Part of the fun of watching Botswana Premier league is seeing fans of Magosi and Mapalastina argue about their respective teams, leading endless debates over the abilities of their best acquisitions and bragging about the results of the latest matches.
But while Mochudi Centre Chiefs and Township Rollers have been running away from the cash-strapped league, having fun in their own little tournament, crushing opponents, challenging for every single competition they play in, they failed to notice the rise of Orapa United. They have been used to either BDF XI or Gaborone United chasing after them for a while, until the shallowness of their squads started to show. Rollers and Chiefs shared the first top spots for the better part of the season, and now Orapa United has leap frogged Chiefs and are aiming to take The Blues by storm-once again.
Those who love the underdog title, football lovers and neutrals in general who crave a good story of players overcoming injuries to participate in finals or meagre clubs challenging for the title of champions, would have found Orapa United interesting until this season.
In fact, football die-hards probably found themselves admiring The Ostriches as they are known, who have been battling superpowers with pride and dignity and getting positive results, and this time they have been untouchable.
All of a sudden, United are talk of the town, they stand second in BPL, four points above the third placed Centre Chiefs, and they possess one of the country’s best defensive units. Yet they managed to skip the part where they go from a forgotten club, to the next big thing.
The Ostriches have always been known as the team that never fulfilled its potential; they were the team that couldn’t find the right coach, the team that would always lose their top class players, and still could compete for top honours. They lost Dominick Changwe and Maxwell Moyo, mainly for failing to lead them to the Promised Land.
However, many still do not believe in the rise of Orapa. In fact, lots are still waiting for their supposedly inevitable demise.
But Madinda Ndlovu, the club’s coach has spoken about the endurance of his team in gripping terms. He has taken a turn, moments after guiding it to the top 8 podium, to thank God and the united front of this team. ‘‘I thank God we have won this top 8, we honestly deserved it, he said after the game.’’
It was not necessarily an acceptance speech. Neither was it a word of acknowledgement. But it was gripping and touching. Gripping because the country has not really heard much from the man at the centre of Botswana football’s emergent Premier League folk tale; and touching mainly because Orapa United’s season is something that really does seem to not need explaining.
The simple facts of games won and goals scored would not do it here. It is not enough that at the Francistown Stadium last week, United simply looked like what they are, the best team in the country this season, with complete players in every department, the best tactical plan, the most compelling spirit and the best – by records – defensive midfielder. It seems Orapa have to mean something too.
To date, opinion on this meaning has divided into two camps. On the one hand Orapa are a modern fairytale, evidence of the stridently jumbled brilliance of the Premier League and the redemptive power of sport.
At the other extreme Orapa United’s success is something more grave- evidence of the chronic mediocrity of the Premier League. For the bigger teams, finishing second to United should be an indelible spot of shame. But no one can dispute that diamonds and love have built a team borne of five other clubs within the Boteti region.
The fact is Orapa United are not really a fairytale at all. Or at least to see them as such – flukish, magical – is to miss the best part of what they are doing. Just as to see a cautionary tale here is also to miss the point.
They have started making money from all possible angles. The restaurant and bars within the Orapa town have proven to be a comfortable source of income. On monthly basis, an approximate of BWP 100 000 is collected and players are paid competitive wages. Each has been given a house free of rent, and welfare is never a problem.
Based in the heart of Orapa- a town known to produce diamonds since 1971, the team has found the need to unite the small population-estimated around 12 000. Five years ago, an idea to dissolve the five teams (Boteti Young Fighters, White Diamonds, Orapa Swallows, Orapa Bucs and Orapa Swallows) competing for funds from Debswana was debated. An umbrella team was later formed with faith of reducing over reliance in the Debswana mine, and in the fifth season of Mascom top 8, the team finally rips the rewards.
Orapa- a sesarwa name for resting place of lions- is a conventional open pit mine. The Mine was discovered in 1967 by a team of De Beers geologists led by Manfred Marx. It became fully operational four years later when it was officially opened by the then President of Botswana, His Excellency Sir Seretse Khama.
Last Saturday night therefore, in the Mascom top 8 final, was the epiphany for those who doubted the now brilliance of one of the greatest football sides ever in Orapa. Prior to this ill-tempered tie, many football pundits had predicted a favourable result for Township Rollers and Mark Harrison. Madinda Ndlovu’s charges were not the favourites owing to the brilliance of the expensively assembled Gaborone giants. However tables turned.
Orapa United trumped the ‘palestine’ to lift the coveted Mascom top 8 tourney. In the spotlight and rightly so, lapping up all the adulations directed at his egoistical but brilliant self was the self confessed master tactician- Madinda Ndlovu.
The long suffering community of Orapa and Boteti alike suddenly had renewed hopes from the days of forming one team. A club captained by industrious Thabang Mosegi, led in the midfield by the experience of Patrick Motsepe and spear-headed by the brilliance of Ronald Chikomo.
