Thursday, February 29, 2024

The Zebras…a view from Cape Town

“..further, I must inform you that at Achenib, I captured the flag which you had presented to Manasse. It is now in my keeping at Hoonkrans. I should like to know what to do with this flag. I ask because it is alien to me.” Captain Hendrik Witbooi of Namibia wrote to the German Imperial Commissioner Ernst Goring in a letter in 1889 after defeating Manasse and taking down the German flag.

I like captain Witbooi because he was always an underdog, nobody gave him a chance but he ultimately defeated the imperialists. When I watch Zebras play, they always remind me of captain Witbooi at the battlefield. During his protracted fight against the imperialists, his own people sometimes thought he was crazy, in fact some fought on the German side!

Zebras always exude the spirit of captain Witbooi, the resilience, and the ubiquitous principle of fighting and protecting what is yours. The courage and chutzpah with which they play is amazing.
The Zebras are unashamedly ambitious. Against Bafana Bafana last week, expelled African National Congress Youth League leader Julius Malema twitted that “Bafana Bafana match is being played in a stadium (UB) that resembles those in Tembisa or Daveyton townships.”

Malema’s acrimonious relationship with Botswana government may have cost him a powerful position, and friends in Botswana but I like his candid attitude. He is not euphemistical about the level of development of our country. I always ask why is everything about Botswana substandard, why Botswana resembles a country at war, because my son will one day demand answers.

I have carefully looked at the Malema statement and my observation is that what Malema said is what I have been saying for the past 8 years or so. Malema unfortunately did not know that the stadium is a property of the University of Botswana, but either way University of Botswana is property of government of Botswana, the very people for which the statement was intended.

I watched on television because FIFA security manager Biggie Mbenge had announced that the match would be a “high security risk” match, meaning that lives were not safe based on the 8000 capacity. I frequent townships here and I felt that Malema, in fact, disrespected the townships.

The sight was not pretty at all, players looked like they were under arrest. The same with spectators, and it was pathetic to see President Ian Khama nestled in between dignitaries amongst them David Fani, Danny Jordan, Lucas Radebe and Aaron Mokoena. Prominent writer Nkareng Matse wrote after the match that “Bafana Bafana failed to win against a bunch of semi professionals and under-paid civil servants.”

Matshe did not discuss match tactics and strategies deployed on the day, he focused on the conditions of the Zebras camp, which he said happens to be the world’s biggest producers of diamonds both value and volume! Matshe explained the amateur status of our players and their peasant wages. He was candid; Zebras stipends are appalling, sometimes not paid at all.

It is when i look at the resistance against Bafana, and reflect on that traumatic experience at the Ethiopian airport en route to Central African Republic, the Istanbul circus, that I am compelled to admire the hearts of the Zebras. Our players absorb too much, and Mogogi, having absorbed this since he was 15 years old, has now come to a cul-de-sac.

“Officially, a pressing family matter is the reason why Mogogi Gabonamong is set to miss the World Cup qualifier against Bafana Bafana on Saturday, but privately his frustration with conditions in the Botswana team have led to his decision.,” Mark Glesson summed it up in the Sowetan.

Glesson is pin-point; you can only take punches until a certain point. I look at the P2000 appearance fee that Zebras players get per match compared to the R87 000 Bafana players each get per-match.

In fact, the truth is Steven Pienaar alone would be able to pay the Zebras squad every month until they retired. Pienaar earns a whopping R1, 6 million a month (R400, 000 a week) at Everton! With exception of Phenyo Mongala no one earns over P10, 000 in the team that played against Bafana. Morgan Gould’s 4 year deal at Kaizer Chiefs will pay him an astronomical R28 million while prominent stars notably Teko Modise, Simphiwe Tshabalala, Itumeleng Khune and Katlego Mphela all earn over R300, 000 a month at their clubs, but the performance on the pitch did not show that.
The problem with Botswana is that the government has decided to prioritise Constituency League at the expense of the Zebras. The Chinese have also decided to sleep on the job because they know Botswana is not in a rush, that football in Botswana is played at Sharps grounds.

The government blithely takes Batswana for granted; they are also very contemptuous of the Zebras brand. I have always argued that Botswana sport needs an overhaul, with a commitment on government as an overseeing body. With the Chinese made sketches currently frozen called stadiums, Botswana would not be able to stage or host any major event thereby losing significantly in sports revenue.
It is not only sports, I guess a U2 concert would also bring millions to the country but Bono in his right senses would not want to be involved in bloodshed that could happen at UB stadium or Lobatse stadium.

The other thing that is also synonymous with sport is the airline services which make sure people are able to come in and out. My interaction with people in football is always greeted by “how big are your planes, are they safe?” and you can not afford to lie.

Just when it launched a Maun-Cape Town route last week, Air Botswana did not disappoint and was grounded immediately. When are we going to fully compete without being a joke to international competitors?

In conclusion, I think against all odds, and as I have always said resources can only put you at an advantage but commitment and hunger can take you far.

This however, does not mean that government should continue with its sorry posture towards sport. The ability of our boys is not in question but our government’s ability to think beyond Constituency League is.

The government’s despicable disposition towards sport has become legendary, its idiosyncratic obstinacy has cost us, has reduced Botswana to a regional joke, where at everything is slipshod thereby making the business community devotedly arrogant towards sport.

Like captain Witbooi, the Zebras have remained an under dog but have certainly proved that despite adversity, and lack of support even from your own people (government) triumph is always possible.


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