Avid readers of the Holy Book will know how the biblical patriarchs Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob all gave formal blessings to their children.
In biblical days, receiving a blessing from one’s father was a high honour. It included words of encouragement and farsighted words of wisdom concerning the future.
Growing up in that face brick house in Phiri, Soweto – owned by his grandparents – around his cousins and sibling all in one house, Siphiwe Tshabalala experienced it first-hand throughout his childhood and his football career.
And undoubtedly, his career has never been an ordinary one. His rise from amateur football to the professional ranks, that moment when he rifled a defence-splitting pass from Kagisho Dikgacoi into the top corner of the net for the 2010 World Cup’s most memorable goal, and his late breakthrough to Europe have all been astonishing in equal measure.
In fact, Tshabalala – one of the most decorated footballers of his generation – was the first player to make his international debut while still playing in the National First Division.
Of course, it is pretty easy to attribute it all to his discipline. After all, the man is hardly ever in the press for the wrong reasons like most of his colleagues in the game. He goes about his life with humility, dignity and respect blended with firm authority.
But the illustrious ‘Shabba’, who fancied being a chartered accountant in his younger days, has never shied from acknowledging he continually drinks from the wells of his dad’s wisdom.
And his pa, who goes by the name of one of the biblical patriarchs famed for blessing their offspring, Isaac – a former taxi driver – has never been one to hold back from ‘blessing’ his extraordinarily talented son.
“You can’t compete with someone who has their father’s blessing,” his dad tells FARPost.
“I am proud of him because he has never let us down, and we’ve played our part as parents; we went to stadiums to show him we believed in him and loved what he was doing. Siphiwe is one person who listens when you talk to him. He is disciplined, and it has played a huge role in his career. It shows me the kind of person he is.”
His proud dad has been there right from the start when Shabba’s journey started embarrassingly at Phiri Arsenal.
“When we started the team, our first defeat was 1-14 to Mapetla Brazil,” the former Amakhosi star recalls.
Perhaps some of his discipline and focus came from those days when Phiri Arsenal owner, Mr Mathabathe, never spared the rod.
“He developed us, and he was a disciplinarian; we would get a hiding for late coming, tidiness, and not scoring, and later we became one of the best teams in Soweto,” he says.
His dad unpretentiously recalls every step his son has taken in his career and has been a part of it. He even remembers the long walks his son would make to Alexandra to play for Alex United after that stint in the Kaizer Chiefs’ youth ranks and then the move to Free State Stars.
“I know my son’s football journey like the back of my hand; even if you wake me up from my sleep, I’ll tell you all about it,” he proudly vaunts.
There is a constant in the way the dreadlocked winger-cum-midfielder was raised. His grandfather, John Tshabalala, with whom he shared a close relationship, once said he hoped that his excellent form and “God’s grace” would carry him forward and help him achieve more goals.
After Amakhosi had lured him back from Free State in 2007 and the build-up to the 2010 World Cup.
The message of grace was not new to him, as his parents would often punt it.
“I also tell him there is no muthi I will give him; I tell him to call on the Lord, and everything else will fall into place. I do the same for him and ask God to guide him. After all, God is the giver of his talent, and he knows how to guide him in everything he does,” his doting dad adds.
The oldtimer is a firm advocate of the biblical principle ‘humble yourself before the Lord, and he will lift you’ and keeps punting it throughout the interview.
“He is humble because I always say when you are a person, you need to humble yourself so that the Lord will lift you.”
Unsurprisingly, a few times, he has been asked why his teetotaller son hardly ever makes the front pages of tabloids that are ruthless towards celebrities.
“Someone once asked why he does not come out of newspapers for the wrong reasons, but the answer was simple – you cannot compete with someone who has his parents’ blessing.
“When he leaves home and I, as a parent, say, ‘the Lord go with you’, it goes a long way. If my heart is not happy as a parent, people will turn against him. but Siphiwe listens, and I give him my blessing every day.”
Free State Stars general manager Rantsi Mokoena has not forgotten an incident when Shabba and other players disappeared from the clubhouse on a weekend.
“He ‘bunked’ out of the clubhouse, and we called his father – first thing Monday morning, his father was here (Free State), and he said, ‘my son will never do it again’. And Shabba never did it again,” he tells FARPost.
At 90 caps, he is the third most capped Bafana Bafana player after playing at three African Cup of Nations editions and the 2010 FIFA World Cup, at which he scored the first goal on 11 June 2010, which was nominated for the FIFA Puskas Award. Aaron Mokoena (107) and Itumeleng Khune (91) are the most capped players.
But then he pipes Khune in the record Soweto Derby appearances. He has played a part in South Africa’s biggest football clash between Orlando Pirates and arch-rival Kaizer 31 times over an 11-and-a-half-year period before moving to Turkey in 2018.
As expected, his proudest moment while watching his son was that famous World Cup strike.
“We can’t forget the World Cup goal because it was nominated among goals scored by top players, and it put him in the spotlight,” his dad says.
Perhaps his only disobedience against his parents was his move in 2007, joining a club that perennially rivals their beloved Pirates.
“His move to Chiefs was a dream come true because he supported Chiefs, but he went against us,” Senior Tshabalala says jokingly.
“So, I attended Chiefs games more than my team Pirates, all for my son.”
His move to Turkey in 2018, he says, was another show of blessing that rests over his life as “everyone had written him off”.
Over the years, he has witnessed his son reach out to the underprivileged, which stems from his faith.
“He thinks of the underprivileged, which is big for me. Sometimes, when he gives food to the elderly, they will say, ‘the Lord bless you my child,’ which is huge for him because it comes from the people he continues to help and me.”
The same grace, he believes, that has been over his life sustained him during the most challenging period of their lives. Tshabalala vividly remembers the Soweto derby the day before his mother passed on as he scored when Amakhosi beat the Buccaneers 3-0 in the 2010-11 Telkom Knockout final at FNB Stadium. He even dedicated his performance in that TKO final derby on December 4‚ 2010, to his mother‚ Hadifele Rebecca Tshabalala‚ who was gravely ill in hospital. She had been admitted to hospital on the 27th of November.
“I asked the coach then. ‘VV (Vladimir Vermezovic), to drive and join the family in hospital for a prayer. It was also the awards ceremony – the SA Sports Awards. And then I went to the hospital. We had a prayer session.”
His dad recalls seeing him whisper in her ear that he was playing against Pirates in the Telkom Cup the following day. He told her they were going to win the Telkom Cup, and he was going to score a goal dedicated to her.
Later that same day, he was told he had won the South African Footballer of the Year Award. On Saturday‚ in the Pirates game‚, he had a T-shirt written ‘GET WELL SOON MOM. SHABBA LOVES YOU.’ Such was his affinity with the woman who gave birth to him.
“I scored the goal, and we won 3-0. And the next day‚ I went to the hospital in the morning. I left the gold medal as promised.
“I left. I went to my house. And then I got a call around 12.30pm. And then I could feel that something was not right.
“Because my aunt just called back and said‚ ‘Please come back – we need to see you’.”
His dad admits it affected all of them because her passing was unexpected.
“I said to him, ‘when you get onto the pitch, think of your mother. Honour her and do the right things so she will be happy wherever she is,” he concludes.
And, for the last 11 years of his career, Shabba has always done it for his mom!