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Jabu Maluleke: The skipper whose actions shout out the instructions

Jabu Maluleke: The skipper who walks the talk

Jabu Maluleke is by no means a larger-than-life shouter nor screamer, but he sure inspires his teammates in numerous other ways.

Understandably, he’s become used to people fretting over whether his quiet, sometimes introverted nature is ideally suited to captaining a top-flight club. But King Mavotjie always has an answer for that question. An apt one, for that matter.

“Talk is cheap, but when you go out there and prove it – you’re the first one to show up for training, and you’re the last to leave – that’s how you lead by example,” the former Polokwane City FC skipper explains his charming philosophy.

Interestingly, his best friend, Tintswalo Tshabalala, is the first to admit he had his reservations the first time Maluleke was appointed captain. The former Platinum Stars utility player has known the Soweto-born playmaker for over 30 years.

The two were together at Chiawelo Arsenal, an amateur side in their neighbourhood in Soweto after Maluleke surprisingly failed to make the grade at Orlando Pirates and Wits development sides.

Tintswalo Tshabalala Reveals Initial Doubts About JABU Maluleke’s Leadership

Tintswalo Tshabalala, Jabu Maluleke's friend during his time at Platinum Stars
Tintswalo Tshabalala, Jabu Maluleke’s friend

“I was shocked the first time he was made captain. I asked myself how he would talk to everyone because he’s a man of a few words,” admits Tshabalala, who spent five seasons with Dikwena.

Rightly so, Maluleke is not built from the same mould as Hlompho Kekana, Itumeleng Khune or your typical Benson Mhlongo.

But his then-Polokwane City coach, Clinton Larsen, wouldn’t have it any other way. He was happy with him just walking the talk. Undeniably, the phrase ‘lead by example’ is tamely cliché, but make no mistake, in so many ways, Maluleke did. Discipline. Loyalty. Team leader. Mentally strong. Self-confident. He has the qualities that make a good captain.

For those who wonder whether his nature precludes him from being an inspirational captain, a four-word answer suffices: assist king par-excellence. In his last two seasons with Polokwane City, he scored 6 goals and made 14 assists before leaving the club to join Venda FC in the second-tier league.

“Playing number 10 gives me freedom. I like to be in charge,” says Maluleke, who started off his career as the traditional number 7.

At 38, he defied expectations, joining the ranks of footballing veterans who debuted in the early 2000s but remained forces to be reckoned with.

Larsen Praises Jabu Maluleke’s Calming Presence

While at it – even when he was at the tail end of his fourth decade – he was still one of the first names on the team sheet at Rise and Shine. “He’s a different type of a leader. He’s got a calming effect on the team, never fazed by anything that’s going on. Jabu is always in control of the situation,” Larsen says.

But just weeks shy of his 40th birthday [March 17th, 2023], the midfielder hung up his boots in February 2023. He ended his playing days at Venda FC in 2022. Now, Maluleke is transitioning into coaching, leading the SuperSport United Under-19s while also apprenticing under the senior team’s coaching staff: head coach Gavin Hunt, assistant coach Arendse, and goalkeeper coach Johnson.

And while getting in control of things, the former Sekhukhune United star is not the type to impose his personality on a team. Neither does he go all-out to be the dominant character in a group. Which means, essentially, that he is a decent, grounded bloke who does not suffer from the megalomaniac tendencies that seem to grip so many modern players.

Jabu Maluleke in action for Black Leopards
Jabu Maluleke/Black Leopards

“He is a grounded young man. That, he’s always been. I’m a proud father because the same way he’s always respected me is exactly what I see him do with humility to other people,” his dad, Fannie Maluleke, says.

The first man to appoint him captain, Norman ‘Panga’ Mokwebo, who ran Chiawelo Arsenal in the ‘90s, also couldn’t be bothered by his diffidence. In his eyes, many other qualities set him apart for the captaincy.

More Than Words: Mokwebo Backed Maluleke’s Silent Leadership

“He was exemplary, disciplined, always punctual for training and very respectful,” Mokwebo says.
That is where he scores as a captain: he is ever setting the perfect example. Though he may not be vocal, his actions shout out the instructions.

Beautifully so, there is an aura about him on the pitch, and that is why Larsen stuck to him as skipper when he took over at PLK City without any second thoughts. “His discipline does the talking for him. His performances do the talking for him, and it’s up to the rest of the squad to follow,” Larsen says.

Again, Maluleke has had quite the journey in football that many footballers can only dream of. He made his PSL debut back in the 2002/2003 season while in the books of Dynamos and has since played for Black Leopards, SuperSport United, Venda FC, Sekhukhune United and PLK City.

Jacob Sakala, who was there when it all started, recalls the opposition he was faced as he tried giving Maluleke a taste of professional football.

“I picked Jabu Maluleke from Chiawelo and took him to Dangerous Darkies. I then went with him to Black Leopards,” the veteran coach says.

Leopards’ supremo David Thidiela was just not convinced, at least at first sight. “I played the boy by force and assured Thidiela he would eventually see what I was seeing,” Sakala adds.

Straight after watching Maluleke, Sakala remembers how Thidiela gifted him R100. As his flair and artistry set him apart, Thidiela later fetched R3 million for his services when he moved to SuperSport United.

Jabu Maluleke at SuperSport United
Jabu Maluleke/SuperSport United

“Winning the League with SuperSport was such a huge thing for me. I’ll forever cherish that,” says Maluleke [42], who won two back-to-back titles with Matsatsantsa in 2008/09 and 2009/10.


The talented playmaker says he did not change too many things over the course of his career. Perhaps he is simply “lucky with the genes”.

“As an 18-year-old going into the professional game, you don’t really think about one day becoming the ‘oldest player in the PSL’. All you can do is look after yourself,” Maluleke says.

But his boon companion, Tshabalala, knows Maluleke’s magical formula for longevity. “He’s so disciplined and very focused. He won’t touch alcohol, he won’t smoke cigarettes, and he doesn’t go clubbing,” Tshabalala reiterates what everyone else says.

Interestingly, his own father never thought he would make it beyond 35 when he first watched him at 16 while playing for Chiawelo Arsenal.

“I thought he would stop at about 35, but he keeps going. My friends used to tell me about his talent until I went to the Godfrey Moloi Goodwill Games with his mother to watch him. We overheard some boys saying his opponents had to be rough on him because he was too good. His mother wanted to reply them but I told her to keep quiet,” Senior Maluleke recalls.

Larsen also attributes his captain’s extraordinary fortitude to discipline.

“It’s down to his lifestyle, how he carries himself off the field. He really looks after himself well, which is so important. If you want to give your career longevity, you’ve got to look after yourself. And Jabu is a great example to the young players,” Larsen says.

That’s Maluleke’s attitude to the captaincy: no-nonsense, no drama, no fuss, no stardust, no entitlements. Just serving as a good example.

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