However, opportunities were scarce to get scouted in the deepest rural areas, and like many others who migrated to the big cities in search of a better life, Zungu was no different.
He left his village, Klein Beibel in Limpopo, for Johannesburg in the 1980s, not to pursue football, but to look for general work.
Little had Zungu imagined that he would end up in the employ of Mamelodi Sundowns.
How he linked up with a club he supported from childhood was a stroke of luck – a classic case of being at the right time, at the right place.
It was during his spell as a caretaker of a building block that rented out office space in the Joburg CBD when Zungu met the owners of Mamelodi Sundowns at the time, the Krok brothers, Abe and Solly.
“I was not aware that the Krok brothers had bought the building and when they came to view it, they asked me which team I was supporting, I said Mamelodi Sundowns. That’s how my relationship with the club started, just like that,” recalls Zungu.
“When I eventually met the Sundowns players and coaches, it was a dream come true working for a club I grew up supporting. It was surreal working in the same environment as the heroes that some of my friends and I used to keep newspaper cut-outs of while growing up.”
As much as Zungu has not kicked a ball for Mamelodi Sundowns, the 59-year-old father of six has been a respected figure in the dressing room across different generations of players and coaching staff at the club.
When he first arrived at the Brazilians in 1990, he kitted out a cohort of players like Harris ‘TV4’ Choeu, Rabie ‘Masterpieces’ Moripe, Ernest‘Wire’ Chirwali, Lucky ‘Oshkosh’ Molefe, Sam ‘Eewie’Khambule, Zane Moosa, to name a few of the legends of that period. Journey with the club This year marks 33 years since Zungu arrived at the club as the team bus driver who later doubled up as kitman. The milestone makes him one of the longest serving members in the Mamelodi Sundowns roster alongside the late Alex Shakoane.
“At times, I used to operate the lawnmower to prepare our training grounds, you can say I was a jack of all trades behind the scenes,” he added with uncontrollable laughter.
Just like the club he has dedicated his life to, Zungu is a multiple Champion. He has been part of a band of serial winners, Zungu has lost count of how many winners’ medals he has collected since he picked up his first gold during the 1992/93 season, an accolade that came with clinching the league title under the old NSL structure. Zungu was in stitches as he shared what the prize for being the champions at the time was; two brand new minibuses.
“Those were the best memories, and it didn’t end there because other coaches like [the late] Ted Dumitru and, most recently Pitso Mosimane, came in and won us many trophies.” Importance of what Freddy Zungu does While it may be seen as a minor duty in the backroom, Zungu pointed out that the role of his job isn’t as easy as it might appear to be from a distance.
He regards his role as the kit manager as important as that of everyone in a club “A training session cannot start if there is no kit for the players; you get what I mean?”
Zungu pointed out that things have changed from the days when he used to carry just two bags of playing kit for matches.
“We are talking of up to 26 bags of kit and equipment these days. We prepare for any eventuality in terms of the weather and other factors. Apart from the sets of playing kit, we pack umbrellas, raincoats, water, energy drinks and take cooler boxes to store the drinks on the pitch. These items fill up a panel van!”
The load gets even bigger when travelling abroad.
During the interview with the Mamelodi Sundowns Digital Magazine, Zungu was busy preparing the team luggage ahead of the club’s pre-season training camp in the Netherlands.
He was doing this for players and Coaches, to make sure they will have everything from training attire to playing and leisure wear. He also has to be mindful of the weight restrictions of airlines.
“It is not just the clothing,” says Zungu pointing at three bags full of soccer balls, about 47 in total, as part of the additional items that goes with the massive baggage. “It’s not easy preparing luggage for a big group. I have learnt over the years that one must be patient, and most importantly, be in a good physical shape to do this job thoroughly,” he explains.
Zungu also paid tribute to his assistants Solomon Litho, Thato Mashego and Sekapa Buthane for sharing the workload.
“But these laaities [youngsters] are full of energy but also full of tricks. I have to kick them on their backside to do a perfect job,” he says tongue-in-cheek.
In fact, there are a few kitmen around the Premier Soccer League (PSL) clubs who have learnt the ropes from Zungu.
“I really owe it to not only the Krok brothers who made my dream come true, but also to Angelo and Natasha Tsichlas [former Mamelodi Sundowns owners], as well as Coach Screamer Tshabalala, those who welcomed me during my first days at the club.”
“Even under the current management and coaches, I am still enjoying my time at Sundowns. The President (Dr Patrice Motsepe) and Chairman (Tlhopie Motsepe) have been generous over the years and they have taken the team to greater heights. Hopefully, I would have left a good legacy for those who will come after me.”
For someone who makes sure the players look good on the training field and on match days, Zungu and Mamelodi Sundowns are indeed cut from the same fabric. 4 things you may not know about Ntate Zungu1.Zungu is nicknamed “Doza”, a monicker he got from Mamelodi Sundowns legend, Joel “Fire” Masilela. 2.Zungu survived an attempted hijacking in 1997. He was dropping off a player in Meadowlands, Soweto when he was ambushed by a group of armed assailants.“I was shot seven times, but I’m still here, by the grace of God,” he said. 3.While he regularly gives away his club’s uniforms, Zungu has kept all the medals he won with Mamelodi Sundowns. 4.Zungu has travelled to many major cities around Africa and his favourite destination is Egypt capital, Cairo.