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King Kaizer Motaung reflects on glamour boys' 50-year journey

14 January 2020 - 10:18 By BARENG-BATHO KORTJAAS and SAZI HADEBE
Kaizer Chiefs owner-chairman Kaizer Motaung speaks during the club's 50th Anniversary celebrations in Phefeni, Soweto, on January 7 2020.
Kaizer Chiefs owner-chairman Kaizer Motaung speaks during the club's 50th Anniversary celebrations in Phefeni, Soweto, on January 7 2020.
Image: Marc Strydom

Happy golden jubilee King Kaizer. Tell us about the birth of this club?

The birth of Kaizer Chiefs came as a result of the fact that there were people who were homeless, so to speak.

And then, upon my arrival [from Atlanta Chiefs in the US, for a six to eight-week break], I made an effort to find out from the [Orlando] Pirates officials what could have happened and how we could resolve things.

At Pirates at the time, there was this division and emotions going around.

After a lengthy discussion, it looked like I was also being accused of siding with the affected people.

I said no; I'm not. I'm merely here to see if I can broker some kind of peace. But I soon realised I was not going to win. So then, during our discussions with people like Bra Lesley Sehume, a journalist, and some of his colleagues said, in the meantime, why don't you get these guys and organise a tour of the country while you're here.

And Kaizer Invitational XI was born?

Yes. Then this idea grew and then we said no; in fact maybe it's a good idea because now I'm not going to be accused of taking sides. With the help of Bra Les, we started organising the matches and the tours. And I must say Durban was our home away from home. So that's how the Kaizer XI started.

I had to go back to my club in the US and there was grave concern. People were saying we've started this, but now where do you leave us? There were other players like the Ariel Khongoanes of this world, may his soul rest in peace, and the other guys, like the late Eliakim Khumalo, Doctor Khumalo's father, who also felt that he was free.

Kaizer Motaung dribbling past Oscar Dlamini of Orlando Pirates in the early 70s.
Kaizer Motaung dribbling past Oscar Dlamini of Orlando Pirates in the early 70s.
Image: Supplied

Brainstorming took place and I said I wouldn't mind leading this process. We had to be steadfast and put our heads on the block knowing hostilities would prevail because the Black and White [Pirates] will not take this thing lightly. We put together the brains trust: the late Ewert "The Lip" Nene said you know we've got the late Gilbert Sekgabi, Clarence Mlokoti and Simon Shezi - a very enthusiastic guy - to come and lead the administration. We needed to make sure that it's properly run, very professional, especially after having tasted professionalism in America. And I was obviously talking to my father (Ceyland), who actually was advising me as well. He said if your heart is there, go for it because good things don't just come easy.

Did your father play the game?

No, not at all. In fact he used to belong to some acapella group that used to sing like Black Mambazo. When I was playing for Pirates, he was supporting Pirates and was always there.

How did you then register this club at a professional level?

Fortunately, football was not so well organised here because of the problems that we had. So it was easy then to start something like this. The question that we raised was how do we get it registered. Then came the late Matthew Phahane. He was a very shrewd man, that one. He was from Nigel. He said you must affiliate under Nigel Football Association, which we did. Otherwise, we had to affiliate under Johannesburg Bantu Football Association. They were going to try and stifle and not allow us. We went to Nigel and that's how we became a professional team.

We needed to make sure that it's properly run, very professional, especially after having tasted professionalism in America.

How did the unhappiness of the Black and White (Pirates) manifest itself?

Pirates did not take kindly to this thing. When they realised that this is really happening, the hostilities grew. Of course, after the matches, our supporters really tasted the violence. My younger brother Buti was once involved in one of the scuffles after we beat Pirates. They wouldn't let the Chiefs fans leave the stadium. The gates were all on the eastern side, so we all had to come out of the stadium this way so they wouldn't let them out. There were scuffles and throwing of stones. My brother was also caught up in that. I don't know how he survived. Of course, the whole thing was topical because some were still confident that it will not last.

A touch of glamour and style accompanied this new baby?

We were obviously fashion conscious. We liked to look smart. There were more ladies involved in recruiting supporters, so we became the darling of women. Everyone was wearing bell-bottoms, but ours were flare bottoms.

Indulge us on the inspirational role of Ewert Nene in building this brand?

He was the most active one, especially when I wasn't around. He organised everything. He was fully committed to this whole course and actually played a very pivotal role in terms of putting everything together. He was an action man. When he believed "let's go this way", he will go. And he always came up with ideas.

And the action man was murdered on a mission to recruit Teenage Dladla?

We always converged at my parents' place in Phefeni after training. Ewert got to Phefeni. He took Jan "Malombo" Lechaba and said he will see us later. They went to see this sensational guy [Teenage] he had been told about. All of a sudden, we hear he's been stabbed to death. That was the most dark part of our history. That was one of the saddest moments in our lives. We just couldn't believe that this has happened to Ewert. It took us a very long time to recover from that shock.

