The refrain “I owe the chairperson – or coach or club – my life” has been used so much in football that it surely qualifies as a cliché. Players or coaches, delighted at being given an opportunity at a club, often say they will give their all to “repay the faith shown in me because I owe them my life”. It all becomes a bit tiresome.
After all, these participants in the beautiful game utter those words at every club they join, kissing the club badge you’d swear they will never leave. But no sooner have their lips parted with it than they move to the next club, declaring similar loyalty there.
For once, though, the words ring true.
Granted, Arthur Zwane has donned a few different club jerseys – Jomo Cosmos, Orlando Pirates, Dynamos and Tembisa Classic among them – as a player in South Africa’s elite league, having also worn the Santos one in Brazil. But when he says he owes Kaizer Chiefs his life, he is not merely pledging allegiance to the badge. He is not just singing for his supper as many are wont to do, or rehashing the rehearsed public relations garbage many a player or coach treats us to these days.
No. When Zwane says “I owe Kaizer Motaung all that I am”, he says it with the sincerity of a man who knows his career could well have long ended were it not for the backing he received from the chairperson of the country’s most-supported club.
Now on the verge of continental glory as a stand-in coach, having helped lead Amakhosi to their maiden CAF Champions League final, Zwane believes he has the best chance to repay the “untold kindness” that Motaung and the Kaizer Chiefs family showed him back when the football vultures were out to eat him alive. To do that, Chiefs have to beat African giants Al Ahly in Casablanca, Morocco, on 17 July.
“When I think of what this club, Kaizer Chiefs, has done for me, I know that it is high time I repaid them,” he says. Turning his focus to Motaung, he adds: “I owe the chairman my life. I owe him everything.”
And Zwane, who during his time as a player helped Chiefs to numerous titles, among them the 2001 African Cup Winners’ Cup, sees delivering the Champions League trophy to Motaung’s office in Naturena, Johannesburg, as the best way to repay the man.
“It needs to happen now. We need to win it for him now while he is still strong, when he is still energetic and able to celebrate the success.”
Through thick and thin
It was Motaung’s strength and faith in him, Zwane says, that ensured his career did not end in the early 2000s when he was hit with what he still believes was a trumped-up charge of using a banned substance.
“It still hurts me to this day because some people still see Arthur as someone who used substances because of that ban. But I still believe I was innocent. And I was very lucky that the chairman and everyone at Chiefs believed in me and they fought for me throughout.”
In 2003, Zwane failed a random drug test for the anabolic steroid methyltestosterone and was slapped with a two-year ban. He ended up serving nine months following Chiefs’ fight for him. Amakhosi’s support for Zwane was pretty remarkable given how many clubs often turn their back on players, confident that they will easily find a replacement.
“There was that guy Josam [Ndou] who played for Dynamos. I think he was found to have had marijuana in his system and he got banned and the club didn’t renew his contract. I think there was also another player who also ended up jobless because he tested positive,” Zwane says.
As for him, though, Chiefs fought tooth and nail to prove his innocence. “The club paid for everything. They fought for my cause the best they could. We still had the late Dr Phil Maepa at the club and he was with me all the way, at every hearing I went to. He went with me to Bloemfontein for the B sample test and when we got there and found that the person who was doing the testing was the one who’d also tested the A sample, despite our having been told it would be done by different people, Dr Maepa refused and we came back.”
If receiving the legal and medical support that Chiefs provided earned Zwane’s loyalty, it was Motaung’s gesture during his period of banishment which ensured the man they fondly refer to as “10111” remained a “Khosi for life”.
“I honestly believe I am one of the luckiest guys among those who ever played for this club. For one, here I am leading the team to the Champions League in a position that any of the club’s legends could be holding. And when I look back at that time [of the drugs charge], I tell you Chiefs gave me full support – right, left, back, front and centre. I got to travel with the team to matches even during my ban. But most importantly, the club paid me my full salary even though I was not playing. That’s untold kindness not many clubs would show a player.”
That they went to such lengths was because, just like the man himself, Chiefs believed in their player’s innocence – which he still maintains. “I didn’t even know the drug they were talking about. My mother, who brought us up on her own, had taught me better … I never even took recreational drugs. I lived a clean life and even more so after I’d turned professional.”
And there were a few things that made Zwane believe there was some sinister plot against him. “I was banned for something that was not even in the Safa booklet of banned substances in 2003, when I was first charged. Methyltestosterone, as a banned substance, was only introduced in the Safa booklet in 2004. In that case, they didn’t even say how much of the drug was found in my system. And then they slapped me with a two-year ban at a time when both Fifa and Wada [the World Anti-Doping Agency] were still negotiating the maximum penalty for the offence.”
Around that time Al-Saadi Gaddafi – son of the late Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi – tested positive for nandrolone but received a mere six-month ban. That got Zwane more irked about his own punishment.
But with the support he enjoyed from Chiefs, Zwane was able to take it all on the chin and then returned to the game to give his all for the Glamour Boys until he retired. “As trumped-up as I believe the charge and ban to have been, I hold no grudges against anyone. I have moved on. I believe that whatever happened then, happened for a reason. As people, our road to success will never be the same. All of that, I look at it as having been a test of my character. I am happy that those things happened to me.”
Paying it forward
The experience made him stronger and he went on to have a fulfilling career that saw him remain at Chiefs even after he hung up his boots. The move into coaching was somewhat natural, Zwane having coached youngsters in his home township of Meadowlands, Soweto, during his playing days.
“I helped coach some boys who had approached me asking for kit and stuff. I ended up owning the club. We called it Meadowlands Galatasaray. The club dominated in Soweto and won four titles in the popular Discovery Challenge in five attempts.
“It was just a part-time thing and I wasn’t aware that the chairman knew. But he called me to his office once to congratulate me after we’d won. And so when I decided to retire he said to me he had seen my potential and was appointing me as the second assistant to coach Stuart [Baxter]. But he also advised me to go and learn more about the game by coaching the young ones. That’s another of the best things the chairman has done for me, because I earned my spurs down there working with the juniors.”
To have one man give you so much support, so many opportunities, can only leave one feeling indebted. And as he looks ahead to the clash with Pitso Mosimane’s Al Ahly, Zwane simply wants to put a smile on Kaizer Motaung’s face as a thank you. He wants to deliver the one trophy that will get Kaizer Chiefs on par with both their bitter rivals Pirates and Mamelodi Sundowns by having the coveted star above the club’s crest.
And for all the talk of him and his boys being underdogs against the highly decorated Egyptian Red Devils, who are the defending champions of the competition, Zwane will stop at nothing to ensure that Chiefs are victorious in Casablanca. He owes it to Motaung. He owes it to Kaizer Chiefs.
“I’m still with Chiefs and I am always going to sweat blood for this club. I am going to dig deeper within myself to ensure that this club succeeds. I want to add value. I want to do something special,” he says.
“I owe that much to this club.”
And that’s no cliché.