Monday, January 17, 2022

Molwantwa: The last man standing

Almost two decades ago ÔÇô Botswana football was on a brilliant high. There was something of a fairy tale about it. Fired up strategists in boardrooms believed they had finally mastered the alchemy to turn the whipping boys of Africa ÔÇô Zebras ÔÇô into giant slayers. The plan was to catch them young. On the drawing board was a technical development plan that everyone believed would deliver the dream team. The result was that for the first time in the history of Botswana a team of the best teenage footballers in the country made it to the Africa Youth Championships in Mali, Bamako under the technical tutelage of Ben Koufie and coach Spokes Gaborone.

It took extra-ordinary talent to make it into the team. In 1994, Tshepiso “Sox” Molwantwa was among the first eleven to receive the call up to play for the under -17 in the continental challenge.
Those were the heady days, and the team that carried the country’s hopes and dreams was promoted to Under 23, and later the senior Zebras e-masse. As if to underline the national gush of optimism, the team that was tipped to usher Botswana into the golden age of football was christened the New Horizon.

Since donning the Zebras famous jersey number 12, Sox has been a kind of a unique figure in local football, a constant existing as somewhat of a spark plug to the dream. No matter what changed about the national team, for good or bad Zebras supporters were almost certain that one thing would not really change ÔÇô Sox would be part of the team’s firing line. The national team revolving door saw players and coaches come and go: Karl-Heinz Marotzke came and left. Jelusic Vaseline kept the dream alive until he left under a cloud, Colwyn Rowe took over until he was sacked in 2008, but Sox Molwantwa remained.

Time, however, had other plans. In a foreboding moment, Sox Molwantwa limped out of the field in the opening minutes during the 2008 clash between Zebras and Egypt after suffering a hamstring injury. Substituted in the 2008 African Cup of Nations qualifier, and replaced by Onalethata Tshekiso, Molwantwa’s followers sensed a change in the air.

When the Zebras Jersey number 12 finally changed hands, the heady era that started with the dream team of 1995 was slowly ebbing into the history books. A horde of nostalgic supporters called for the return of Sox Molwanta, the remaining link to the era of the birth of hope in Botswana’s football. The social network became their weapon of choice and 107 Face book users signed a petition in 2011 calling for the return of Sox to the Zebras.

Far from being a spent force, Molwantwa who is the last man still plying his trade in the Be MOBILE Premier League from the dream team of 1995 continues to lead Notwane’s attack.

Eighteen years since Bamako, the 36 year old striker looks back with pride at an illustrious career that took off in 1994 while still playing for the UB Hawks. That was the year he received a call up to play for the Under -17 national team. A year later he was part of the Under-17 squad which made history by representing the country at the African Youth Championships in Bamako, Mali. It was the first time Botswana side had taken part in the continental showpiece at any level. Captained by Mokaedi ‘Barnes’ Maplanka, the Young Zebras had some of the finest talents in the country which included amongst others Noah ‘Stooge’ Kareng, Lesego ‘Chokri’ Moeng, Molwantwa, Diphetogo “Dipsy” Selolwane, Agisanyang ‘Barcos’ Mosimanegape, Lebogang ‘Ace’ Moruti just to name a few. “We had a brilliant team and we enjoyed every moment. We complemented each other well and playing in Mali was an eye opener for most of us,” recalls Molwantwa.

The Mali adventure opened doors for the teenage lads and no sooner had then landed on home soil than scouts started climbing over each other to sign them. Elijah Molefe got one of the biggest catch for Township Rollers ÔÇô Sox Molwantwa. “Settling in with Rollers was easy because I had confidence in my abilities. The senior guys welcomed me, but obviously there were other players who were threatened by my arrival,” he says.

It was not long before Molwantwa won the hearts of Rollers fans: During the 1996 Coca Cola run he scored three crucial goals in a 4-2 win against traditional arch rivals Gaborone United which ensured that Mapalastina won the coveted cup.

“That game remains my best ever in Rollers’ colours. I had less than 12 months at Rollers and scoring a brace against GU was something out of this world. I was young and energetic and gave GU defence a tough time that day. The cherry on top was that I scored past one of the best goalkeepers of the time, Koziba Mazukula. It was all a fairy tale come true since derbies were hotly contested during those years,” he remembers with a smile.

After a three year stint at Mapalastina where he was a household name, Molwantwa shocked the football fraternity when he joined blood rivals Mochudi Centre Chiefs. His moved left Rollers’ supporters shell-shocked. He did not last long at Magosi. In fact, he played four games for Chiefs before returning to Rollers. At the time many Rollers’ supporters blamed the then Chiefs’ head coach Daniel Tau for Molwantwa’s move. Tau was the headmaster of Ledumang Senior Secondary School in Gaborone where Molwantwa was a student. “It was not easy to leave for Chiefs because my heart was still with Rollers. That is why I only stayed for a short period before re-joining Rollers. I’m happy that during my time Center Chiefs I contributed silverware towards the club.

Molwantwa scored the winning goal for Chiefs’ in a 2-1 win over Extension Gunners in the 1998 Independence Cup final which was played at the National Stadium.

After wearing Rollers’ colours for 12 years, his days came to an end when he was seen as a surplus to requirements in 2007. Supporters were divided as to whether Molwantwa was past his prime, but he did not let that dampen his spirits as he joined Notwane. “I had a wonderful stay at Rollers because I won so many trophies with the club. I’m also proud that I managed to help the club gain promotion back to the Premier League (in 2004). My stay only became unpleasant when I was no longer wanted because they felt that I was old,” he adds.

The Makwate-born marksman reveals that former Notwane midfielder Dirang Moloi who recruited him to the club. At the time, Toronto needed leadership upfront and Molwantwa accepted the invitation. Though he had a stint at First Division club Letlapeng, he has spent most part of the last six years wearing Notwane colours.

“Life at Notwane has been hell but things seem to be looking up since the arrival of the new investor (Gift Mogapi). Though it is early days, he (Mogapi) is on a mission to turn Notwane into a force to reckon with and I want to be part of that success. As I contemplate retirement, I want to leave this club having won silverware. I will retire a happy man because I’ve always helped my clubs to win trophies and Notwane should not be an exception,” he says.

Since most of the players who started with Molwantwa in 1995 have fallen by the wayside, what has kept him going all these years? Of the group which played in Mali in 1995 only Molwantwa and Selolwane still perform at the highest level. “My passion for the game has kept me going all these years. It was not easy but most importantly I remained disciplined. I think I was also lucky because I never had career-threatening injuries. I believe that I still have a season left in me before quitting the game,” he says.

Though he remains a key figure in Notwane line-up, he says his experience can be vital to some youngsters. “When I joined Rollers, I played alongside some of the guys who were there long before me. I listened to their advice and it rubbed well on me. I can also help at Notwane but the difficult thing is that some of the youngsters don’t want to listen when you try to help them improve their game,” Molwantwa says.

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