s the extra boost they need to go out there and just do their thing and be at their best.”
Concern lingers about their ability to progress out of a tight Group A, but Khumalo has boldly predicted championship glory for his national side, finding parallels in a recent viewing of Invictus, a film narrating the South African rugby team’s startling run to a world title in 1995 after earning the support of then-president Nelson Mandela as the country looked to heal the wounds of the apartheid era.
“The team just met Mandela the other day, so that’s a lift-up for the team because he’s the man and everybody believes in the Madiba spirit, or Madiba magic, they call it,” said Khumalo, referring to Mandela’s tribal nickname. “So yeah, I think South Africa will go all the way —I put my money on it.”