Bafana Bafana midfielder Reneilwe “Yeye” Letsholonyane is on the brink of joining an illustrious group of footballers who have reached 50 caps for South Africa. He reached his 49th cap on Saturday when he came in as a substitute in South Africa’s famous 2-0 victory over Congo in Pointe Noire. Now against the same Congo, just four days later, he could reach the half-century milestone at the Peter Mokaba Stadium in Polokwane on Wednesday if he takes part in the game.
The 32-year old midfielder is the most-capped player in the current Bafana Bafana squad, followed by Tokelo Rantie with 23, then Dean Furman on 21. Andile Jali comes in with 18, and Thulani Serero on 16. Letsholonyane’s first international match was a friendly against Malawi back in September of 2008, and he got his first of two goals in a Bafana Bafana jersey two years later against Guatemala. The second came against Swaziland in 2013.
Yeye joins a list that includes the likes of Aaron Mokoena, Siphiwe Tshabalala, Lucas Radebe, Benni McCarthy, John Shoes Moshoeu, Teko Modise, Mark Fish and Doctor Khumalo. SAFA Media sat down with him to go down memory lane.
Matlhomola Morake: It’s been a while you have been with the national team….
Reneilwe Letsholonyane: Yes indeed, it has been a while. It seems like yesterday, but it hasn’t been an easy ride. Obviously every journey has its challenges and its no different to me being part of the national team. But I managed to overcome them and that is why I am still here, and I am glad I am here.
MM: You could earn your 50th cap on Wednesday …
RYL: It would be an honour for me to reach that milestone, but for me it starts with the team, we must do well first. Whatever comes after, which is obviously me getting my 50th cap, is a bonus. I would like to see us winning the game then I can maybe celebrate the milestone.
MM: How do you feel being on the brink of joining some greats of SA football in reaching the milestone?
RYL: Again, it would be a great honour to join that list, not many players get a chance to do so. I had an opportunity to play with some of those players in the national team and it was a great opportunity to be a part of them in many matches past.
MM: Which match stands out for you as a highlight?
RYL: I don’t think I have any specific match to pick, but for me the greatest moment is being part of the national team, representing my country. That has always been my dream, getting an opportunity to do that is great because most of the footballers, if not all, want to don the national team jersey at some point in their career. To represent your country 50 times is not easy, so for me all the games I have played are the highlight of my international career.
MM: And the 2010 FIFA World Cup tournament?
RYL: Yes, I would say that is one of the memories that I will always cherish because it is a very big tournament in football, no other stage where you compete agasint the best in the world. So I was lucky enough to be part of the team that represented South Africa in 2010.
MM: If it was up to you, how long still would you go?
RYL: For as long I can still play and God wants me to play I will continue doing so. This is one of the ways of glorifying God’s name with the talent he gave me.
MM: You are the most capped in the team, how valuable is your experience?
RYL: At some stage I was a youngster in this squad without any cap, and I was introduced to this set-up by players who had more experience than me, and they made me comfortable not only with playing but also growing. They made me feel that it was an honour to wear the national team jersey. So I believe I also play that role. I think it’s not only about playing but also about guiding the youngsters who are looking up to me to show them the right way, and how to handle themselves on and off the field.
MM: You’re part of a great revolution at Bafana Bafana …
RYL: I am happy to be a part of that, its good that things are going so well for the team, and to help in the revolution is an even greater joy for me.
MM: What would you say to all those aspiring youngsters out there?
RYL: If you have a dream to be the best in the world, representing your country is one of the best. And any given opportunity grab it and use it well. They must also keep their feet on the ground no matter how well they are doing for their clubs. They must also try their best to honour national team call ups whenever needed.
MM: Is discipline part of it?
RYL: It has played a major role in my career because discipline is something everyone needs – not only as a sportsperson but as a human being. If you are disciplined you avoid a lot of negativity in your life and that helps you focus on your career, your job and your life in general.
MM: The win in Congo, how did you feel after the match?
RYL: It’s a good feeling winning away in Congo because winning away has always been something we couldn’t do. But now we seem to be back where we would want to be. I am also happy with the way we play, but I must add there is still some improvement needed, there is still some work ahead so we should not relax.
MM: Can we pull a double on Congo?
RYL: Without taking away anything from them becuause they are a good side, I believe we can pull a double on them. I believe we can get maximum results. From what I saw, if we undermine them they will shock us. But also, I believe in our players, I believe in the team spirit that is prevailing, I belive in the technical team and I think we have what it takes to do well if we work harder than in the previous encounter.
MM: Any message to your fans?
RYL: I would like to say I really appreciate their support. I applaud them for what they have done in helping me on this journey which had its own challenges but they were always there. So I would like to thank them from the bottom of my heart for lifting me up and they should continue doing so not only to me but also to the other players because they play a very motivational role in our lives, and maybe sometimes they don’t realise that but we are aware of the motivation they give us. Most of them spend their hard-earned last cash to come watch us play, and to us they are very important and we will do our best to keep them happy by getting positive results.
MOST CAPPED BAFANA PLAYERS
107 – Aaron Mokoena
88 – Siphiwe Tshabalala
81 – Siyabonga Nomvete
80 – Benni McCarthy
74 – Shaun Bartlett
73 – Delron Buckley, John Moshoeu
70 – Lucas Radebe
68 – Bernard Parker
67 – Andre Arendse, Sibusiso Zuma
66 – Helman Mkhalele, Teko Modise
64 – Itumeleng Khune
62 – Steven Pienaar, Macbeth Sibaya, Mark Fish
58 – Phil Masinga
54 – Siboniso Gaxa, Kagisho Dikgacoi
52 – Neil Tovey
50 – Doctor Khumalo, Katlego Mphela