His is the ultimate tale of talent squandered and opportunities lost.
Having struggled with drugs and alcohol abuse and earned a reputation of being entirely unreliable due to his infamous disappearing acts, Pule claims now to be a changed man, complete with the new name of Jabu Mahlangu. He recently attended an advanced training camp in the US and is hugely motivated to make his mark at his new club, Orlando Pirates, this coming season. As Heartlines, an initiative to promote positive values unfolds, he spoke to Karien Jonckheere about why he did the things he did, his regrets and how he is turning his life around. Somehow this time it does sound believable, and possible that the Midfield Maestro might just be back.
When did you decide it was time to get things right and change your life around?
It just happened. I didn’t plan it. I just felt now is the time to live a good life, a happily married life and make it better than it was. When everything happened before, my wife has was always there for me in the good and the bad times. My daughter is now two and I have my first born and my wife is pregnant as well so all these things are my responsibility. I can’t disappoint my wife, family and friends who have supported me any more. I just had to change and think twice before I carried on like I was.
What has changed about your life and what are you doing differently?
It’s the small things that mean a lot and before I didn’t do any of those things. If I had a meeting at 11 I just wouldn’t pitch up or if I was supposed to be at training at 3pm I would only arrive at 3.30 and that’s unprofessional. That wasn’t good for the team or for me. I have had to find out ways of dealing with the situation, to be a better soccer player and a better person.
Why did you do the things you did in the past? Did you enjoy the ‘bad boy’ image?
When I played reserves for Chiefs, it was my dream to be in the first team. I knew I was going to be something in the future. When I was young I had the courage that I would one day be a good player and that people would recognise me as that, not as a bad boy.
I don’t know why I did the things I did. Only God knows why things like that happen. But I have realised the consequences of what I have done in the past and I believe God has given me the power and strength to come back from that. I need to respect life and what God has given me.
I am taking it one day at a time. I don’t want to pressurise myself to change but I know I can do it with the support of my family and my new club – Pirates and Irvin Khosa and Screamer Tshabalala. It’s a process and I believe I am improving day by day. The good thing is that I am working with someone patient like Irvin Khosa. Mr Khosa is a very patient man and he treats us not only like soccer players but as his children. He said to me ‘I care about your talent but I also care about you. The nation is looking for good things from you.’ He is helping me now but he said to me one day maybe when he’s gone, his children will come to me for help and that was a powerful statement. I think God gave me Mr Khoza for a purpose.
You changed your surname to Mahlangu earlier this year – why did you do that and what difference has it made?
Pule was my mother’s name but when she married my father she didn’t change it to his name. I grew up with my mother and I didn’t actually know about it. I was suffering and it took a long time to realise what I had to do. And that I could live a good life. I feel different. The day of the ceremony we had when I changed my name I felt like a man. My friends and family were all there. That was the change of Jabu.
Maybe in the past I wanted to change but the ancestors weren’t happy with me. Usually us black people, if we get a new job we have a family ceremony and slaughter a goat or a chicken but I didn’t do any of those things. Now I know what to do and what steps to follow. My family weren’t ever together in the past but now they are.
You have said in the past that you were going to change, what makes this time different?
I think there was a lot of pressure, becoming famous and everyone knows you and there was family pressure. But I have grown up now and am stronger than I was before.
What would your advice be to up and coming players who will face the same temptations as you?
My advice is to enjoy your job and to respect the job, your teammates and the community. It’s also very important to choose your friends well because when you become popular every day you have new friends and you end up not knowing who your real friends are and you end up going with the wrong ones.
What would you say to the fans who felt let down by you and have lost faith in you?
I obviously didn’t plan for any of this to happen, it just happened so I would say to people I know I disappointed them. But they mustn’t judge me. Only God can judge. I want to say I promise to be a good family man and a role model to youngsters so please give me another chance to do that. They will see the difference as time goes by and that I have changed. I want to be called the Midfield Maestro and all those names I used to be called. I want people to see that I have improved and that the real Jabu is back. – Heartlines Features
By Karien Jonckeere