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Mamelodi: From Authority to obscurity

The wheeling and dealings that turned Bennett Mamelodi from a position of power to the shadows come afar. Staff writer MOSIMANEGAPE TSHOSWANE sees the premier league board of governors’ high raking players shifting sands to control Mamelodi who unfortunately never saw his ouster plot coming.   

When Bennett Mamelodi, Botswana Premier League‘s Chief Executive Officer, entered Lekidi football centre gates in April 2012, it was indeed a sudden depth of a sport life blended with a football conspiracy that was to mark his full four year reign of basking in the local acclaim for his success and failures in moulding both a new and recognizable league house. 

But the fall of Setete Phuthego from the premier league radar as the General Manager – whose contradictory attributes excited and irked the football fraternity in equal measures – was always with controversy and of course ruffled a few feathers. And what raised eye brows and continued to draw burning criticism was the succession from Phuthego to Mamelodi, four months after Bennett‘s arrival into league offices. It was believed that Phuthego’s voice was never audible in the stubborn Board of Governors and his leadership style was questionable even at managerial level, and to top it all, his admiration of power never influenced anybody.

This strategy, believed to have been  master-minded by former premier league chairperson Mike Molefe, began to take off immediately when Mamelodi was first given a six months contract to negotiate more sponsors for the league. At the time, his salary did not exceed P25 000. In August 2012, as Mamelodi stamped his authority on the ground, fired Phuthego after local auditor, Marzas audit firm found out that the former general manager had abused office and crippled league coffers.

This surface war of succession, unbeknownst to many, brought into the open the contradictory faces of the league house: the robust force of grass roots social equality within themselves, versus the tight control by the Chairman and his preferred mates.

It was not long when Mike Molefe relinquished his duties as the premier league chairman. According to the eye of observers, Molefe, a former Uniao Flamengo Santos chairman had almost accomplished his mission of first ensuring that Mamelodi stays buoyant at the BPL plum post and secondly, Phuthego is forever dumped outside Lekidi football center.

There was no prize for guessing how when Mamelodi on November 2012 was offered a new three year deal as the first premier league Chief Executive Officer. The post of general manager was subsequently phased out. At that time, Molefe who had left the premier league boardrooms said ‘‘my decision to not stand again has got nothing to do with anybody, but I guess it is just happening manufactured from above.’’

Molefe ‘s bowing out paved a way for Spencer Mmui, a former Township Rollers chairman to take reigns of the board of governors as a chairperson. Sonny Phiri also climbed the ladder of success to be the right arm of Mmui. William Maboane, a smart football administrator by his own admission from Lobatse based club, Extension Gunners became the treasurer. The trio, together with Mamelodi formed the ExCo of the premier league.

It is noted that Molefe wanted Mmui to carry and continue his legacy, but it appeared that the portfolio soon weighed heavily on his back. Those in the thick of things say Mmui had personal and mutual relationship with Phuthego. And having watched his ‘friend’ fall under the premier league radar probably brought him nightmares.

Mmui, as a result tried to develop a thick skin and out rightly repelled all calls to sign Bennett Mamelodi’s contract when extended for a further three years. Moreover, Mmui ensured that his umbilicad cord with Phuthego remained intact. When Phuthego was summoned and arraigned for hearing, it was Spencer Mmui who vehemently refused to sign Phuthego’s charge sheet. Mmui said, ‘‘the charges appearing on the paper are different from those discussed at the Board of Governors.’’

It is believed this episode irked Mamelodi to a certain degree, but what Mmui failed to understand was that he threw himself inside the lions’ den.  Mamelodi, according to available information, cajoled and be friended Mmui’s vice, Sonny Phiri. The former BMC chairperson will soon toil with Mamelodi to root out Mmui and sidelined him in the daily running of the league. While their immediate ‘love-affair’ raised eye brows, it surprised a few when Phiri took control of Phuthego case.

That was captured on record when Phiri deposed of the affidavit at the industrial court on behalf of the Premier League. However, many had less regard for his opinions in football matters since they saw him as a new comer in football administration. But those close to him will vouch for his scheming antics. They believed that he had a cunning way of always getting things done his way as signified by the case involving the BPL General Manager. Despite allegations that the majority of the Premier League Executive Committee members were against the charges laid against Setete, he managed to manoeuvre his way resulting to the court case. Sources said Mamelodi‘s hand was operating behind closed doors.

