Strong religious convictions and professional sport do not always go hand-in-hand (just ask Australian rugby player, Israel Folau), and Tiyani Mabunda has himself faced the backlash of social media commentators. A staunch supporter of controversial Prophet Shepherd Bushiri, Mabunda has previously credited the Malawian pastor for a turnaround in his fortunes on the pitch. Tiyani has been known to frequently heap praise on Bushiri during his numerous Man of the Match interviews in the PSL; a man who came into the life of the Sundowns midfielder when his career had hit a proverbial brick wall.
Out of favour at The Brazilians, the Polokwane-born gem was loaned to Free State Stars following a slew of injuries and indifferent performances. Facing the very real possibility of extensive surgery to his groin, a prayer meeting on Mabunda’s birthday in 2015 was followed by his call-up to the Mamelodi club’s first team, and he’s never looked back since. His subsequent achievements have led to a playing CV that any African footballer would yearn for.
An ABSA Premiership and CAF Champions League winner, his individual performances also caught the eye of Bafana Bafana management, leading to a debut for the national team in 2016. And for all his domestic plaudits with the giants of South Africa’s capital, Tiyani is well aware of the fact that true legends of the game are made on the international stage. With that said, Mabunda has not seen much game time in this AFCON campaign, meaning his role in the squad has transformed.
“Every footballer wants to contribute on the field of play, but you need to reach a level that you grow as human beings and understand that it’s about more than just playing” he says with a charming maturity. “There are many aspects of the game to consider. Only eleven men can take the field and everyone in this squad is capable of doing the job, but its my wish that we can all release ourselves from individual glory and look at the bigger picture. Its about putting smiles on the faces of South Africans back home”.
As a natural leader of men, Tiyani is open about the role that spirituality has played in his own career and aims to support those around him who look for similar guidance. “Its difficult to open up in this day and age; we have people with a lot of views and misunderstandings regarding Christianity, things that we have been taught since childhood, but we need to understand that everything that happens is God-ordained. Where there is wrong happening, something good can still come from that. I believe that we need to see things through the eyes of God, not through the eyes of man. Not everyone will support you and not everyone will like you, but it’s not about that”.
A man who lives his life by the scriptural adage of ‘always be happy, pray at all times and give thanks to God’, he would still be forgiven for living with the dismay that comes with a lack of game time. Rather than wallow in self-pity, Mabunda counts his blessings that he is one of only twenty-three footballers in a country of over 57 million people, who is blessed to represent his country. This wisdom and perspective is the measure of the man, and his sense of enlightenment is gained through not only his faith, but a history of having to prove himself. Moving from Black Leopards to Sundowns also saw him having to stake a claim for a starting berth, so these challenges are nothing new for this tough customer.
“It brings me comfort that we have an atmosphere in this camp that we support each other, whether things go well or not. We remain together because the assignment is not for the individual. If we support each other, it allows us to dish out the performance that we did (against Egypt). And that’s not only due to guys on the field of play, it’s also because of people who handle off-the-field tasks”.
As for his parting words, its apt that the spiritual leader of the squad shares an emotional plea to the nation: “My prayer is for South Africa to be united. Its about more than football for me; it’s for every South African to have a smile on their face and in their heart. I call upon each and every South African to keep us in their prayers; not only the football team but every sporting code. The cricketers, the women’s football team; let us be a nation who are united in Christ”.