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The old English adage says “Seeing is believing”…you see something, it paints a picture in your head, and you start visualising something that is tangible. The isiXhosa language says, “ukuhamba kubona” which is a saying that means, the more you travel, the more you see. That particular saying maybe the one Xhosa Supersport rugby commentator Masomelele Jucwa resonates with more, as before he could even visualise what rugby was, he would experience exactly what it is through his first ever steps on a rugby field.

Born in the small Eastern Cape town of Komani (formerly Queenstown), Jucwa admits that, how he got to fall in love with the sport of rugby, maybe different to that of many of his peers. While many would trace their first interaction with the sport of rugby through watching the sport, he was not afforded that privilege.

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“I had never watched rugby before playing it” admits Jucwa before revealing an impressive first memory of the sport, which must of been worth a watch.

“ I literally knew about the sport from playing it. Scoring a hatrick for Queens Primary against St. Andrews in my very first game ever, back in 1999. That is my first memory of rugby” continued Jucwa.

Not bad then, for a man who is one THIRD of a group of YouTubers named the Hatrick heroes is it? As a Supersport commentator, it is expected that Jucwa would be working on games, which would include some really talented individuals. But what many might not have the knowledge of, is that he had an opportunity to rub shoulders and compete with some too. That is what he credits as playing a massive role in keeping him interested in the sport.

“I maintained the love by playing it. The older you got, the more competitive it got. You’d play play the likes of Scarra Ntubeni, Lucian Ruiters, Chris Cloete and Wandile Mjekevu. We were playing against such oppositions. Then along the way you learn to understand rivalry which then fuels the fire further.” Explained Jucwa.

Jucwa then goes on to lament that, once he finally got more opportunities to watch the game, he never looked back. He then goes on to reveal the extreme lengths and sacrifices he made at a young age, just to get closer to the game.

“Rugby would eventually become my life, I never used to miss watching a rugby game, never ever!” He exclaimed. “ To the point that I even got a job at Shell Ultra City garage at a very young age, just so I could afford to install DStv at home, to watch rugby”.

Quizzed on just how much Queens Primary and College played in igniting his rugby fire, Jucwa was didn’t mince his words.

“A lot, I’d say. I learnt rugby at Queens, I was literally just talking rugby all the time at school. I had a book, this book had the names of every senior rugby player at Queens, from first to ninth team.”. Jucwa then shows a different side of his love for rugby, the team selector side.

“ Before trials I used to rate players and say “You are of the calibre of this team, or tell first team players that “Look, you just aren’t it hey, and even though you play first team, I’m rating you five. Now this is outside the playing, this is what was happening in the corridors Monday – Friday”

“If there was an injury at first team level I would know by Monday and already have an idea of the chain reaction from 9ths-1sts. So without Queens my destiny with rugby would’ve been difficult. My love for rugby from Queens is what made me the person I am right now”. He continued.

At this point in the story, one would be forgiven for thinking that Jucwa had grown to be obsessed about rugby, to the point that his life would be centred around the sport. But boy, would you be so wrong! Even though he was no slouch in with oval in hand, playing A team throughout his age group rugby years, before making an incredible switch from lock to fyhalf in opens rugby and finishing his high school career as a player for the thirds.

Jucwa, in fact was probably as well rounded as they came. He excelled as a top high jumper with full school colours not only for Queens, but for the Eastern Cape schools region. He was also the school’s main cheerleader, house prefect, Drama chairman with full colours as well as a member of the school band and choir.

But when he left Queens, he seemed to not only leave his school uniform behind, but the sport of rugby as well. It would be his original love, athletics that would offer him a huge opportunity post school, and as he traveled to Gauteng, in pursuit of the much coveted greener pastures, the goal would quickly switch to target a seat on the team South Africa plane to the 2016 Rio Olympics.

“ I got a bursary at University of Johannesburg (UJ)” Jucwa recalls.

“I arrived at UJ and started training with their athletics team at Westdene. But to be honest the dynamics got the best of me there” he admits. “I didn’t understand the language used at training, so I resorted to coaching myself”.

Often describing his prowess in the high jump during the interview, one would get the impression that he was selling himself short with his description. One would then get the confirmation of that information very swiftly.

