Founded in 1967, Gaborone United Sporting Club is undoubtedly one of the oldest teams in football history. In its maiden season at its formative stages, the club nicknamed ‘Moyagoleele’ won the Botswana Premier League title, wrestling it from the hands of Notwane FC.
Records show that from its toddler stages, the club whose colours are red and white was on course to write their own story on the landscape of home football. It is augured that the team was formed by stalwarts of the country’s longest ruling party, BDP. No wonder, the club inherited the party’s red and white colours.
Formed two years after Township Rollers came to life, Gaborone United, observers say, chose red and white to depict a new life on the football spectrum. Politically, red represents radicalism and revolt, and while it not indicated anyway in history that United ‘s formation came from Rollers, it is more safer to believe that, their colours painted a picture of a new life and, of course boldness.
This boldness was soon to be transformed into dominance as the team won both coca- cola cups and league title in early 60s, 70s and 80s. To date, GU has won the FA cup 6 times, and repeated the same number when clinching league titles- dominance. Their last league title was in 2009, the years during which Botswana football was in its transformation phase. It was during the same period that multi-million Lebanese business man, Nikholas Zakhem came in as the club‘s financier.
However, throughout the last couple of years that followed, the red and white regalia of GU shirts no longer represented dominance and life. In the eight years since winning their 6th premier league title in 2009, they have gone through 11 coaches, and finished behind champions Township Rollers and Mochudi Centre Chiefs.
It is not difficult to identify what precisely has gone wrong, though the causes are so manifold they are easier to locate with grapeshot than with a pinpoint. The club relied heavily on the genius of prolonging veteran players’ careers. Amongst the winning team, they were Bashin Modisaotsile, Wellengton Maposa and Kenny Ledikwe, all veterans of the game. But when they were ditched by Sithole’s successor, Manfred Chabinga, it was clear that succession plan was tinkered with. A winning coach was not allowed to lead the team in CAF competitions.
It is certainly not only the trophies that are missed at the team that was famously known to be emanating from Ditakaneng-a long standing location of Gaborone in Naledi , but also Sithole's character and personality. He had a strong and intimate relationship with the players, and it left them feeling empty when he parted ways with them for BMC. When lifting up his silverware during United’s glory days, the late Joseph Phetogo (May his soul rest in peace) who captained the side said Sithole was the best coach ever. And indeed, he was, should it be remembered that he drove Centre Chiefs to its first league trophy in its many years without registering a defeat, a year before he landed his post with Gaborone United.
Undoubtedly one could not underestimate the impact he had on both G.U and Chiefs’ players, and this has made life virtually impossible for every man who has succeeded him. If the Sithole effect has definitely been a contributing factor to G.U’s demise, most of the blame still has to go to its committee as a whole. A series of mistakes in hiring and axing coaches as well as signing players have led “The Reds” down a dark path which will be difficult to escape from.
While the team managed to win the Mascom Top 8 competition in 2013, the same problems still prevailed. They started selling their best assets– Tebogo Sembowa, Noah Maposa, Moemedi Moatlhaping and Ronald Chikomo – and tried to mask their strategy by signing big name players with only a few miles left on the clock and no re-sale value, among them Gaopatwe Seosenyeng, Kgololo Kgogobi and Alphonso Modisaotsile. Despite a huge churn of players, systemic reform at youth and academy level, the hard work of elite development and fostering club culture, was avoided in preference for the quick fix.
Another cup glory- the Coca Cola cup was achieved through the same spells of firing and hiring of new coaches. At this time, it was Philemon Makhwengwe who was at its helm. On a positive note though, the club was the first to traverse the road of professionalism. A committee that comprised of Dr Nkomazana, Tymon Katholo, and Herbert Letsebe among others were responsible for helping the team traverse the evasive route.
Fast forward to now; the club is bruised and caught up in identity crisis tussles. The gleaming trophy rooms are now but a constant reminder of failure and the desperate need for a fresh start. There are unconfirmed reports that the team, deeply troubled by lack of finances, is sponsored by a ghost company that has occupied a large share of the shirt space. This season is no different, the team is slowly moving towards the end of another trophy less run while Argentinean coach Rudolph Zapata’s journey with the team nears an end.
