Refiloe Jane, 26, holds back tears, steadies her cracking voice and composes herself before she continues talking about the ordeal she went through to land a professional club contract in Australia.
When she eventually speaks, it is without anger or bitterness, despite being let down by an organisation she has served with distinction since making her Banyana Banyana debut in 2012.
Jane and Rhoda Mulaudzi, 28, each had to raise about R27 000 for their flights and meals during their two-week trial at Canberra United. The Australian club offered only accommodation and transport while there, but did promise to reimburse the pair the money they spent on tickets should they be signed.
The South African Football Association (Safa), whose sponsors include South African Airways, offered no help to Mulaudzi and Jane, Banyana’s vice-captain. A good Samaritan, who doesn’t want to be named, bought Jane her ticket. “I was in disbelief when this person said, ‘Here is the money. I am going to pay for your ticket.’ I was in shock,” Jane says at Banyana’s base in Port Elizabeth for the Council of Southern Africa Football Associations (Cosafa) Women’s Championship.
“She even went the extra mile to ensure I get [travel] insurance. I was speechless. If only she could see my heart, because I struggle to show emotions. I can’t even show excitement. I was emotionless even though deep down I was happy. Immediately after she told me she would buy my ticket, I had to tell Rhoda that I am sorted, so let’s work on sorting you out. That’s when we had to take the money [we had raised], combine it and make sure she also gets a ticket.”
Thicker than water
They managed to raise the money Mulaudzi needed for the flight to Canberra. The pair landed in Australia on August 5th. The following day, their two-week trial started without much time to recover from their flight and jet lag after arriving in a city that’s eight hours ahead of South Africa. “It was easy to be with Rhoda because she isn’t just a person I know from football, she is practically family,” Jane says. “She is my best friend, and our families are very close. It’s like I went there with a sister. We were there for each other.”
Tshepo “Makananise” Vhafuwi recommended Jane and Mulaudzi to Canberra coach Heather Garriock. His referral was met with scepticism, so he sent clips of them in action, which earned them a trial.
Garriock fetched Jane and Mulaudzi from the airport herself. “We were worried that they were going to look at us and say, ‘What are these kids going to offer us?’, looking at our height and small frames,” Jane says with a bright smile that lights up what had until that point been a solemn interview. “We had to stay positive. The coach made it easy for us to make sure that we’re okay, free, and ready to perform at our best.”
But Garriock wasn’t friendly when the trial started. “She told us afterwards that she put us in the worst conditions imaginable,” Jane says. “She said she never does trials the way she did them for us. At some point, we trained with boys. It wasn’t easy. But we told ourselves that this is what we want. When it came to food, we told ourselves that we will buy what we’re used to. We bought noodles, spaghetti and mince – just enough to survive and get us past the two weeks. Most of the time, we only had noodles. We cooked twice. When we cooked, we had mince and spaghetti, and the other time we had rice and chicken. That’s the only time we had a proper meal. We lived on noodles.”
Jane and Mulaudzi impressed, and earned their first professional contracts. Garriock says Jane’s “technical ability in midfield is simply outstanding”, and was won over by Mulaudzi’s pace and aggression. Jane will go to Canberra immediately after playing in the Cosafa Women’s Championship final on Saturday against Cameroon.
Her new club, which starts the Westfield W-League on 28 October, would have preferred her not to play for Banyana in the tournament in case she gets injured. Jane was supposed to have left South Africa on 28 August. But her patriotism wouldn’t allow her to abandon her country in their time of need.
People in her corner
The midfielder from Soweto started her football career as a self-appointed ball girl for her brother’s team at the age of six. The coach was impressed with her determination, so he taught her the basics that helped her when she joined Pimville Thebe Stars, a boys’ team.
Jane eventually captained Stars before moving to Colchester, her first girls’ team. Mamelodi Sundowns Ladies then snapped her up before going to Vaal University of Technology, and then returning to Sundowns. Tshwane University of Technology (TUT), where she is doing her masters in marketing, was her last home before she signed for Canberra.
Jane will continue doing her masters in Australia. “Fifi”, as she is affectionately known, speaks glowingly about the good support structure she has, from her lecturers at TUT to her business manager Christa Kgamphe, supervisor Dr. Pam Serra, her teammates and her family.
“There was a point where we [Mulaudzi and I] wanted to give up because we felt that we wouldn’t be able to raise the money,” Jane says. “The whole process wasn’t easy on us emotionally, because one day it would look like we will be able to go and the following day we would feel like giving up because things weren’t coming together. The support I had from the people around me kept me going and motivates me to do well in Australia. We went through so much to get here, but it doesn’t mean that we will now relax and do whatever we want. There’s still so much to do. This is just the beginning.”
For club and country
There’s a strong possibility that Jane will miss the Africa Women’s Cup of Nations, which could be played in South Africa instead of Ghana from 17 November to 1 December. The tournament falls outside the Fifa calendar even though it’s a qualifier for the Fifa World Cup, and comes at a time when Jane is settling into her new home.
Jane is torn. Most people in her situation wouldn’t think twice – they would ditch the national team, particularly after Safa didn’t lift a finger to help her realise her dream. But Jane isn’t like most people. She wears her heart on her sleeve and puts South Africa first, no matter what. She is determined, gracious and mentally strong, which is why she survived what she went through and still put her best foot forward in a foreign country.
“I always give my all whenever I am given a chance to play for my country, because, one, you never know who is watching you, and, two, there’s a girl somewhere in South Africa who looks up to you and you’re her inspiration and hope, so you must always carry yourself with dignity for her,” says Jane.
“When I look back at where I come from, what I had to go through to be here, I just appreciate the opportunity that was given to me, because I know that things don’t come easy for people like us. If you look at where we come from in black families, things never come easy for us, so you just want to make everyone proud, especially the people who have been there for you. I am not doing this only for myself. I am also doing it for everyone who has supported me.”