The former Orlando Pirates midfielder typed “painless suicide” into the search box. In the short few months after his ban for drug use, nearly everything he held dear was gone. The friends. The money. The adulation. The game.
Thandani “Bibo” Ntshumayelo suffered from severe depression as a result of a four-year ban from any football activities after a random drug test in 2016 found traces of cocaine in his system. On appeal the ban was reduced to two years.
“I felt so alone at the time. I had lost people I thought were my friends. I even lost hope of ever playing again,” says the 27-year-old defensive midfielder.
He had just returned from what he termed an “intense” training session with Bidvest Wits.
Ntshumayelo is training with Wits in the hope of landing a contract. Those who have seen him at the club’s training base in Braamfontein say the player, who moved from Supersport United to Orlando Pirates, is “symbolic of a man ready to make amends”.
Ntshumayelo admits that the ban set him back severely, and he’s spent most of the two years regretting his actions and harbouring thoughts of suicide.
“You know, when you play for a [big] team like Pirates, everybody wants to be your friend. And sometimes you don’t even know who’s in your corner or not. I was introduced to cocaine and, yes, I did take it, but I regret the choices I made,” he said.
“Imagine, one moment you are a provider who normally sends money home and the next moment you are asking people for money. That thing kills you as a man and I did think of committing suicide. I wanted to end it all.”
Although regarded as one of the most accurate ball passers in the Premier Soccer League, Ntshumayelo checked the internet for easy and “painless” ways to commit suicide.
“My father got wind of the fact that I wanted to kill myself and took me to a pastor who prayed for me and gave me some counselling. My father also suggested that I study law, just to have something to fall back on, but I don’t like doing things my mind is not on so we decided we rather appeal the ban so that I can get back into the field.”
His son had just been born, “so that gave me motivation to fight and stay alive because I now had something to live for”.
“I want my son to one day see me play. My parents were there for me and so was my girlfriend. They never left my side.”
If he impresses Wits coach Gavin Hunt, the player, who was born in Heilbron, in the Free State, will get a new lease on life.
When his ban was reduced in September, he had already served just over two years and this meant he was eligible to return to the field — if there were any takers.
Hunt has been cagey about Bibo’s prospects, other than to say that he would help the midfielder to regain his fitness and that “everybody deserves a chance in life”.
Ntshumayelo said: “Coach Gavin and I go back a long way. He knows me very well and his style of intense training suits me well because I’m determined to make a fresh start. Wits is the right team for me and I’d feel very blessed if they sign me. I know exactly what Gavin expects from a player — passion and dedication.”
Hunt gave Ntshumayelo his first professional debut after promoting him from Supersport’s youth academy to the senior team in 2009. During his two-year ban, Hunt was a constant touchstone.
In a bid to teach aspirant sports stars about the dangers of substance abuse and how it can ruin one’s career, Ntshumayelo goes around the country to hold motivational talks.
“I’m looking for partnerships but with organisations who share the same vision. Organisations such as Arrive Alive and the department of education are more relevant. I have turned down a few brands because we were not on the same page and I’m not doing this for money, but to make a difference to people’s lives,” he says.