“In the end, I did quite well because I came back from the Gauteng Championshis with a medal, but that would’ve been my last jump unfortunately” Jucwa reminisces.

Jucwa explains that, although he came back with some silverware all thanks to self coaching, deep down he new it would be unsustainable.

“In my mind I had always had this fixated idea that, if I could get to UJ and be trained by someone who really knows this event and get thorough training where I can listen and apply, I could go further, because I was really not a bad high jumper.”

Jucwa admits that, when that did not happen, it added to a family issues which were already killing his motivation to succeed in the sport. He also recalls that logistically it was becoming practically impossible to fund his trips to the track. He then switched his focus solely towards his studies as his goal went from getting on a plane to the Rio Olympics, with the likes former Eastern Province schools athletics teammate Anaso Jobodwana, to making his parents proud academically.

Upon retrospect, Jucwa reveals that his tough times did not come without equally tough lessons.

“Always focus on yourself, always! Some of the factors that hindered both my athletics and rugby were obviously the company that I kept, you know? And the decisions that we made as a collective instead of decisions that I wanted for myself. And no matter how deeply you have fallen, always have a fight in you to go back and back yourself in all situations. Those are lessons that I still use to this day.”.

Little did Jucwa no at the time that a tough situation was just about to get even harder! His mother was no longer able to pay the tuition at UJ, with his father a pensioner already at the time. What made matters worse for Maso, was the fact that his sister also had to go to university during this period. And just like that, all the dreams and aspirations of a young man from the Eastern Cape, heading to the big city of Gold with endless opportunities ended with none for him. Instead, he was faced with the shattering reality of having to see those lofty ambitions and expectations packed into bags and accompanying him all the way back home to Komani. This was heading below being back to square one for Jucwa.

“ I had to then find myself a job, and that’s where I started to feel a disconnect between myself and rugby” Jucwa looks back.

In under a year Jucwa went from harbouring ambitions of rubbing shoulders with some of the best runners in the world at the Rio Olympic Games Athlete Village, to working at Total Sport, selling running shoes.

“I clock in at eight in the morning, I leave late. My mother is the sole bread winner at home, and you know old people, they don’t really understand this thing of having DStv Premium. So we had to settle for compact. Mind you, even what they’re paying me at Total Sport isn’t enough for me to assist with getting DStv Premium, because they were going to even stop paying tor the Compact subscription if they saw I could contribute towards a premium subscription”.

At this time, Jucwa is almost fully occupied by his new reality and the topic of rugby went from being second nature, to a secondary priority.

“I had to make an effort just to get to watch rugby. Yoh! Now at this particular time, it is tough, very tough for me. But I managed to move out of Total Sport and earn myself a job at the Queens Casino, but I’m still! In Komani.”

Jucwa then recalls how this move also coincided with his rekindling of his relationship with the sport of rugby.

“ This is now around 2013, now I am not allowed to watch rugby at the casino, since I am an employee. But luckily there was a place down the road from my place called Dagwood and I didn’t mind watching it from there”

“At the casino I had long shifts, so if the Springboks were playing during that shift, the TV was 50 metres away, with me still having to help the guests so it was a mission. If I was working nightshift, I would knock off at around 5am, sleep till 7 am and then go watch Super Rugby at Dagwood, from the New Zealand games to just one South African game. After that game I would be back working so I hardly slept! But that’s how I tried to rekindle my love for rugby”.

Jucwa, still working on a tight budget at the time, revealed his strategy once he got to Dagwood,

“I would order juice for the 8:30 game and then another one for the 10:30 game. That would then put me in my reserve tank and end that’s why I didn’t really watch the Australia games. So the afternoon games I would go watch at a place called Thousand.”.

Jucwa would eventually bring an end to his time at the Casino, as finally! Greener pastures beckoned…literally.

“I started working at Nedbank, you see now? I was seeing the progress, I was working for a proper brand. I saw Nedbank as my route out of Komani, because I really wanted to align myself with Multichoice, Supersport or SABC. I just wanted to be within that city that has all of those buildings. I pushed with Nedbank from in 2014 and 2015”.

