© Sydney MahlanguAuthor: Busisiwe Mokwena Mamelodi Sundowns Ladies’ Karabo ‘Gundi’ Dhlamini is living her dream. The defender has just played in her third ever FIFA Women’s World Cup tournament. She first represented South Africa at the Under-17 FIFA Women’s World Cup which was held in Uruguay. Gundi was part of the team led by Simphiwe Dludlu that managed to get only a draw in the group stages of the competition. An improvement from the first team that represented the country at the global level in women’s football in 2010 where they came back home without registering a single point. Her performance in Southern America was good enough to grab Banyana Banyana coach Desiree Ellis’ attention and she was part of the final squad that travelled to France in 2019 for South Africa’s maiden showing at the FIFA Women’s World Cup. Although she didn’t get an opportunity to get onto the field, she was able to experience being in the tournament.

Dhlamini has been an integral part of the Banyana squad that has made history by being the first South African team to reach the knockout stages of the FIFA World Cup. She admits that all the global competitions she has been too are different and has grown since 2018.

“Things have really changed; this is another level. I feel like the Under-17 Women’s World Cup was preparation for how the senior level would look like. I used that experience to change how I think as a player and where I should improve to be able to compete at this level. What I enjoy the most is that you always find people that challenge you as a player, which helps you to want to work even harder. At this level every single player is important, it doesn’t matter where you are playing. Only your legs can do the talking for you,” she expressed.
Qualifying for a second successive FIFA World Cup is a big feat. Dhlamini believes this move will inspire more young girls to take up football.
“It’s not just huge for us but it’s a big achievement for the whole country. We are not just showing the world that we can compete with the best but we are also inspiring the young girls out there, to start to believing that anything is possible. We are showing them that when you believe in your work you can actually achieve any and everything you have dreamt of,” she excitedly said.

Dhlamini is not the only Sundowns player representing the team at the FIFA World Cup in New Zealand. Andile Dlamini, Melinda Kgadiete, Tiisetso Makhubela and stalwart defender, Bambanani Mbane have been an integral part of the squad. The Sundowns family have been important in helping the national team progress at the tournament but they have also had each other’s backs at the competition, picking up one another when the chips were down.

“It really helps to have people you have a better understanding with and also knowing that you are there for each other,” she says

She also went on to discuss how she achieved her success, “I would say discipline has been key to whatever I’m doing. I always tell myself that I don’t have to be babysat in order to behave in a certain way. Determination has also helped me become the person I am today through hard work. I always give 100% in everything I do and my achievements are proof of that. Making it into the World Cup squad again was the most exciting experience. I told myself that I will definitely play and help my team achieve whatever goal we have,” she says.

For the first time, Africa had three teams in the knockout stages of the World Cup. A sign of growth of women’s football. The birth of the CAF Women’s Champions League, which Banyana BaStyle won in the inaugural year and came back with silver last season, is also a contributor of the upward trajectory that the women’s game finds itself.
Dhlamini says although there has been some growth, which is visible when African teams take on high ranked nations, she believes there is a long way to go in order to close the gap between Africa and other countries.
With the FIFA Women’s World Cup in full swing, even though Banyana Banyana have been knocked out, the team can only walk away with their heads held high, taking with them the positives and allowing the nation to witness their resilience, their fight and undisputed character will always be remembered. We can only wait to see what Karabo and the team will do in the next international competitions but it’s certain that they will come back stronger and hold the flag up high.