In 2010, when Fifa.com profiled South Africa prior to their debut appearance at a FIFA Women’s tournament, the U-17 Women’s World Cup staged in Trinidad and Tobago, Jermaine Seoposenwe was not listed as a “key player”. However, despite the Bantwana’s dreadful outing, the 16-year-old’s two goals in three games owned the spotlight as far as South Africa was concerned. She was the country’s only goal scorer in the tournament – an own goal against Germany inclusive – unsurprisingly earning a swift call-up to the senior team. That same year, she was named the country’s Young Women’s Player of the Year, easily holding off competition from Bantwana teammates Robyn Moodaly and Rachel Sebati.
She certainly qualified as a ‘super sub’ when she scored her debut for the senior team against Zimbabwe, just 12 days after she turned 17. It remains one of the most memorable moments of her football career. “It was very different because playing with the senior team was kind of intimidating,” Seoposenwe told me via telephone. “But Janine [van Wyk] helped me get acclimatized to the fact that I was good enough.”
“I had felt like I wasn’t good enough to be in the team because I was so, so young, but Janine was like, ‘you shouldn’t be like that, you just played at the World Cup, you scored at the World Cup, you did pretty well for yourself, you deserve to be here.’ “
Those words spurred Jermaine on to new heights. An injury prevented her from making the 2012 Olympic Squad, but she went to Rio this summer. Playing in the Women’s Olympics Football Tournament is a testament of how far she’s come from her humble beginnings of playing on Begonia street, somewhere in Mitchells Plain – a place riddled with drugs and gangs.
Jermaine holds her childhood in high esteem. According to her, playing football with boys moulded her into the tough player she is today.
My mum had a dream that I was going to be a boy before I was born. I feel like it is destiny for me to act more like a boy than a girl. For me in my mind the boys always have more fun, always got to play outside, run around in the dirt and do fun stuff like playing with the soccer ball, whereas girls will always play in the yard with dolls.
When she was 15, she could no longer be admitted to male-dominated football teams, so she quit the sport for about a year. However, after being convinced by a family friend to play with the women’s team of Santos FC, her perception about girls playing football was changed forever after watching former Banyana Banyana star, Antonio Carelse, who remains her role model.
Seoposenwe has evolved from a tomboy who hardly had any female friends (her three sisters were about the only XY chromosomes she could really relate to) and never liked the idea of playing football with them either, to a “girly girl” who now appreciates women’s football in its entirety and strives for its development in South Africa with every skill she possesses.
It is with that singular mission etched at the back of their minds that “the Girls”, oozing undiluted confidence, filed out of the Olympic Stadium dugout on August 3 to open their Rio 2016 campaign against Sweden. Their star sported number 12 – an inheritance from the legendary Portia Modise, who retired in May 2015.
Although Jermaine attaches very little significance to the number she wears, considering she’s worn the numbers 20 and 11 previously, she still understands how much weight lies in a jersey laden with 101 goals in 124 appearances. Still, she refuses to feel the pressure. “Everyone thinks that I should be filling her shoes because I’m wearing her number, but we are different people,” the 22-year-old explained. “Yes, I want to be able to score as many goals as her but it’s going to take, like, forever.”
This time, FIFA recognized her as a “key player” ahead of the 2016 Olympics. It’s no wonder, as she already secured a place in Banyana Banyana football history when she latched onto Amanda Dlamini’s pass to score the goal that earned them a second consecutive Olympic ticket (at the expense of Equatorial Guinea) in October 2015. The goal, her fifth, also made her (less importantly) the joint-highest goal scorer in the 2015 CAF Women’s Olympic Qualifying Tournament alongside Equatorial Guinea’s Spanish-born striker Jade Boho Sayo. Her talent, passion and determination ensure she’s making a name for herself as the commander-in-chief of the strike force(s).
I may be a Nigerian, but like many South Africans across the globe, I craved a Seoposenwe goal at the tournament (regardless of the fact that the South Africans always have a score to settle with us on the football pitch). It would have made for a perfect narrative considering Jermaine’s predecessor, Modise, was on the score sheet in 2012. But for me, it was more about telling people, “I told you about her, didn’t I?” than anything else.
Seoposenwe didn’t score, but I’m telling you about her anyway. About her humility off the pitch. About her neatly arranged dentition that sparkles for a selfie. About her fierce tenacity on and off the ball.
To launch their Rio campaign, Banyana Banyana confronted Sweden in what was a repeat of their opening game of London 2012. They defended with their lives and tried to hit on the counter, but in their efforts at goal, they were caught offside more often than not (10 times), and it was Jermaine most of the time (7).
But South Africa putting up a spirited display won them the support of the crowd at the stadium, and the endearing touches, dribbles and crosses of the fleet-footed one did not go unnoticed. At half time, Brazilian fans even acknowledged her skills with a “Numero Foza” (Number 12) chant. And although clumsy defending saw South Africa succumb to a scrappy goal in the second half, they held their heads up high going into the match against China.
If there was any team in that group South Africa had a realistic chance of squeezing out three points from, it would be the Steel Roses…or so I thought. In the very first minute, Seoposenwe connected with a Thembi Kgatlana cross, but her left-footed effort was saved. She remained a constant threat to the Chinese defence, especially in the first half, but South Africa could never recover from the demoralising blow dealt at the dearth of half time. China’s second goal, in the 87th minute, put the game out of reach.
And that was the brutal confirmation that the group stage was how far the Africans could go. Maybe the story would’ve been different had Jermaine buried one of those chances against China, but as it was, she was clearly upset they wouldn’t go any further:
— Jermaine Seoposenwe (@jermaine109) August 7, 2016
Still, despite having nothing to play for, South Africa held Brazil to a gutsy goalless draw in their final group E game to wrap up their Rio 2016 proceedings – the only side that did not concede against the hosts, who had hammered China 3-0 and Sweden 5-1, in the group stage.
I was proud. Disappointed, too, but proud. Disappointed because, considering the preparations they had prior to the Games, I had expected the 52nd ranked team to be able to shock any of their top 20 opponents. Nevertheless they made a statement, one that cannot be ignored, with their obvious improvement from four years ago. Women’s football in South Africa is clearly on the rise; now they clamour for a professional football league, which according to (former) coach Vera Pauw “is the only way to drive forward into the future of women’s football in South Africa”. (Yes. Former).
Meanwhile, Jermaine is back at school in the United States, where she’s been since 2014. A scholarship allows her to pursue both a degree in Business Studies and championship titles with the school’s women’s team.
Aptly described as “arguably one of the most decorated signee in Samford athletic department history“, Jermaine, in her debut season, set a new school record by amassing the highest number of points in a season (31), smashing the previous record of 27 points set in 2002. With the Bulldogs, she’s known more for creating goals than scoring them. She holds the school record for most assists in a single season with her tally of 13, the school record for most assists in a game (4), and is the active career leader in assists (24) in the Southern Conference – a tally that leaves her second on Samford’s all-time assists list.
Surely, Jermaine’s versatility up front cannot be questioned, whether as a Bulldog or a national team player, as a target player, winger or a playmaker. She’s always at your service even though she loves the wings; her preferred position gives her freedom to truly express herself.
While we spoke on the phone, I had explained how tongue twisting it was pronouncing her surname (not like mine is any easier) and she duly obliged to teach me. After playing every minute in the Olympics and creating opportunities with Samford, there must be many wanting to learn the proper pronunciation of Seoposenwe. Like me, I hope they will keep their eyes on her as she carves a legacy for herself wherever she sets her feet. For those of you foolish enough to not do so, I’ll still say, again and again… “I told you about her, didn’t I?”