By Yolulwe Qoshe
If anybody claims to remember the 2018 edition of the Varsity Shield then they have to recall the name Maliviwe Simanga, it’s that simple. Simanga’s (26) rampaging displays in a debut campaign for the Walter Sisulu University (WSU) All Blacks, quickly turned the stocky hooker into a fan favourite as well as a viral sensation.
For those who have been close observers of Border schools rugby over the past decade, the name “Mliqi” would’ve had a familiar ring to it, as before it got to the tertiary stage, it was already rumbling through the corridors of rival schools, in a similar fashion to how he did between the four lines.
Simanga enjoyed a successful schoolboy rugby career, playing for both the prestigious Dale College first team as well as Border at Craven Week in 2011, despite always being a year younger than those in his grade.
Because of that, he landed a post-matric opportunity at Parktown Boys High School in Johannesburg in 2012, with a late injury ruling him out of that year’s Craven Week having already made the Lions u/18 side.
After leaving school a thought of reality suddenly hit Simanga
“I then started thinking, maybe this rugby thing isn’t for me, I was so frustrated, I even started thinking of the likes of Andile Jho, you know? The best of the best when it comes to the quality of high school rugby, that couldn’t make it to the top of the professional ranks and that made me
realize just how tough it is to make it out there” he recalls.
Six years later after an unsuccessful year at the now NMU, as well as helping out with his father’s business, Simanga found himself back in the mainstream rugby fold again, having been scouted by the WSU All Blacks while representing his rural club side Honey Dale at the Heritage
Tournament at Fort Hare, “That’s where the late Mr Sipho Methula (May his soul rest in peace) saw me playing and he said ‘no, no we want this guy’ then he organized the opportunity to attend WSU” Simanga recalls.
But Simanga had to wait an additional year to play as per tournament rules which stipulate that first year students have to be 21 years old and under to partake. But after passing his BA admin first year studies, he would certainly make sure it was well worth the wait the next year as the
name Maliviwe Simanga was on everybody’s lips. “When I finally played and got my chance, everybody saw what happened” he said. “I got the player of the tournament (Player that Rocks) award, I remember getting two man of the match awards in a row, I was the talk of the town” he
After his sterling tournament, and all the videos of him going around social media there was a lot of speculation as to which union would catch “The Big Fish” as he was also affectionately known. He was then drafted into the Border Bulldogs Supersport Rugby Challenge squad, and was not shy to air his feelings on his short stint at his home union, “It was a frustrating time, I
wasn’t happy there. When your own people take you for granted, imagine what other unions can do to you? There are a lot things that are happening behind the scenes at Border, don’t get me wrong I enjoyed playing with the guys, the brotherhood was strong, and it’s just that the
management disappointed me” he opened up.
He swiftly moved on to the Griquas who’s eye he caught during the Varsity Shield, his optimism about a potential career in the sport was quickly blighted by what ended up being empty promises at the union. “The situation there was that, there were two hookers who were poised to
leave if the coach at the time stayed on” he remembers. But things would quickly change for the worst for Simanga, “The players then signed a petition to kick the coach out so the two hookers ended up staying and that effectively meant I remained as fifth choice hooker, so I felt like I
would’ve been wasting my time if I stayed, and I decided to leave”. That would prove to be that for Simanga, well… at least for now.
Simanga further opened up about being let down by a popular agency, which featured top shot personnel like Springbok wingers Makazole Mapimpi and Cheslin Kolbe, as he feels that although there were offers on the table they failed to seal a deal for him and ultimately a career in professional rugby. But a period he bemoans even more came from when he was gaining all the momentum and plaudits as the WSU All Blacks’ main attraction. He feels that, although he enjoyed his time and form at the university, they also purposely sabotaged a potential professional contract, in order to protect their own selfish interests of keeping him at the
institution for their gain. “I need to be honest and say the coaches and management at WSU also closed doors for me” he said. “For example, the Southern Kings wanted me, in fact my contract was already printed out, and all that was missing was my signature on the dotted lines. I even
remember the team manager at WSU saying Deon (Davids) wants this kid, not even for trials, his contract is ready. Then after sometime, I don’t know if this is true but I was told that, I told management that I didn’t want to sign for the Kings because I wanted to focus on my studies,
which was not true!”
He reiterates that, at that time he still had that passion for the game and that he felt this was finally his big break only for him to be cheated from it. There were so many teams that were reportedly interested in his services at that time, but because he was still a student they had to go through the institution first, which was more than happy to play a game of “broken telephone” with the potential suitors. But Simanga insists that he doesn’t have any bad blood against the WSU team management. “We had an up and down relationship because I am a straight forward guy who says it like it is. We didn’t always see eye to eye because of that, but I hold no grudges
against them at all, I believe if things were meant to work out, then they will, only on God’s timing, maybe God wants me to get a qualification first, because you know rugby is a short career and anything can happen” he said.
And that is exactly what he has been concentrating on since, as he is now doing his artisan leanership at Northam Zonderiender Platinum Mine in Limpopo, while also playing for their Rhino’s rugby club. However, he insists he hasn’t yet called it quits, on his ambition to make it
professionally. “ I haven’t given up on the dream, I am still young, but for now I just want to focus on what I am doing here, then I can try the rugby route again” he concluded.