As a guard of urgency, observers say it was relevant that Mamelodi surrounded himself with men he could trust. That the trust between him and Mmui had drastically grown thinner was not in doubt. It was why when news broke that some exco members lent themselves premier league finances, Mmui became the first obvious suspect. While it emerged that Phiri was equally guilty, the then vice chairman was instead given a pat on the back for whistle blowing the matter. As a result, the web of deceit could not catch him, but saw Mmui falling down the football terrain. Immediately Phiri took the button much to Mamelodi’s pleasure.

While he moved to the premier league position of power, Dr Nkomazana of Gaborone United was to be ushered as the second man in command. But at that time, observers noted that Nkomazana’s moral voice wilted even before he could take part. He was known as a man of high integrity, but with Phiri operating above him, he knew he had a high mountain to climb.

As the mist fell, clash of egos within the board continued to trigger the premier league house from its dizzy high ways. The BMC man pushed for the signing of Mamelodi‘s contract, although it was now common knowledge that Nkomazana opted for a hard stance. He bled, albeit in vain for Mamelodi’s contract to at least be signed with deliverables.

It was not long when Phiri’s rollercoaster ride in the board reached a dead end. BMC company announced that it is stopping to fund its teams. While that was a catastrophe on the side of Phiri, it would later became a foregone conclusion when the team was sold to one business man Goudratti, and what was Phiri ‘s bold  journey in the board was now becoming a walk of shame. As he left the post, Mamelodi became vulnerable and exposed.

The board later convened to elevate Segolame Ramotlhwa to be a chairman, although on interim basis. Those in the know said Ramotlhwa had a tainted past with Mamelodi, and their irreconcilable differences meant that football will suffer.

That the blood brother of Ashford Mamelodi contemplated for means of survival was not in doubt. When Notwane was sold to one controversial Motswana business man, Gift Mogapi, Ramotlhwa exited the scene; Mamelodi briefed a sigh of relief.

No sooner had the mood began settling than Mike Molefe returned at helm of the board. He bite the bullet for Mamelodi in demonstration of tight affair. BDF XI went to court seeking legal redress after their game against Mochudi Center Chiefs was called off. The army side were of the view that   their game should be played as reason to reschedule it, in the eyes of them, were not holding water. While decision making process at Molefe ‘s board was several times questioned by Judge Mercy Garekwe of Lobatse high court, Molefe and Mamelodi refused to be buried by the outcome of the court case.

Molefe ‘s  was to later call a press briefing and admitted that BDF XI was now a prime enemy. But beneath and over everything else, his prolonged love for his CEO, Mamelodi matters most. “We went to court and the outcome is public knowledge, but for Peo Keatlholetswe(BDF XI PRO) to go on radio on Sunday night and attack the league and our CEO was unfortunate and down-right disingenuous.” He continued, “Bennett Mamelodi is not a public punching bag and we reject the misguided habit of him being attacked with impunity even though, in most instances it is not justified.”

That triggered the plot to remove Mamelodi. When the board went for polls, GU,BDF XI, Extension Gunners  and Mochudi Center Chiefs became the lead characters. These teams felt aggrieved and wanted Mamelodi out particuraly after BDF XI were docked 6 points, a far reaching consequence that saw Township Rollers winning the 2013-14 premier league. Although it was later dismissed, such teams had handpicked Kitso Dlamini to replace Mamelodi.

In came Monnakgotla Mojaki. He canvassed a massive support from northern teams. Arnold Somolekae and the Mojaki chap later won the two upper-most seat. A move that built a rigid wall around Mamelodi once again. Observers say Mojaki was a key to Mamelodi ‘s door while Somolekae-a former Notwane chairman was the lock.

That year, the league ran smoothly but as it neared its end, a defaulter case emerged. A decision that was to break the three-way relationship between Mojaki, Somolekae and Mamelodi was taken. Maun based outfit, Sankoyo Bush Bucks was docked points as they were moving towards the lower league, hell broke loose.

It is said Mamelodi was not pleased with the decision, but no one knows exactly what happened between him and Mojaki when the CEO resigned. The then BFA president Tebogo Sebego convinced him to reconsider his decision more particularly that the date of awards ceremony was approaching.

Notwane the first team to win the national league in 1978, later relegated. The move, yet again left the position of the premier league chairman vacant. At this time, Mamelodi’s enemies eyed the post to continue their mission of removing him. But one Walter Kgabung was brought to neutralise the volatile board of governor’s factions. He was assisted by Solomon Mantswe of Police XI as Mojaki stepped aside.

In March 2015, 8 months before Mamelodi’s contract was to expire, the enemies began hitting. It is said Kgabung became the shield and was vociferous enough to pull strings towards the CEO’s side. When a committee that included Clifford Mogomotsi of centre chiefs and Okaile Rapula of GU was formed to assess Mamelodi prospects of staying on top, little was known that guns were loaded for his fall.