The Zimbabwean gaffer -a pragmatic man whose football might not be appealing to the purists- appeared to have developed a plan to stop Rollers. Having done it, but failed in the last hour with the same Township Rollers, the mood was shifting.
Typical of his sides, United were content to let Segolame Boy and company have possession but only in areas where it could not hurt them, rarely moving out of their own half and hitting Popa when they least expect it. Overnight, in the eyes of many, Rollers was reduced from an all conquering and swashbuckling side to a team that was devoid of plan B. It was partly true yet it also did fail to mention that which has always been the truth- that Popa is the better side.
The Madinda Ndlovu side appears to have developed their own reference point. They combine experience with youth. And to date, this is their identity and football ideology.
They also seek to promote talent and turn it to country-wide beaters. Thabang Sesenyi, Onkabetse Makgantai-all having scored in the final-Lemogang Maswena- and Baboloki Makhura together with goal keeper Mosimanegape Roberts are starry-eyed youngsters who don the Orapa kit almost every game. Reinforcements have been made to complete such a talent. Patrick Lenyeletse, a Boteti grown talent, Patrick Motsepe, Ronald Chikomo and Mcini Sibanda are torch bearers and engines running the team.
The mercenary belief that success literally has a price is not entertained by the Orapa Outfit. They do not splash staggering amounts of pula in players. The model to seek countrywide appeal and glory rests even with their motto: Orapa today, Boteti tomorrow.
Players like striker Bonolo Fraizer , Mambo Jambo are coming in to the side and success is in sight. It appears Orapa United and their approach on how a football club should be run is now coming into ascendancy.
Botswana Football Association (BFA) is running without a substantive Technical Director since parting ways with South African native, Serame Letsoaka, who jumped ship midway through his contract in 2019.
This glaring revelation has left the Technical Department of the association hamstrung to fully operate by the book hence a plethora of problems protruding on the very nose of it.
This is the reason it took long for the association to take stern action against Zebras gaffer, Adel Amrouche. His departure was sanctioned at the eleventh hour when players’ patience had long wilted, threatening to leave the camp.
Pundits will therefore observe that it is the absence of a Technical Director that has caused all hell to break loose at Lekidi Football Centre.Since the departure of Letsoaka, the TD position has been more or less vacant as it has been manned by unqualified and somewhat incompetent administrators to date.
The TD position requires a CAF A-License qualification as well as a Diploma in Secondary Education as minimum qualifications. Among the specific duties of TD is; training and development of coaches, including design and updating of coaches manuals, facilitating licensing courses, developing a coaches Code of Conduct, arranging for expert and specialist coaches to deliver training clinics, education on rules of the game and creating and maintaining a library of resources including books, videos and articles for coaches to access.
The responsibility also include establishing and delivering a comprehensive and nationwide Grassroots programme at both the community level, in schools, and in the schools through clubs through strategic partnerships within the communities and with various government ministries and agencies.
TD also advices BFA on all matters related to the effective development of football in Botswana and is accountable for the development of a strategy and policy for the performance of football programmes.
Other duties include working with Youth National teams and coaches through development programmes in order to enable BFA to attain its goals within CAF and FIFA, including putting in place clear systems and processes for identifying and developing talented players.
After Letsoaka left, BFA reached out to Wire Kaelo, a Gaborone United legend currently holding the position of assistant coach at Security System FC, but eventually he was not appointed to the post.
Despite rumours to the effect that BFA had agreed terms with Kaelo to this day, the Association has not come out as to what happened to the alleged marriage.
BFA subsequently appointed one Dr Carolin Braun, on secondment from the German Olympic organisation, a move that left the association rooted in abrasive factionalism.
In particular, local coaches and the general football fanatics have always cried foul claiming that Dr Braun is not fit to hold the position of TD especially in a growing football environment like Botswana.
There is growing concern that Dr Braun does not have the pre-requisite credentials to be appointed for this plum post as she has never held any significant position within the football fraternity, not even at amateur level.
“It was a first in the history of Botswana football to see a TD doubling up as assistant coach to the senior national team and there has been no tangible coaching courses since the departure of Serame Letsoaka and this has been attributable to the vacant position of TD,” a source remarked.
BFA is currently failing to communicate CAF’s decision that the ill-fated CAF “B” and “C” courses held during Serame’s last days were not sanctioned and therefore attendants will not be certificated.
Over 50 local coaches participated in the courses and last year, most of those coaching in the Premier League had to be given waivers by the BFA Technical Committee before they could be accredited.
CAF has since indicated that the issue of waivers by national associations will not be entertained, something which might throw local games into disarray.BFA is still failing to come up with a coaching philosophy despite Serame having started groundwork before his departure.
