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Amanda Dlamini: Former South African player on ground-breaking Afcon commentary role in Ivory Coast

By BBC Africa
Cup of Nations GETTY IMAGES/BBC SPORT

Image caption: Amanda Dlamini has gone from captaining her country to the commentary gantry at the 2023 Africa Cup of Nations
FRI, 16 FEB 2024 LISTEN
GETTY IMAGES/BBC SPORT Image caption: Amanda Dlamini has gone from captaining her country to the commentary gantry at the 2023 Africa Cup of Nations

After winning over a century of caps for South Africa during her playing days, Amanda Dlamini broke new ground at the 2023 Africa Cup of Nations in Ivory Coast.

The former midfielder became the first woman employed by the Confederation of African Football (Caf) to be an analyst on its official international TV commentary of the continent's showpiece men's tournament.

Dlamini says the role is a "major win for women", but acknowledged the weight of her position scared her at first.

"I was nervous to make sure that I leave a good impression. I cover all my stats and tactics because that is my job," Dlamini told BBC Sport Africa.

"The realisation of being the first woman at an Afcon, where the centre stage is mostly about men's football, and having a female voice, surely matters. I thought to myself, 'Wow, this is history'.

"It's not just a major win for me personally in my career, but for many other aspiring women who want to be in the commentary space."

Dlamini was based in the south-western coastal city of San Pedro and found herself in a unique position for her final co-commentary game at the tournament.

The former midfielder ran the rule over her country's last-16 knockout tie against Morocco, which ended in a 2-0 victory for Bafana Bafana.

The 35-year-old called the match, which saw South Africa send the continent's top-ranked team out of the finals, a "super special" moment.

"I'm South African before anything, and this is our national team," Dlamini added.

"As a former footballer, I know what it's like to be on the pitch. The emotions were running high, but it's South Africa at the same time. It was a whole rollercoaster of emotions."

  • Dealing with criticism

Dlamini says there was a largely positive reception to her role at the tournament, but she was not immune to negative responses despite her historic achievement.

"We received a number of negative comments. I think the most recent one said, 'She's just there to tick a box'," Dlamini said.

But, as a former player, she is not new to criticism of her performances - whether on the pitch or on microphone.

While Dlamini welcomes constructive feedback and uses it to improve her craft, she has found ways to "rise above" criticism over time.

"If a negative comment comes through, of course, it will impact you because you're a human being," she explained.

"I think I've just learned that through meditation, through worship as well, it calms me. I feel like it's always one of those things where you take it as well with the good criticism and you just have to move on."

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IMAGE SOURCE: GETTY IMAGES
Image caption: Amanda Dlamini captained South Africa women at the 2012 Olympic Games in London

Dlamini's journey into co-commentary is rooted in her illustrious career as a professional footballer.

After calling time on her playing career in 2018, having featured 105 times for Banyana Banyana, she began her broadcast career with TV punditry on domestic matches in her homeland.

"Interpreting a game is not always easy. It comes with confidence," she said.

"Personality-wise, I'm not someone who talks quite a lot, and having to speak for 90 minutes was pushing me out of my comfort zone. I didn't think that I would do it.

"The 2013 Afcon was my first big tournament [as an in-studio TV pundit].

"I can't tell you how nervous I was. I thought everyone could just feel how my heart was pumping through the microphone."

Soon after Dlamini moved from punditry to the commentary gantry and, in 2022, had the privilege of analysing South Africa's first Women's Africa Cup of Nations triumph in Morocco.

"It was my birthday the previous night, it was the best birthday present ever," Dlamini said as she looked back at the country's achievement.

"I was crying for two minutes; I couldn't say a word in commentary.

"It was just such a beautiful moment - not just for that group, or class of 2022, but for all the other women that have been trying to win this important accolade."

  • Athletics dream

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IMAGE SOURCE: GETTY IMAGES
Image caption: Since retiring Dlamini has been involved in initiatives with world governing body Fifa

Dlamini's sports career may have been on the football pitch but growing up in KwaZulu-Natal province she competed in many sporting codes and wanted to become a sprinter.

Economic hardship hindered her pursuit of that dream and instead turned her attentions to football.

"I was a sprinter [over] 100m, 200m and 400m but a lack of resources back in the rural areas hampered my progress into athletics," the former midfielder explained.

"I fell back into soccer, because at every corner boys were playing football and I just stood out as the only girl.

"I just continued and pursued it until I had to move from home at 14 to try and follow this footballing career, because I needed to find an all-girls team so that I can progress and make it into the national team.

"That on its own was very difficult, to leave my parents and my family behind.

"Every milestone, every achievement every opportunity for me, it's almost like it's a full circle moment of coming back to the young Amanda who was always dreaming of those opportunities."

Dlamini's pioneering role at the men's Nations Cup this year underscores her determination and resilience in chasing her dreams.

And she hopes this milestone can have an impact with other women across the continent in pursuing their aspirations.

"I started this journey simply because when I looked around back home, young girls who were my age back then, 12 or 13, were being forced to drop out of school because they had to go get married at a very young age," Dlamini reflected.

"And I thought, 'Aren't their dreams valid? Does anyone care what it is that they want to do for themselves?'

"So, I'm hoping that with this opportunity that I've been afforded they can see that it's okay to chase their dreams. But also, when the platform is there, don't be afraid to be the first."

Which team do you think has the higher chance of winning the 2024 elections?

Started: 02-07-2024 | Ends: 31-10-2024

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