Although his contract was later extended with improved offers, many inside the board were not pleased. Earlier this year, an uproar emerged as teams questioned about their grants. It is said when Mojaki asked why the CEO was the only signatory in league account, emotions were heightened. At that stage, the ouster plot‘s mission was accelerated. The board would soon suspend Mamelodi and recalled both Kgabung and Mantswe for allegedly failing to tame the CEO.

Mamelodi fought for his suspension at the court, challenging the authenticity of the league board to set him aside. The move would later pit the board that had grown defiant against BFA president, Tebogo Sebego. He instructed that Mamelodi be reinstated. The Mamelodi-Sebego axis, according to many would risk Sebego‘s hopes as of going to BFA polls.

When Mc Lean Letshwiti won the BFA presidency seat in August 13, Mamelodi’s best laid plans began to unravel.

The board led by Oakaila, dominated by surviving old players is said to have played a pivotal role in dumping Sebego out of football. But what remains now in sight is that Mamelodi is unwanted man. He was redeployed a week ago, but fought through his attorney Dutch Leburu to grip his post. He lost the battle of redeployment and throughout the week word spilt that he was slapped with another suspension as relations with new regime decayed further.

Mamelodi surfaced on the football spectrum after his brother, Ashford connected him FIFA representative Ian Riley. The two would later form a company called Pula Sports Marketing that negotiated sponsor on behalf of the league. The company to date is going under liquidation and BFA still owes it P2.5 million.

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City turns to BFA tribunal over relegation

23rd November 2021
Premier league players

Botswana Football Association (BFA) arbitration tribunal is set to hear a case in which Molepolole City Stars is challenging the 2019-20 football season curtailment that led to their untimely relegation. The season was abruptly ended amid the ravaging COVID-19 scourge when the government decided to place the whole country under lockdown.

In particular, City Stars, under Somerset Gobuiwang, challenges the rationale and fairness of the association to end the league when there were several options to pursue. The club does not want to contest the authority of the national executive committee to stop the league but argues that the decision to relegate them based on the log standing was unfair, irrational and unreasonable.

Moreover, the decision was against the spirit of the game and not the most appropriate one under circumstances where they were still about 10 league games to play. As the papers were submitted, City Stars argues that the most appropriate step would have been to suspend the league and protect the league standing. “The league would then resume when it was safe to do so, as indeed it is happening now, with the log standings maintained as they were,” the court papers read.

The team, which was languishing at the bottom of the table when the decision was taken, also argues and gives an alternative that the league could have ended without relegation issues. City Stars argues, “This would be in recognition of the undeniable facts that the league was not complete and that the log standings at the time were not in any way an indicator of how they would have been had the league been allowed to run its course.”

Furthermore, Molepolole City Stars are livid that the association did not consider that the complainant had valid contracts with its staff and players and that such agreement could not be terminated abruptly. On the one hand, BFA said it was looking at three options before ending the league. Facts and scenarios informed each decision, and one was independent of the other, it was argued.

The first option, BFA says, was to stop the league where it was and crown the team that occupied the first place, which was Jwaneng Galaxy. Furthermore, three teams lying at the bottom of the table would be relegated, and teams on pole positions from Debswana First Division north and south will be promoted automatically.

By all accounts, the association felt it was a controversial option to undertake but also fairer for the sake of progress. The second available possibility was to stretch the season and consequently change the football calendar. “There has been a shelved proposal that recommends the change of our season from the usual August-May calendar to February – November because of health reasons,” BFA president MacLean Letshwiti said before making the decision.

The last possibility was to nullify all the leagues. This was — and continued to be — the last resort. Across all the global leagues, the domestic campaign had only 10 matches left, which could, in theory, be completed in the space of five weeks. In the end, BFA feels that a decision had to be made for the sake of progress. The dates of the hearing are yet to be made public.

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Is it time to take Piro serious?

23rd November 2021
GU

Pontsho Moloi’s character and football standing as a young coach have embodied simplicity and hard work for far too long. Moloi is a local bred coach who has so far threatened foreign gaffers with his coaching philosophy, a style that is exciting and irking football purists in equal measure.

As Moloi is famously known in football circles, Piro has coached a few different clubs in the homeland, but his stewardship of Gaborone United last season — going into the new one- remains his best memorable achievement ever. Before the 2019-20 season was stopped because of the COVID-19 outbreak, GU was one of the league’s favourites.