The Botswana Football League (BFL) house has never known peace since its establishment in 2020. The company’s directors and shareholders, built to professionalise the elite league, are seemingly in a wild goose chase, leaving footballers’ dreams to shatter amid ‘man-made’ sporting adversity.
The BFL titanic has hit an iceberg, and the stewards and captains of this ship are struggling to bring it to calmer waters. This infighting and militancy have attracted the eye and wrath of the Minister of Youth Empowerment, Sport and Culture Development, Tumiso Rakgare, whom sources say is readying himself to prepare a tell-all meeting with the 16 premier league clubs chairpersons in the next coming weeks.
It is said that the Minister is concerned by the lack of progress at the league that should be ordinarily a flagship of Botswana football. As the Minister of Sports, Rakgare is disappointed by the crusade of blames and figure pointing at the boardrooms while essential issues like sponsorship and safe return to play are not adequately addressed.
It is said that the Minister has silently observed that the league house is moving in circles, and time wasted never returns. He is shocked that these chairpersons are incurring unnecessary costs paying players, yet they delay the return of football. When approached for clarity, the Minister could only say he is on leave and will only talk about sports matters when he resumes duty.
“I am not going to comment on anything concerning sport; for now, I am currently on my leave days to charge my batteries; talk to me after two weeks or so,” he briefly commented via a telephone interview. To this date, the BFL board has had two chairmen in as a space of seven months. Township Rollers boss Jagdish Shah was its maiden chairman during its formative stage, and Nicholas Zakhem assisted him.
It said significant progress was made to source sponsors, but what later led to factions and divisions inside the board is not adequately established. When Shah was removed, Aryl Ralobala was installed as the second chairman, but his stay has been rocky right from the beginning.
He was confronted with taxing sponsorship and broadcasting deals but what would later complicate his tenure is the burning issue of a mooted loan agreement with the Botswana Football Association(BFA). All these combined were complicated by the inability of the previous board to proceed with a smooth handover.
The BFL structure was first established in August 2020. One of its mandates was to divorce itself from the football association and negotiate key sponsorships for itself. This autonomous idea was rubber-stamped at the previous BFA general assembly.
Once the BFL fully gained independence, BFA was to give it a playing licence, and the FA will have a minor share of the profits made within a football calendar. In this company, all the 16 premier league clubs have equal shares. But at the end of every season, relegated clubs transfer their shares to newly-promoted clubs.
The spirit of brotherhood at Lekidi Football Centre has indeed fallen apart. Evidence of this development emanated at the recent National Executive Committee (NEC) meeting where the Botswana Football Association (BFA) is reported to have repeatedly fluffed lines to bring football’s most shrewd schemer, Nicolas Zakhem, to book for what they term ‘undermining leadership.’
The association is said to have noted with utmost concern that Zakhem, the chief investor at Gaborone United, has on several accounts, poured scorn over BFA leadership for failing football and went on to call for their resignation as things continue to fall apart.
Moreover, the Lebanese business mogul has come out from the shell and punched holes on the administrative head of the newly formed establishment, Botswana Football League (BFL), arguing that, they too, have fallen by the wayside while attempting to professionalize the local football.
Wary of these continuous onslaughts by the Zakhem, BFA feels the man is out of order and ought to be hauled before red burning coals for undermining leadership. Sources say the association wants the ethics committee to apply its mind over Zakhem’s previous uttering and tame him for good.
Zakhem, whom football observers agree was the kingmaker as MacLean Letshwiti, and his troops triumphed over Tebogo Sebego’s allies at BFA general election held in October 2020, is believed to have fallen out of favour with the Letshwiti regime. The proof of the pudding was when he ate up Letshwiti administration during an interview on Gabz FM roughly two weeks back.