Things continued to look up for Jucwa from there and the gods seemed to be buying into his vision. As he followed a lead that had him right back in the city with the bright lights and the big buildings. But… there was a but.

“I got a potential opportunity at FNB in Johannesburg, I jumped for it same time!” He recalls.

“I’m on the first bus to Joburg, I arrive at Park Station waited for my friend who was going to host me, but there proved to be differences with that too”. Not quite the dream start for Jucwa, and it would only prove to be a precedence for what was going to be an on going pattern.

Jucwa was at least rescued by his other friends he left in Johannesburg, but that would prove to be the only thing that would come through for him.

“ So the FNB opportunity does not materialise at this moment. So now essentially, I left my job to come here, and what I sacrificed by job and stability for, did not materialise. But I was just happy I was in Joburg, I just knew that I’ll find a way, no matter how, but I will find a way. So I kept knocking away at FNB, because once you show me where your building is, I won’t stop making attempts to get in. Then eventually I got into FNB.

But it would then seem as if Jucwa could not catch a lucky break, even within a lucky break.

“I push FNB for a while and then begin to realise that, it just isn’t working in the manner that I thought it would. So I leave FNB for greener pastures, this is 2016 having arrived at FNB end of the 2015. At that time my mother doesn’t trust me, and thinks that I am causing havoc here in Johannesburg, that time I am hustling on overdrive!”.

He would then get an unlikely alignment back into the rugby side of things as he recalls.

“2016, Springboks vs Ireland incoming tour. I’m on my phone, in fact I was always on my phone at that time, because I am applying and hustling. Now I find myself on Twitter and I see this Phaka page there and it says the person with the best tweet will win tickets to watch the third Test in Gqeberha. So I write my tweet and I forget about it. We drink with the boys, we watch the rugby and we go home”

Then Jucwa gets a call from his friends

“‘Hey! Have you checked your twitter? They want you there by the Phaka page!’” And when I check they liked my tweet. But now Gqeberha is too far and I am unemployed. Next thing I’m getting a call from Kaunda Ntunja inviting me to the Phaka show as the winner of the tickets competition. I arrive and then I make a small weak cameo which I hope never sees the light of day again (laughs).”.

And then he gives a timely reminder of an important aspect he mentioned previously.

“That is when things began to light up for me, because remember , they allowed me inside the door of their building in Multichoice City. They invited me inside the door, I now knew exactly where their door was. From there on it was auditions for Varsity Cup presenter the job that was held by Sam Ludidi. But I honestly wasn’t there for that, I wanted to do commentary, I was at those auditions purely because I wanted a permanent foot inside the Supersport door.”

Jucwa recalls going to two separate auditions at Multichoice City , that already a big prize for a man, who was now inside one of the big buildings he dreamed of. That would prove to birth a belief in him that he could not ignore, he could feel how close he was to his destiny, so much so that, his spirit had already become one with it. Although he would get a job at Liberty Life in Braamfontein at the end of 2016, something in him was screaming his true path.

“At this time I am sharing a flat with a friend of mine called Johnny B. I pushed at Liberty Life to pay all of my bills and I managed! Even to a point where I started seeing that I have extra money left over. Without a doubt I went and used that money to connect DStv. We didn’t even have a TV we were using a monitor at that time. I subscribed to DStv Premium. Johnny B didn’t understand why I would go for such an expensive option, I told him not to panic, I knew why I chose that option, you can just contribute the money you were going to contribute to the Compact subscription. He new how much I loved rugby, Yoh! I had access to rugby for the first time ever! In my own place. In a small monitor! The same monitor we were using in Varsity in 2010! But in February 2017, I had the comfort of rugby in my own place.”.

And just as destiny would have it, not long afterwards he would see a life changing advert on one of the channels he had paid for.

“Kaunda appeared on my TV saying ‘You can be the next Supersport commentator. It was literally as if he was speaking to me. My life changed…my life changed, and I believed that my decision to buy that decoder and that package was the lifeline that I needed at the time, you know? I was like, oh my word, you joking! Because I never told anyone bu I came here for commentary. That’s all I wanted”.