Other countries such as Zambia have since resumed CAF coaching courses whilst in Botswana is still business as usual despite the impending challenges caused by indiscretion and lack of foresight.
Despite BFA having advertised the position of TD and subsequently holding interviews where recommendations were done by the Technical and Development Committee, the BFA NEC has refused to endorse the recommendation for reasons only best known to them.
Yet, there is a lingering fact that the NEC is clueless when it comes to technical matters. There is not even a single individual in the NEC who holds any coaching qualification including the Chairman of the member responsible for technical and development matters, Masego Ntshingane.
When asked about the position of the TD, Ntshingane said the association is well aware of the matter and will son fill the post. “Yes, it is true the association has not appointed a TD after Letsoaka’s departure, but we are working around the clock to hire capable people,” he said.
However, local coaches believe that it’s a travesty of justice to expect non-technical people to make meaningful contributions on technical matters to the extent that they can veto recommendations from a committee of renowned technical experts.
It is not business as usual in the operations manual of African football. Ever since the ascendency of Dr. Patrice Motsepe to the CAF plum post, the African football governing body is ringing changes to satisfy the demands and governance standards of the modern game.
However, it appears that what is coming out from the high offices of the game is a bitter pill to swallow for local clubs, some of which are touted to be the best in the land.
Connectedly, CAF has issued a circular to the effect that only coaches holding the CAF “A” education license will be permitted to sit on the technical dugout during the upcoming inter club competitions. This communication has been sent to all 54 CAF member associations in May 2021.
However, it seems local clubs have not been appraised on this development even though both Jwaneng Galaxy and Orapa United have shown desire to represent the country in the CAF competitions.
It comes to the fore now that the two clubs can successfully represent the country if they engage coaches with the pre-requisite qualifications which is now an insurmountable task due to the COVID-19 impact on club finances.
Both clubs have hired coaches who attended the ill-fated BFA conducted CAF “B” and “A” coaching courses which were held in Lobatse almost two years ago.
To date the coaches await the completion of the courses and certificates while CAF has made it clear that the courses were not sanctioned as they were held during the era that coaching licenses were suspended, a situation that BFA was well aware of and has since accepted the consequences.
The BFA is still at sixes and sevens on how to break the issue to the affected coaches as it is likely to cause a huge public embarrassment and backlash from the coaching fraternity.
“We all know about the problem, BFA is promising to come to the bottom of the matter as we continue to engage them,” says Botswana Football Coaches Association (BFCA) interim President, Daniel Nare.
CAF has also made it clear that this time there will be no waiver for coaches without the pre-requisite qualification because the Confederation has been too lenient in the past. During the last CAF Champions League and Confederations Cup, both Galaxy and Orapa United coaches were given a reprieve by CAF Technical Department as they did not even have the CAF “B” license.
When approached for clarity, the Spokesperson for Galaxy, Tankiso Morake said they are playing a waiting game when it comes to CAF issues especially that BFA is yet to reply to their letter. “Honestly, there is nothing concrete I can share because no one is certain about anything. We are waiting to be replied by the association so that we can finalize everything,” he said.
While United was not available for comment, it is clear that both clubs will need to hire coaches with the needed qualifications otherwise playing in this year’s edition of African football mirrors a tomorrow that may never come.
A recent study shows that Township Rollers is not only popular within the perimeters of Botswana, but has also made significant steps within the digital football platforms in Africa.
Out of the 70 African football clubs ranked on the African football digital benchmark, Township Rollers comes on the 35th position backed by a massive social media following. The club website records more than 399 000 followers and is seen as the most interactive in the local game.
This is consistent with the recent study conducted by FIFA- world football governing body- that Rollers is the only team locally that makes use of its digital platforms.
Notably, it comes out that the gap between Township Rollers and the rest of the 15 Premier League clubs is abysmal, this therefore works against creating a strong BPL brand value.
Rollers is the only club with more than 50 000 followers on Facebook, more than 20 000 followers on Twitter while its Instagram platform stands strong at 27 800 followers.
However, it is found out that much of the BPL brand value is killed by some social Facebook football fan accounts. They have stood long and have thus attracted more followers than the official accounts. Pages like Killers Pass and Botswana Football have consequently seen more than 100 000 following. Both of the accounts give 24 hour on-going updates of football’s latest news, transfers, results, video and live updates.
FIFA has therefore come to a conclusion that the two social media pages have grown interactive since they incite followers to answer and present their impressions about local football.
It comes into the open that 70 percent of domestic premier league clubs do not have official websites. This according to FIFA, kills the brand and visibility of clubs hence failure to attract lucrative sponsors by the clubs. FIFA also found out that the remaining 30 percent of clubs with websites are lacklustre and found wanting when it comes to their online presence. But in this regard, Rollers is on pole position.