However, the association’s NEC is said to be torn apart as relationships continue to decay. Reports suggest that quite a handful of them are not entertaining the idea of reprimanding Zakhem, and even if push comes to shove, it is not the mandate of the NEC to spell a final determination on him. At the same time, judicial bodies of the association are available and functioning.
The Zakhem issue, burning as it is, saw Letshwiti’s troops coming face to face with him for the first time since assuming office. Sources claim that the members were not coy about calling a spade a spade that the BFA boss is also out of his mandate by ruling with an iron fist and should try by all means to uphold the constitution of the association. Indications are that the members are not impressed by the current state of football affairs and want a plethora of issues to address other than tailing and chastising other football administrators in the name of ill-discipline.
However, sources say there is strong determination to bring Zakhem to book by hook or crook. Meanwhile, the BFA has allowed their legal advisor to study the matter and advise on the way forward. When approached for comment, BFA legal advisor Pako Moakofi said he was not able to speak as he was still attending to his health issues.
The issue of Zakhem is also said to have lifted the lid off another NEC member’s matter. Last year, Carlos Sebina, former Tafic Chairman, was relieved of his duties after being accused of conniving with the enemy to betray and sabotage the association. The decision came when Botswana was preparing to play a crucial tie against Zimbabwe in AFCON 2021 qualifiers. Sebina was the medical committee chairman and had previously won the NEC seat as the only member from Sebego’s side.
Zakhem himself is out of the country and cannot be reached to provide further clarity, but sources close to him told WeekendSport that he is fully aware of the ongoing matter. It is no longer in doubt that BFA elephants are fighting, and it is the football grass that will suffer the most.
Botswana Football Association (BFA) contends that football is an industry that employs everyone from different sectors of the economy and will argue this point until the COVID-19 Task Force fully comprehends it.
The move comes to the fore after the association, this week, held an emergency meeting with Botswana National Sport Commission (BNSC) to deliberate on possibilities of allowing footballers to resume training. At the same time, sporting activities remain suspended as a COVID-19 containment measure.
The BFA, BNSC held a meeting to establish the impact of suspending sporting activities on football. The BFA argues that considerable effort was initiated to return to play. Although sources say it was the first phase of deliberations, another meeting is scheduled for Wednesday with the Minister of Youth Empowerment, Sport, and Culture Development, Tumiso Rakgare, to further find a common understanding.
Sources contend that although the atmosphere was a bit tense at the beginning, discussions were fruitful, with the Ministry of Sport promising to discuss the matter with the Coordinator of the Task Force, Dr. Kereng Masupu.
The uptight mood cascaded when Rakgare complained about the leakage of confidential information to third parties, especially the media. It will seem the minister was not happy at how the BFA meeting together with theirs was to be known by outside parties before a conclusion is reached. The ministry expressed its frustration concerning the slow progress of BFA as far as the resumption of football was concerned.
A senior administrator in the ministry complained that BFA was dilly-dallying even before the government suspended sporting activities. When asked to give clarity, the BFA Chief Executive Officer (CEO) Goabaone Taylor said it would be remiss of her to talk about the details of the meeting, especially when the time was not right.
“Even the ministry had to gag us because we find our confidential information littered everywhere. I am afraid that is not right, and should it persist, it can damage the confidence and the talks we are having with our partners,” she said when asked about her presence during the Wednesday meeting.
BFA, in the meantime, says their position paper does not change. They have argued that football is the only code that employs masses, and the continuation of sports ban hampers and jeopardizes contracts with various stakeholders, including players and sponsorships. Moreover, BFA says companies are reluctant to commit to football because the ban brings much confusion on the way forward.
Furthermore, the association argues that football is the biggest revenue spinner, estimated to be around P55 million. They say the game employs over 3 000 people directly and provides over 9 000 indirect jobs countrywide. Over the years, when football was in full flight, the game raked about P 26 000 000,00 in sponsorships while 4 000 000,00 came from broadcasting deals.
BFA will therefore play a waiting game while the suspension comes to an end in a week and will hope the game will never be clamped down again, which will allow the 2021-22 season to commence.