She was once a terror
on the soccer field – a dynamo in green and gold aptly nicknamed “Troublemaker”
because of her ability to mess with the opposing team. But former Banyana Banyana
midfielder Makhosi Luthuli (45) is a shadow of her once vibrant self.
Lymphoma, a cancer of the lymphatic system, has taken over
her life – as well as her face. Broke, alone and sick, she has been battling
the debilitating cancer since it was diagnosed in 2011.
“When it started, I didn’t pay much attention,” she says. “I
thought it was just a swelling on my upper jaw. But I got worried when the
swelling grew rapidly.”
The former national star now lives with her nephew, Sihle
Luthuli (32), in KwaPhumphele, in Mariannhill near Pinetown, Durban. Her only
child, her son Mfundo Luthuli (20), lives with her sister, Teresa Dlamini, at
Magabeni, 50 kilometres south of Durban.
Living with lymphoma is very difficult, she says. When news
first surfaced of her condition, rumours spread that she had died. “I was sad
but I didn’t let it affect me too much,” she says.
“I knew it was just malicious people saying these things. “I’m
not scared of dying but I am not dying any time soon. Cancer has not taken my
talent and skill away from me. I am still Makhosi, the Troublemaker,” she says.
When Makhosi first noticed the swelling on her face she went
to a local hospital and was referred to King Dinuzulu Hospital in Durban for
scans. She was then sent to Inkosi Albert Luthuli Central Hospital “where I was
eventually diagnosed with lymphoma cancer,” she says. As defiant as she is about her disease, it’s clear the
cancer has taken its toll. “I cannot breathe because my nose has been
disfigured,” she says. “I cannot speak properly because my mouth has been
affected. My jaws have been affected too – I’m losing teeth and I can’t eat
properly. “My left eye and ear have closed and my kidneys have also been
damaged because of the treatment.”
Makhosi started chemotherapy and radiation therapy in 2012,
which helped slow the march of cancer through her body but has not killed the
rampant cells altogether. She is still receiving treatment and is desperate for
“In February I became so desperate that I barged into the
mayor’s office without an appointment to request assistance,” she says. “The
mayor did not hesitate. She quickly consulted with [KwaZulu-Natal businessman]
Sandile Zungu, who donated R100 000 towards my treatment,” Makhosi says. eThekwini
mayor Zandile Gumede tells DRUM she was “touched by [Makhosi’s] bravery”.
“That’s why I decided to contact businesspeople like Sandile
to help,” she says. Makhosi survives on a disability grant of R1 690.
“This is for supplements because my immune system needs to
be boosted,” she explains. “I also use it for transport, groceries, medication,
toiletries and other necessities. The grant is not enough because I have
special needs. Because of my condition, I can eat only soft food.”
Yet despite her hardships she hasn’t given up on life – or
on her first love, soccer. She started a football academy for kids in 2011 –
the same year she received her cancer diagnosis – in order to give back to her
community. “I spend a lot of time on the field in sport development,” she says.
“I also do the paperwork for the team and the rest of the time I do house
chores, such as cleaning, cooking and laundry.
“I hardly go to town because when I’m in public, people tend
to stare at me.” Makhosi tries to stay positive and has accepted her condition
as best she can. “I know there are people who are worse off than me, so I can’t
live my life complaining. When I finally get healed I want to help others in a
She will need a team of doctors who specialise in this type
of cancer to perform the operation she needs, she says. Johannesburg-based
paediatric oncologist Dr Jennifer Geel says while treatment of the kind Makhosi
needs is available in South Africa, “the only problem is that all the lymphoma cancer
doctors have moved into private healthcare. So, while there are doctors
available to do the operation, it is extremely expensive as patients can only
do it privately.”
Makhosi remains optimistic: “I understand that my condition
is complicated but I also believe help is on its way. I am going to beat this
and my life will get back to normal. This is the battle I have to fight and I
know I’ll come out of it as a conqueror.”
Makhosi joined Banyana Banyana in 1997 and was the first
South African woman to be trained as a coach for a national side. She finished
her first coaching course in 2002 under her mentor, late SA soccer stalwart Ted
Dumitru. She still needs to move up the various levels but believes she can do
it – her disability is not a hindrance, she says.
“I feel sad because at my age and with my experience I
should have had my own house and car. I should have been very far in life.
“I joined the Banyana squad at 25. At the time I was
studying public administration at the Mangosuthu University of Technology but I
didn’t finish that qualification because my parents didn’t have enough money. “Later
I went to the University of KwaZulu-Natal where I got a Bachelor of Social
She believes she was “dumped” from Banyana in 2005 when she
still had lots of play left in her but she has no hard feelings and plenty of
fond memories. “I can’t disassociate myself from Banyana Banyana – I’m part of
that history. I wore the number 8 jersey and made huge contributions there. I
miss playing, I miss my teammates and I miss that environment. Even if things
haven’t gone in my favour, I know I served my country.” Durban tycoon Sandile Zungu hopes the money he pledged will
go some way towards helping Makhosi. But he knows it’s not enough. The
businessman made the donation through the Zodwa Zungu Foundation, which he set
up in 2016 after the cancer death of his wife, Zodwa.
Sandile pledges something every year to mark his birthday
and Makhosi’s appeal coincided with his 51st birthday. Makhosi is grateful and
hopes she’ll get the treatment she needs, so she can leave her home without
worrying about the stares of strangers.