A number of excellent football players have come out of Langa and gone on to represent the national senior team, national league and sides abroad.
For young Unathi, his journey to stardom kicked off with the national under-17 team, winning the Cosafa Cup under-17 men’s tournament, in Port Elizabeth, late last year.
The 16-year-old Cape Town Spurs midfielder, who dons the number-8 jersey, walks in the footsteps of award-winning Langa footballers such as former Orlando Pirates and CAF Goal of The Year award winner Thabo Mngomeni; Mamelodi Sundowns, Ajax Cape Town and SA midfielder, Gareth Ncaca; and multi award-winning and Guinness world record freestyle champ, Khris Njokwana.
Unathi’s skills helped Amajimbos beat Zambia 4-2 during a penalty shootout of the Cosafa Cup finals, following a 1-all stalemate.
After his teammate, Puso Taelo Dithejane scored the winning penalty, at Gelvandale Stadium, Unathi’s was seen on national TV running and jumping with joy.
The secret to his growth in the national team is the brotherhood he has with his teammates and coach Vela Khumalo.
Unathi said the experience on and off the field was filled with excitement, nervousness and the determination to win.
“It was an experience being coached by him. He was very reserved but whenever he spoke it was something very meaningful. He was actually good because he gave me some input on things to work on. It was a pleasure working with him,” he said.
The Grade 9 Pinelands High School pupil has ambitions of becoming the best produced midfielder from SA, playing for the national league and bagging awards with big teams overseas.
“I would love to thank my family, they are the people who criticize me and also motivate me at the same time. Nothing is impossible, all you have to do is stay focused and keep working and be proactive. Put your mind to it and always remind yourself you can do it,” he said.
“For youngsters I would obviously say to never give up, sometimes when you are playing soccer it is always difficult, but never give up. Just enjoy it, be interested in it and you will do good. If your dreams don’t scare you, I don’t know, but we have to dream big and keep on grinding,” said Unathi.
His mother, Minah Radebe said Unathi started kicking while he was still in her womb, and while growing up, his father and brother, Makhosi and Siyabonga Radebe, encouraged him to play street football.
“Nene, as I fondly call him, has been a soccer player since he was conceived. He would kick me so much that I had to stop whatever I was doing to massage my tummy until he settled down. I would comment and “say this baby must be playing soccer in my tummy, ‘yhoooo umlomo uyadala’ (the mouth creates),” she said.
“He (Makhosi Radebe) encouraged him further by playing street soccer with him and his elder brother. So he is inspired by both his dad and elder brother who also played for Madibaz University,” he said.
She was overwhelmed with excitement when she received the news of her son making the SA under-17 team.
“I just screamed with excitement when I first received the call, and thanked God for locating him amongst many other talented boys his age. His soccer journey has been interesting throughout, and I am so humbled by his achievements thus far. Keep pushing hard my baby, whilst enjoying yourself. Remain humble and trust in God and your ancestors will lead you to even greater heights,” she said.
Unathi’s father, Makhosi Radebe said it is interesting to see Unathi being in the squad and winning the cup. He said he is proud to watch him dedicate himself and play the beautiful game.
“Many kids need to be supported by the parents. When they show interest in a certain sport, make sure that you harness that passion. Help the kid move away from the social ills and make them stick to what they love most. The crown or the medal is just a cherry on top of something they love,” he said.
Unathi’s older sister, Nonceba Radebe, was crowned the Good Hope FM Campus DJ Search winner.
The UCT alumni said she was proud of his achievement in the sport, saying, “His work ethic and determination is evident.”
“I ran 100km in November in 17 days. Last year this time I wasn’t able to run because I was diagnosed with TB. I basically worked towards reaching that goal. For me I had an awakening of sorts. Life is literally a long distance run. What I can say to him is there will be tough times, but it’s about how you rise, how you continue and how you keep going. Continue pushing, I know your dreams scare you so that’s good,” she said.
Community member, Sonwabo Fitzgerald Masepe, said Unathi grew up under his wing, they would share long chats about his passion for football and life.
Masepe said Unathi’s early success is a huge step for the community.
“It shows the young people that dreams are still achievable during their time. At a time where parents are crying and feeling like there is no light at the end of the tunnel, where kids are feeling opportunities are not there. Unathi is a testament that if you respect your parents and work hard, you can achieve your goals. I hear young people talking about his achievement as a beacon of hope and being proud of what he is achieving. His friends are proud of him and talk about him everyday which is a good thing during these times,” said Masepe.