Jucwa began to think back to that year where he took that painful bus trip back to the Eastern Cape, remembering how unpleasant it is when you know you are not coming back. He was determined to use that as his motivation in chasing his dream, that was now in his own hand for the very first time.

After auditions where held in various parts of the country, a selection of the top 4 in each language would be made.

“I t was heavily packed here in Jozi. I didn’t even know that Xhosa had its own auditions and maybe it’s because growing up I only had the English option because I always watched from different places. So this whole time in my head I’m here for English commentary. I literally decided right there at the venue while filling in the forms that, I would go for Xhosa commentary and I made it to the next round in Mandela Square the next day”

And this is where things would begin to heat up, with all the other hopefuls from other parts of the country converging and chasing the exact same dream Jucwa was going for.

“Yoh!, it was hectic that day! It was hectic that day!” He recalls. “Now we seriously commentating! Not just narrating what’s happening on the screen, we were commentating along side Supersport commentators! , so you there with Bra Kaizer “Kaya Malotana”. And the others are sitting on top there and listening to you. I think there were three rounds the before they picked a national top four”.

“Guys were extremely hungry there, you find that there are guys who were already on TV, some at Supersport but just wanted to expend their portfolio, people on radio too. It was a lot! And very demanding. So from the four in each language they would cut down to just the two they needed. And yeah, I was literally the last person to be picked on the day (laughs).”

So just like that, on the first of September 2017, Jucwa’s life would change. He would return to the same city that housed his dreams and make them a reality, his sacrifices had finally paid off. He would go from trying to memorise buildings, to memorising the schedule of when he would be required to be at those buildings.

“The question of how I felt on the day they told me I got the job is very difficult one, because to date I still can’t find the answer to that. I am still celebrating that day even now. Since then its just become continuous happiness for myself, my parents too. I was happy that I could finally show them that, what I always said I wanted to be, I had become. I was proud because now my son gets an opportunity to go to a school that I was afforded an opportunity to attend. So the happiness from that moment hits me every week! I was happy for the people around me, I personally knew that I was going to do whatever I needed to do to get the job done”

Jucwa went from commentating with Malotana on in auditions to forming an audibly tight bond with him. The pair are often heard commentating together with their chemistry there for all to hear. You would think they would’ve known each other for a long time but that was certainly not the case.

“ At first I only knew that he is Mirha, I knew that he was also an old Queenian and that he was a Springbok. Basically all the general things people know about him, but now? Yoh! (Pause) I know almost everything about Bra Kaizer, I want to know more. We always travel together so we speak
and we now know so much about each other. We are always calling each other. But what I admire is that, we are both now that same place, come from the same school but our paths to getting here have been totally different! Even the kids can be inspired by that and take a lot from the both of us. Let’s say you were a promising rugby player but didn’t make it, you can always use that knowledge in other aspects of the sport and make a living.”.

Jucwa also credits the late Ntunja for helping him settle into the role.

“Every single problem I encountered, I went to him! Bra Kaizer helped a lot as well, Gcobani Bobo was great, and of course the directors and producers were great as well sis’ Mandisa Williams and Noms also assisted with many things when it came to work but mainly it was Kaunda. I literally went to him for every single thing, every decision when I started. Even if I wanted to buy something or move from where I was staying, I went to him. So he was the main guy that helped me with a lot of things when I started.

It was then no surprise that Jucwa was heavily hit by the sudden and untimely passing of Ntunja due to Covid-19 in 2020.

“ It was a big blow! A big blow! That is one person that used to back us all the time, teach and guide us through the craft. He used to call after games and congratulate, tell you where to fix up. He was just so important! Not just to me but for everyone within the commentary space so we lost a very important person. I feel like I still had a lot to learn from him, I still wanted to listen to him, how he evolved. I knew he was going to go to the next level after the Springboks World Cup triumph.”

He recalls his last moments with Ntunja.

“He hosted us at his house for a champagne breakfast (laughs) and we literally just had champagne that morning. We were asking him a lot of questions, just talking and… I never knew that would be the last time I see him. It cut even deeper because I didn’t ask all the questions that I wanted to ask, because I obviously had the hope of seeing him again” he recalls.

