Kaizer jnr trapped between two families
THE camera can be crueller than the cruellest pen. When Kaizer Motaung jnr botched his second easy chance of the night against SuperSport United last Tuesday, an astute TV editor cut mercilessly to a shot of the striker's father, Kaizer Motaung, and his brother, Bobby, perched in a lofty executive suite.
The chairman and team manager tried in vain to mask their misery. With stony faces and furtive eyes, they had the look of French royals during the summer of 1789.
Far below them, the Chiefs fans were in a Bastille state of mind. A rash of placards demanded the sale of Motaung jnr, and substitution signals rippled across the stadium. Coach Vladimir Vermezovic obliged them early in the second half, replacing the distraught crown prince with Knowledge Musona.
But Musona could not avert a 1-0 defeat, and this week the club's top brass have rallied to Motaung jnr's defence.
Vermezovic, captain Tenashe Nengomasha and club legend Doctor Khumalo have all slammed the fans' hostility as pointless and destructive.
True enough. But nobody in the Chiefs hierarchy is confronting the obvious, burning question: is it wise or fair that a club owner employs his son as a player, no matter how talented that son may be?
This is not the story of a struggling footballer. It's the story of two families - the Motaungs and the Chiefs fan community - drifting apart.
There's a reasonable view that Motaung snr has every right to run his club as a family fiefdom. Back in the early seventies, he defied the depths of apartheid to forge the most powerful sporting brand this country has ever seen. Great entrepreneurs call all the shots as long as they want to: that's how their vision is rewarded.
But legions of Chiefs fans are beginning to sense that their loyalty to the team is being taken for granted by the Motaungs. To be "Amakhosi for life" is all very well, but that's not a lifelong declaration of obeisance. Chiefs fans are demanding - and sometimes violent, as we saw last weekend.
What's truly eating them is not Motaung jnr's form, but Amakhosi's failure to dominate local football for close to a decade, after being dominant for much of the three decades before that. Many supporters blame that decline on Motaung's failure to spend enough of the ample proceeds of the fans' enthusiasm on the best players available.
Unable to match Patrice Motsepe's profligacy at Mamelodi Sundowns, Motaung has sought to box clever in the transfer market - but at times, like nearly every club owner, he has boxed stupid. This team has plenty of talent, but lacks backbone.
And now Motaung jnr, unfairly or not, has become a symbol of the team's waning power. His posh upbringing only compounds the perception that he does not deserve his place, no matter how hard he works.
Kaizer jnr was educated at Harrow School in England, whose alumni include Winston Churchill, King Hussein of Jordan, Nicky Oppenheimer and James Blunt. Ghetto credibility is not part of the syllabus.
The striker declined to offer comment for this story. But in previous interviews with this reporter he has been anything but arrogant. Like any great man's son, Kaizer jnr faces a nigh-impossible task: to construct his own healthy pride while also accepting his father's superiority.
"I feel that if I had a quarter of my father's talent, I'd be playing for Barcelona right now!" he said.
Kaizer jnr does have talent - and at times he has threatened to convince the doubters once and for all. He has scored some scintillating goals in the past, and will do so again.
Moving to another club may feel like a capitulation to the boo-boys; both he and his father surely feel that he has unfinished business in a black-and-gold shirt. It took considerable courage for Kaizer jnr to play for Chiefs in the first place, and he's not a quitter.
But sometimes walking away is the bravest thing to do.