Golden Oldies: 'Rhee' Mbanya
Friday June 30 2006
In his 'Golden Oldies' column this week, ex-Swallows player and PSL website journalist Walter Mabeba goes down memory lane with 'Beautiful Birds' great Lawrence 'Rhee' Mbanya.
Moroka Swallows founder member and midfield maestro, Lawrence 'Rhee' Mbanya, was a rare breed.With his soccer skills he was respected and feared by most of his opponents because he used to change the complexion of the game.
Despite living under the shadow of his late great brother, Different 'City Council' Mbanya, (also a founder member of Swallows), 'Rhee' was among the best players South Africa has ever produced.
Walter Mabeba (WM): Hallo Bra 'Rhee', please tell us about yourself. Everyone knows you as a legend. Tell us how it all happened?
Lawrence Mbanya (LM): I was born in 1936 in a dusty and dilapidated township of Chaterston now known as Duduza, Nigel.
My family later relocated to Alexandra, that is where I learned my trade.
I played for Rangers in Alexander, which was one of the most enterprising teams of that era. We later moved to Moroka Jabavu, 'Emasakeni', as the township was affectionately known, and that is where Moroka Swallows was formed.
By then, Moroka was a shanty town, there were no amenities, and the only entertainment was football.
In 1947, we bandied with a number of player names such - as my late Brother, 'Difference' Mabanya, Essau 'Inch by Inch' Madi, Phillip 'Shakes' Moloi, his kid Brother Carlon Moloi - and decided to form a football team.
We agreed to name the team Moroka Sweepers, but my brother shot that name down, and the team was named Moroka Swallows. He argued swallows fly higher and conquer further than homely Sweepers. The argument was convincing so the name 'Moroka Swallows' came to stay.
WM: Please go on and tell us more...
LM: We played in the Johannesburg Bantu Football Association, and later in the Johannesburg African Football association-JBFA and JAFA.
Before that, we played in the alleys of Moroka, and when we got a chance we would turn out against any team that wanted a game-even if we had to play in bare feet. We went to Moroka grounds and took every chance of a game-substituting for clubs that failed to turn up for their matches.
Those early Swallows scored their goals with bare feet. Only when a sympathetic club, the Zulu Messengers, lent us boots were we properly equipped, but the Zulu Messengers would leave us stranded every time they had a game to play.
During 1953, most of our players left school and worked for the Amalgamated Packing Industries (API). Some joined the firm which agreed to help with equipment, so they decided to form a team called 'Corrugated Rovers'.
They didn't break away from the club - they just took on three more members and played on Saturdays at the Bantu Sports Grounds under the name 'Rovers', and on Sundays in Moroka as 'Swallows'.
Playing in two different leagues have suited us very well, because in that year, 1953, we scored a major triumph by becoming League Champions, and the following year we won the Robinson Cup, with the late Abraham 'All Die Hoekies' Meyers in goals.
WM: The name 'All Die Hookies' might not be familiar to those who are still wet behind their ears. Can you please tell us about him?
LM: 'All Die Hookies', joined us from Bloemfontein, and his safe hands and acrobatics broke many a forward's heart. Like most geniuses, he was temperamental, and time and again was involved in fights.
Nevertheless, he was one of the best goalkeepers of that era. The only problem was that he always kept us worried because we'd never know when he'd turn up. To cover for ourselves, we took on another goalkeeper in the form of Fish Neku, and trained him as a standby.
So 'Fish' Neku shot into the limelight and was soon to be one of the leading goalies in the country. After his football days were over, 'All Die Hookies' was unfortunate meet his death from a stab wound.
WM: What about your late brother, Difference 'City Council' Mbanya?
LM: Swallows had a colourful career, but I still remember the day 'Differ' conducted the spectators like a choir and held them in thrall.
We were away to Bloemfontein Black Birds, the score was 2-all, and it was nearly time. Everybody knew that 'Differ' was our dribbling wizard, so it was towards the end of the game, when he collected a pass in our goalmouth.
Everybody - including the opponents, spectators, and team-mates - expected him to pull something out of his bag of tricks as he always did at crucial moments.
Instead, 'Differ' lurched forward, trapped the ball under his feet and lifted both arms towards the grandstand. The magic caught on and the spectators in unison stood up and also lifted their arms in applause to 'Differ'.
For some time we did not know what was happening. 'Differ' had pulled a real new on this time, as a spellbinder. May his Soul Rest in Peace
WM: Besides the 1953 League Championship and the 1954 Robinson Cup, what else did you achieve with the team?
LM: In 1956, we took the Transvaal Challenge Trophy after smashing the formidable Orlando Pirates, and thereafter countless small and big trophies and prizes came our way. We won the Robinson Cup again twice in succession in 1958 and in 1959.
Walter Mabeba, played for Swallows between 1985 - 1987 and Mabeba is currently a soccer journalist who provides his services to the PSL website - as a match reporter - and also writes regularly for local soccer publications, Soccer Laduma and e-Diski.