Albeit in unwanted circumstances, that loss coincided with Jucwa having to step up very quickly as a more prominent member of the Xhosa commentary team.

“ I’d say that it was an opportunity that came earlier than I thought it would ever come” Jucwa admits.

“No one was expecting the loss of the ugrootman. It was not just me, but everyone got elevated. We all had to step up because the company needed us to work. We stepped up as a team, one assembled by Kuanda dating back to 2009. All we can do is deliver our best every time and his legacy will continue to live on through us.”

It’s hard enough having to step up after Ntunja’s death, but even harder to share his clan name with which he was affectionately known by. Jucwa admits that there is pressure in the job but he is focused on his own journey.

“Kaunda himself often said, you have to be your own person when you step into this industry and the clan name isn’t helping either (laughs) because people will expect the same world class calibre of commentary they had from Kaunda when they listen to me. But it’s own lane, own race you know. You don’t want to duplicate what he was doing because he was so good at it. And that was him. So trying to replicate somebody else would really deter my path. But use his teachings just to have structured commentary

And with people still feeling the effects of his loss in commentary, it was going to make it even harder for them to accept and appreciate those left behind for who they are, some even making unpleasant comments about them, Jucwa admits to seeing them as well.

“ I don’t take them to heart because, what they are saying is true at the end of the day, it will never be the same. It can’t be when the person who is frequently listened to is not around anymore, its not the same for people watching at home, it isn’t the same for even us! But we all want to be ourselves. But then again, being a household name doesn’t happen overnight. Even with Kaunda and Dabane (Makhaya Jack) people were complaining at first. But they grew to love them as well. But I also remember a line Kaunda often used, he said ‘I am not money, so not everybody is going to like me’” (laughs)

Jucwa then recalls his very first time on the air.

“It was the first of May 2017, it was the Wilderklawer Super Schools competition. Selborne College was playing Helpmekaar, yoh! It was nerve-racking! Yoh! I didn’t even know how I was going to introduce the game, I barely knew the players but now you just need to speak rugby and what is happening in the field which I did very well. It was the first time I’d ever seen Selborne get such a huge walloping in my life! I ended up enjoying the experience because we were doing back to back games because it was a festival so it became easier.

Jucwa has come a long was since then, growing from strength to strength, and fast becoming the people’s favourite. But which match does he attribute as the one that he felt he came into his own in.

“I’d say the Test match between the Springboks and Georgia, Aphelele Fassi’s debut! It was definitely that game for me”. He recalls.

Jucwa also admits that he feels the growth and attributes that to working constantly and consistently. He credits work in competitions such as the British & Irish Lions Tour, Rainbow Cup and Currie Cup as the tournaments that have got him there. Ultimately all of that growth has earned him the Pendoring Indigenous Commentator Award. A feat he admits he didn’t expect but was significant to him.

“It meant so much because a few years ago I just wanted to commentate but to get recognised so early in my career is one of my biggest milestones ever” he said.

He then looks back at just how much his life would’ve changed since.

“ It has changed significantly! I used to stay smack in the middle of Joburg, by a taxi rank where you would get robbed at gun point, just on a trip to get airtime. That was how deep in the city I was staying. So initially I moved away from that environment and lived in Soweto but logistically that was not feasible for me, with the late kick off’s. But because of this job, I was able to move to Randburg, where I could just walk to and from the games, a mere five minute walk. That’s how close I stay to the studios. So through this job I was able to elevate myself and family”

Jucwa has a young family with his two kids born in 2019. He is also grateful that they now can come visit him as he now enjoys the comforts of his own space.

But this is just the beginning for Jucwa who then discuss his career ambitions

“In the next five or so years, I just want to be as comfortable as I can be, in broadcasting. I want to be more valuable. I just want to be the best that I can be in the space that I am in right now. A lot things came suddenly because of the unfortunate events of the corona virus so that forces you to go up quicker than you thought you would. I mean we were even starting to cover Varsity Cup, you know? So it’s just been constant learning for me but now I have to be the best version of myself within this five year period, which I didn’t anticipate playing a prominent role. In simple terms? I just want to be a good broadcaster…then eventually become great”