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.
The negotiations involving Botswana Football Association (BFA) and Kgalagadi Breweries Limited (KBL) over elite league sponsorship have suffered a setback as the local brewer this week took what it termed a ‘difficult’ decision to shut down operations.
This effectively means that football sponsorship is back in its dark corner as all efforts to go back to the field take another nasty twist in the midst of ravaging COVID-19 pandemic.
“It is regrettable that this latest total ban on alcohol sales has resulted in the suspension of KBL operations, which will remain in place for as long as the alcohol ban persists. KBL continues its efforts to engage government on this critical issue, which is having an enormous impact on the industry and its extensive value chain,” the company explained.
Although not proudly maintained at Lekidi Football Centre, the company is said to have abandoned talks on explanations revolving around ‘lack of funds.’In the initial agreement, sources say that it was settled that KBL would sponsor the Botswana Football League at a tune of P30million for a period of three years.
It is maintained that the deal was to be relooked and redefined to fit the sponsorship modalities of today’s game.Highly placed sources speaking with this publication however state that BFA is assisting BFL to cajole other companies to come on board as football is about to return to the field.
Top of the list is ABSA Bank who have remained afloat despite the impacts of the virus. The bank is said to be committed to football but sources say it will take a considerable amount of persuasion to see the bank increasing sponsorship.
KBL, in the first phase, were willing to commit without much difficulties but after the storm of COVID-19, the company was to take a back seat and played a waiting game. They reasoned that the continuous lockdown the country has gone under has left them with little income than expected.
But according to sources, KBL is still expressing pleasure to engage with the association again and will further illustrate their willingness to come on board as soon as the corona virus situation subsides.It is said KBL has requested further information regarding sponsorship value from the association and once satisfied, negotiations will resume.
However, some administrators within the National Executive Committee believe KBL’s parting message does not inspire confidence. “KBL‘s phase is over, they gave us hope but it is difficult to keep track of them, COVID-19 has affected every plan,” one member shared.
At the close last season, way before the corona virus impacted the country negatively; BFA revealed that it had long compiled its situation analysis of sponsorship value for the local game. It was understood that the property that is the Premier League could be purchased at a value P 15 million over 43 premier league games.
Botswana Football Association (BFA) President, Maclean Letshwiti.
Botswana Football Association (BFA) is engaged in protracted talks to stage a mini-league as lee-way to ascend into a proper football season by August this year.
The idea is to keep players fit and all football structures functioning as time pressure mounts.Informants say the idea is discussed at the competition office and will soon be forwarded to the National Executive Committee (NEC) for further deliberations.
This therefore means that all leagues across the country will be played for only one round until August where a new full football season will resume. Football has never returned to the field for almost 10 months now due to the corona virus.
The situation on the ground looks gloomy as COVID-19 cases continue to rise with each passing day. Football clubs are also feeling the pinch with Sua Flamingos becoming the latest victims. The club has been forced to suspend operations as players and members of the technical team test positive for the deadly virus.
While playing a mini-league is a last resort, it is mentioned that no team will be promoted or relegated after the completion of the games.Sources say it is better than folding arms when teams are continuing to pay players without kicking the ball.
The idea of the mini-league therefore means that there will be no prize money but teams will likely survive with grants from identifiable sponsors. Already, the Botswana Football League (BFL) has secured a P 5 million television deal for over three years.
The BFL think tanks contemplate to augment the television deal with sponsorship grants from ABSA bank. According to information, this will keep the league and its secretariat running until everything gets back to normalcy.
“It is true we are thinking to stage a mini league looking at what we have but this is still an infant idea, we are discussing and we will engage NEC going forward,” a member of the association shared.BFA leadership finds itself stuck between a rock and a hard place as the motion to kick start the league in February was shot down by the assembly in October of last year.
The movers of the motion argued that high temperatures usually recorded in the South of Sahara desert negatively affects player performance and their overall health conditions. However, there were intentions to commence the league at the earliest possible time but the task force together with the Ministry of Sport wanted players to be tested and football fields be fumigated regularly to avoid spreading the virus.
Early this week, the BFL leadership engaged the Footballers Union of Botswana (FUB) to give an update on how football will return. However, this publication cannot adequately establish the detailed plan of the league.
Boteti based side, Orapa United were quick to snatch back Zebras left-back, Lesenya Ramoraka, tying him with a two-year deal after he was released this week by TS Galaxy.
The 26 year-old defender left The Ostriches in 2018 to join Highlands Park who later sold their status last year to renowned football agent Tim Sukazi of TS Galaxy. Ramoraka’s contract was to end this year July.
At the time of the sale, the team then opted not to register him for another season hoping to register him in the January transfer but his injury kept him out for longer than anticipated, forcing TS Galaxy to release him as he was free to start to negotiate with any team that may be interested in him.
“We have signed Ramoraka after assessing his injury and he is in Orapa as we speak doing his rehab.The injury is not bad and we expect him to resume light training anytime from mid- February,” said Kabo William, the club spokesperson.
Ramoraka left an impressive mark at Highlands Park where he played 29 games in all competitions and netting only once. Lee, as he is known in football circles, is one of the most trusted left backs in the country and has been a vital part of the Zebras with his absence felt at the national team.
“The team had wanted to keep him but they were just concerned that his injury was taking long to heal and they opted to release him as you cannot have a player out for too long more especially who is a foreigner,” said a source.
“He had survived the changes at the team and you have to also note that the coach who brought him, Owen Da Gama also just joined TS Galaxy and he is one of the players that he trusted and used so it is not a matter of performance but they couldn’t afford to have him on the side-lines for too long.”
Orapa United have also announced the signing of other players that include; Thabiso Boti formerly with Notwane, Kutlo Kolagano from City Eagles, Galagwe Moyana who was released by Township Rollers, Kagisano Mungu from TAFIC and the team promoted Phemelo Pushudi from their development side.
The Ostriches have released goalkeeper Bophelo Kealeboga who has signed a 2 year deal with Sua Flamingos, Mothusi Johnson who retraced his steps back to Gaborone United, Baboloki Makhura and Abdullah Hamisi.