Banyana Banyana Stars on Style, Success, and the 2023 FIFA Women's World Cup
Andile Dlamini, Melinda Kgadiete, and Bambanani Mbane on Success, Pressure, Style, and Expectations
By Buhle Mbonambi
As the elevator ascends to the 57th floor of The Leonardo in Sandton, only one thing occupies my mind- I hope it won’t be too cold.
I sigh in relief when the doors finally open and we are met by the sun’s blinding rays and the whole of Johannesburg is spread out in front of us.
It’s just after 9 o’clock on a Monday morning in July 2022 and photographer to the stars, Blaq Smith, is doing a quick recce at The Leonardo’s Alto 234, the highest rooftop bar in Africa.
57 floors below, four members of Banyana Banyana’s CAF Women’s African Cup of Nations winning squad, are getting ready for the photoshoot. As our styling team presents the clothes from the House of Nala Spring 2022 collection, their reactions are worthy of being captured on video for posterity.
“Green?” questions Andile Dlamini, the goalkeeper. “I don’t know. I mean, this suit is nice, but I don’t know if I can pull it off.”
Her teammates, Thalea Smidt (midfielder), Bambanani Mbane (defender) and Melinda Kgadiete (forward), burst out laughing and convince her she can rock it. Eventually they all pick out the garments they think will best suit them and most importantly, their aesthetic. They want to look believable, but still stylish.
It’s great to see them in control of their image and knowing what they want, which is testament to drive they had at the WAFCON which led to them winning. But they are also amenable to try something different and surprise their teammates.
There’s an easy rapport between them. They rag on each other as they get their hair and make-up done, which is not a common occurrence. It isn’t surprising that they get along so well. After all they spend enough time together when on country duty as Banyana Banyana players and as members of the Sundowns Ladies Club. They have won many tournaments playing for both teams.
And it’s this easy camaraderie that’s on show when they make their way to Alto 234, with a 360-degree view of Johannesburg spread out in front of them.
“Sindizela phezulu”, Andile says, eliciting laughter from her teammates. Which is fitting, of course. Where better to shoot the African Champions whilst wearing the finest African designers; than at the highest urban bar in Africa?
There’s still some a bit of shock that we have effectively rolled out the red carpet for them for this shoot. It reminded them of their reception when they arrived at OR Tambo International after winning the tournament and they were met by fans.
Banyana Banyana stars, Andile Dlamini, Melinda Kgadiete and Bambanani Mbane in Siko Republik.
“I’ll never forget that moment and I don’t think it’s possible for us to ever forget it,” Melinda says. “It was a happy moment. I didn’t realise how big a deal winning the tournament was until we got to the airport.”
While Andile loved the celebration at OR Tambo International Airport, the moment the referee blew the whistle signifying that South Africa had won the tournament was the biggest moment of her life.
“More than anything, I was relieved. Winning this tournament was something I have always prayed for; something I have always strived for as a football player. It is a moment I will always think about,” Andile says.
“Getting the gold medal and realising that the award for goalkeeper of the tournament is also coming, was great. I mean, football is all about stats, but I soon forgot about all that. It became all about finally being able to build a house for my mother and finally having a stable life, financially. As much as we play for gold medals, we also play for the life changing experiences.”
And Bambanani? It was such an overwhelming moment that she wept.
“Going back to that moment is still unreal because I couldn’t believe what had just happened. I just fell and cried. Janine (Van Wyk, the Banyana Banyana captain) came to me and reminded me just how much I had wanted this. It was still unbelievable that I had to ask her for confirmation if we had really won or it was a dream,” she says.
Banyana Banyana star, Bambanani Mbane. The defender had an emotional reaction after the team were crowned champions of Africa at the 2022 WAFCON. Bambanani wears the House of Nala Black Moto Jacket.
“I still haven’t moved on from that moment of us winning. It still hasn’t sunk in for me. It’s ging to take a long time for me to come to terms that we won the competition, and, in a way, we managed to unite the country during this difficult period.”
Andile, Bambanani and Melinda were selected for South Africa’s 2023 FIFA Women’s World Cup.
Ahead of their departure of the World Cup in Australia and New Zealand, one of the toughest journeys for the team, is how little support they were receiving from the public and the lack of equal pay.
When they won the CAF Women’s Africa Cup of Nations last year, it was such an important moment for them, one where they could finally prove to South Africans that they deserve to be supported and be paid what they deserve.
“It was so exciting seeing my team members so happy. We fought like soldiers to win the tournament and luckily, we were mentally fit, thanks to Coach Desiree (Ellis). But it was really a tough journey to get here. When we won, all those emotions of our preparations and how difficult the journey has been for us, came back.” Bambanani says.
Banyana Banyana star, Melinda Kgadiete. The forward player says with increased recognition, there are hopes for better sponsorship of the team. She wears the House of Nala Lilac Moto Jacket.
“I think us winning allowed many to realise that it is about time that Banyana Banyana and women’s football is taken seriously in South Africa. And I am excited that soon many of us will have sponsors. I am hopeful. They have seen the hard work we have been constantly doing as a team. We have proven ourselves. I think it is time.”
Their win has undoubtedly created interest in women’s football and with new fans, there is the challenge of making sure that interest doesn’t wane.
“Everyone is talking about women’s football now and the number of people coming to the stadiums has gone up,” Melinda says. “I have noticed that people recognise us now, others even stop us on the streets. People are finally taking interest in us and our sport. I mean we’ve been achieving good things in the past we won Cosafa so many times and we have always qualified for the WAFCON. So, with us winning the tournament I hope this time things will change.”
The most important thing about their win, Andile says, is how it has helped change the perceptions of women’s football.
Banyana Banyana goalkepper, Andile Dlamini says the team is always focused on conquering their goals and not disappointing South Africans on the world stage. She wears the House of Nala Black Moto Jacket.
“It has changed a lot of things. It has changed how women in football are being seen in the country. We have given hope to girls and boys that it is possible to succeed, even against the odds we face. I just pray that we get more endorsements. There’s so much we bring to the table. We are passionate, we can drive things and we are winners. Winners need to be celebrated.”
“It has also increased the attention we are getting with our games, whether it is domestic football or playing for the national side,” Andile says. “And that’s partly why I am not too focused on our win- that has happened already. We now need to focus on what’s next and make sure we don’t disappoint our new fans.”
Photographed by: Blaq Smith
Stylists: Keneoua Mhlethswa, Thulani Mlambo and Zanele Sebele.
Read the full interview here: https://shorturl.at/rtSWY
Banyana Banyana plays their first match at the 2023 FIFA Women's World Cup against Sweden at Wellington Regional Stadium, Wellington / Te Whanganui-a-tara on Sunday, July 23, 2023 at 07:00 SAST.