But as any self-respecting purveyor of sporting cliché knows, it is never a bad idea to keep quiet and let your football do the talking. The only hanging problem for Piro is that he has often wanted to let his talking do the talking — which is a shame since, by and large, his football, both as a player and coach, has spoken loudly enough.

Piro’s coaching resume is fascinating and worth the test for a coach whose career is barely two years old. He has presided over big guns, one staggeringly good debut top-flight campaign, one freewheeling title charge, and one dramatic league season. Yet throughout, he has continued to serve as a punch line, painted by a substantial cohort.

Now, three games into the current season, his Gaborone United side sit at the top of the pile, having won all their games and remarkably keeping a clean sheet. No team has scored more goals than Piro’s side. Is Botswana football finally ready to recognize Piro as an elite-level coach? In fact, why has it not done so already?

The answer is not straightforward, regardless of what some of his harsher detractors would want to believe, although it is true that he has often failed to do himself any favours when a microphone has been aimed his way. In today’s culture, it only takes one slip of the tongue — one tiny sound bite lacking in self-awareness — to make you look silly.

Piro’s model has worked across the board: promotion-chasing minnow, sleeping giant, trophy-hovering Goliath figure, and now an aspirational upper-middleweight.

In each instance, he has found a new gear, improved his team beyond expectation and created a side better than the sum of its parts, at least for a time. Young and veteran players excel under his watch. Attackers — especially hard-running and bloodthirsty centre-forwards, Thatayaone Kgamanyane — flourish like never before. And for once, he has needed big money to make significant progress. Yet even at United, the least tangibly successful of his last three jobs and one where things went downhill towards the end, he put together sensationally exciting teams.

Now at GU, pundits still ask whether he will last longer at the top or he will soon fall. His demonstrations this season speak volumes about winning a bigger and better trophy this season. Can he deliver, or time will tell? Part of the answer will come as the season wears on.

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GU, Rollers – early favorites

16th November 2021
Rollers & GU

Football giants Township Rollers and Gaborone United have emerged as early favourites to win the newly refined Botswana Football League (BFL), following a perfect start to the season.   

There is a sense of relief from different quarters that this new football season, still striving to secure a title sponsor, is set to be packed with more excitement and action than anticipated. Seasons’ never-ending transfer rumour mill, coupled with half-paced friendlies, have their place in football, but they were indeed only going to be a tasty little snack before the sumptuous banquet, which is a new season.

Each team has played three games. At the time of going to print, Gaborone United, driven by local gaffers Innocent Morapedi and Pontso Moloi, remains in pole position with 9 points, maintaining an unbeaten record. The club also holds another record as only to club yet to concede. Also, on pole position is Township Rollers, who remain of the favourites to clinch the title come season end.

Languishing at the bottom of the log is Extension Gunners. The Lobatse based outfit have already pressed panic buttons by sacking their coach. It is still early days, but it appears The Peleng Boys, as they are affectionately called, are suffering early relegation season syndrome. They have played three games and are still struggling to find a win, let alone finding the back of the net.

Big guns like Orapa United and Jwaneng Galaxy have tried to bolster their squads but have failed to stamp authority in their first three encounters. Galaxy look set to be a better team, but two registered wins and a loss may as well betray this standing belief. Orapa, on the other hand, has grouped experienced players in their camp. Die-hard followers hope that this may be a fruitful season, but a midweek loss against Police XI in their backyard leaves followers questioning the readiness of their technical team as the season gets hot.

Township Rollers are breathing heavily on Gaborone United backs. The two teams now becoming rivals are equal on points, but much of the scrutiny is on GU, whose defence might be critical to this year’s championship.  The need for news and views — not to mention wins in Lobatse and Francistown or wherever will once again become the all-consuming passion in many football lovers’ lives. Some had reason to be happier than most. That is why Sua Flamingoes and Masitaoka are ecstatic for their first 2021 victories.

A logical decree is that the Premier League’s usual suspects will have it all their way again. Talent galore and bottomless pockets of cash were enough to ensure yet more silverware ends up in already crammed trophy cabinets. The cream, as they say, always tends to rise to the top. Week 1 of this first half-season was the most interesting one. Eighteen goals were scored, and Thatayaone Kgamanyane of GU became the first player to score a Premier League goal this season.

Premier League Chief Executive Officer Solomon Ramochothwane believes this will be the most competitive season of recent seasons. “It is tight and competitive, and we might have a new champion at the end,” he opined. He also expressed happiness that numbers will grow at the stadiums as time goes on. But beyond the shadow of a doubt, the return of Premier League fourth round — as remarkable as the first three laps — will signal several months of nail-biting, edge-of-the-seat tension.

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