One of South Africa’s finest women’s footballers of the last two decades, Rhoda Mulaudzi, also a royal princess, had to fight all the way to get to this point in her career – first with her family and then the South African football structure. She is now opening doors for other women to play professionally.
By Nick Said
GROWING UP AS A PRINCESS IN THE Mulaudzi-Mulikiti clan of Venda in South Africa’s Limpopo province, it is expected that young girls will take up their royal duties and give in to their destiny as a member of the regal line.
But Rhoda Mulaudzi chose a different path, instead following her passion to play football despite heavy resistance from within her royal family, who instead wanted her to take up her responsibilities within the clan.
Her decision may have been controversial at home, but it has given South Africa one of its finest women’s footballers of the last two decades, taken Mulaudzi to the FIFA Women’s World Cup, a professional career in Australia and Europe, and much trophy success with Mamelodi Sundowns Ladies.
She recently celebrated winning the inaugural Confederation of African Football Women’s Champions League with Sundowns, a momentous moment for the game in the country.
It is just the latest achievement for the 32-year-old striker, who admits she has had to fight all the way to get to this point of her career – first with her family and then a South African football structure that did not provide many opportunities for young girls when she first started out.
“It was not easy for me,” Mulaudzi tells FORBES AFRICA. “I don’t normally like to talk about it. Coming from a royal family, being a female and wanting to play football. The family… they wanted me to be something else.
“But I had to fight for it. Fortunately I had the support of my dad, who was a football person. He understood how it felt and he supported me through thick and thin, even though the rest of the family didn’t want to.
“I started playing football when I was five. I would play with my cousins and as time went on I think the family could see that it is what I loved the most.
“I would say they do support me today, even though they would prefer if I was a princess. But I refuse to be that because football is something that I love, it completes my life and my world.”
Mulaudzi says opportunities were scarce for girls when she was starting out in the game and she had the good sense to make sure she completed her tertiary studies.
“In 2004 I started playing in an amateur team in my village [Malonga Village], and then my parents relocated to Gauteng [South African province]. That is when I started playing with the boys in Soweto. From there my coach saw that I had potential and that I could not play with boys forever.
“He took me to Colchester Ladies in Eldorado Park, where I played with [Banyana Banyana teammate] Refiloe Jane.
“At the same time I completed my Matric in 2008 and went to Vaal University of Technology and enrolled for a diploma in Sports Management and a B-Tech [Bachelor of Technology] in Business Administration.”
The lack of opportunities for Mulaudzi growing up may have been stark, but she has done more than most to open doors for other women to play professionally having been one of the pioneering South African players to move abroad.
“I signed my first professional contract at Canberra United in Australia [in 2018]. From there I played in Cyprus at Apollon Ladies, including in the UEFA Women’s Champions League. I also played for Dinamo Minsk in Belarus.
“The Australians were very welcoming. I was the top goalscorer for the team and was voted the Player of the Year by the supporters. Even now they are saying they need me back and I can go there.
“But the problem with Australia is their [football] calendar clashes with our national team commitments, and so you have a situation where both want you to play for them at the same time. That was when we decided to come home, represent the country.”
It was the right decision as Mulaudzi was selected for the 2019 World Cup in France
as South Africa made their debut at the global showpiece event.
“The World Cup was amazing,” she says. “It is not easy playing with the ‘big guns’, but we enjoyed ourselves and the experience we got playing there, we are using it now.
“If I look at the majority of the players that are in this Sundowns team, they have been to the World Cup. Our success shows the hard work and experience we acquired from there.”
Mulaudzi hopes the recent CAF Champions League win with Sundowns will inspire young girls to take up the sport and view her success as proof that they can make a career out of the game.
“We did not just do it for ourselves, but also the young ones out there, the next generation so that everyone can recognize that in South Africa we have good players. That will hopefully open the doors for others to get a contract overseas.”
There is another World Cup in Australia and New Zealand in 2023 and Mulaudzi says she has set her sights on being there with Banyana.
“Age is just a number, as long as I can still play and run, that is what matters most. I can still see myself playing overseas again,” she says.
“I am keen on being a coach when I retire. Especially to develop the young ones. The only problem that we have as Africans going overseas is our development.
“We don’t have enough of it at a young age compared to the Europeans. That makes it very hard. My dream is to see me coaching the young ones.”