It's Nene again who trekked to Randfontein to get the Ace in the Chiefs pack?

We played against Randfontein Invitation XI. That's when we saw Patrick "Ace" Ntsoelengoe. Yes, Nene went to convince him to come and join us. How we built this club was to open supporters' club branches all over the country. Supporters live with these people in the community and they knew who were good players.

Ewert Nene was a man of action who died on a mission to recruit Teenage Dladla.
Ewert Nene was a man of action who died on a mission to recruit Teenage Dladla.
Image: Supplied

Did Chiefs ever try to get Jomo Sono on board?

No it couldn't happen. We had to be real about the situation. We knew that Jomo is Pirates. Going for him would evoke a lot of acrimony. Given the way we started everything and the prevailing atmosphere between the clubs, that was going to cause havoc. So we could never even think about it.

Is Ntsoelengoe the greatest player to ever play for Chiefs?

There's no doubt about the fact that Ace was the greatest player to ever don our jersey. Even if there are other good players who joined Chiefs, I cannot say Ace is number one, two or three. Ace was a cut above the rest.

Cut above the rest because?

Because of his demeanour and the way he conducted himself on the field. He was a humble person. But he was like a general on the field. Sometimes, you have a game that is very tense and hectic and Ace would change the mood and pace and put a foot on the ball, changing the whole complexion. He would say "slow down guys, don't rush", uyabona (you see). I used to liken him to [Michel] Platini.

What was the inspiration behind building the Naturena Village?

A guy called Hamid Kaka said he has a piece of land in the south of Johannesburg. I was always looking for something in terms of our facilities for training and so forth. So he brought us here in 1993. This was an agricultural holding. I said first let's check if there's a borehole for water and we were happy it was there. I was thinking of the fields to say how we're going to maintain it with municipality water. We agreed to buy, but the challenge was how do we pay for it.

How much did you pay?

A lot of money (looks away with a wry smile).

You're being stingy with info. How much is a lot?

A lot (laughs). Such that when I spoke to the other three directors and shareholders, everybody got cold feet. We were also not on the same wavelength in terms of what we required. So the guys got cold feet and said no, no, no if this is what you're telling us, we're not interested. If you want to go ahead you can, but just buy us out.

Englishman Jeff Butler led Kaizer Chiefs to an all-trophy haul in the 1991 season.
Englishman Jeff Butler led Kaizer Chiefs to an all-trophy haul in the 1991 season.
Image: Supplied

They said thina (we) can't risk our money. So that was a big challenge for me. I manoeuvred and somehow I was able to twist, I don't know how I did it, but I was able to twist the bank because I had some smalanyana money there. I also used my house in Beverley Hills in Soweto as a guarantee for the loan. I had to get a small loan, but the rest of the money was from my own pocket.

The other challenge was to buy the guys out because they said no, we don't want to be mixed up with this thing. I was also able to manoeuvre and I got them out one by one.

A mention of Jeff Butler and his 1991 all-conquering team brings a broad smile out of you. Why?

It's because of the success that we achieved with him. We had this coach, Butler, who was also passionate about his job, though BBK will call them palookas. Everyday he wore shorts and no top in summer.

How did you bring him to Chiefs?

An English guy in Bophuthatswana recommended him. He came from Limassol [Cyprus]. I had to go pick him up myself. I see this guy with just a small bag. So I said, where's your luggage? He said no, no, I'm okay, everything is here, pointing to this tiny bag. Obviously, we gave him clothing. That was Jeff for you. He did a great job. He was very passionate and knew how to manage players' egos.

And Ted Dumitru?

Ted was also a very shrewd one; and streetwise. He was unbelievable. He was the one who could make players like Scara Ngobese believe they're Maradonas of this game ... if he wanted them to jump a fence they would.

And Muhsin Ertugral had his Operation Vat Alles which was amper maar nie stamper nie because it was sans the league title?

It was just unfortunate because we just needed one point (in the last league match against Free State Stars). But obviously there was this Jabu [Pule now Mahlangu] and Patrick [Mbuthu] story that cost us that point. And, of course, Muhsin was a very difficult personality. If it was the time of people like Ted for instance, he would have handled the situation of these players differently. He would have got what he wanted out of them. Muhsin is okay, but Muhsin is very temperamental. That's why he wants to work with young players because if he works with the mature type of player, there comes a time where they clash because he doesn't want to listen to the players. He wants to tell them.

Operation Vat Alles delivered the now defunct Caf's Mandela Cup?

It was important because [Nelson] Mandela came to officially open this Village. So we dedicated that success to him. It was also important because Pirates had won the Champions League [in 1995] so we also had to at least respond [by winning a Caf competition]. It was fitting because the cup itself was named after Mandela. We won that trophy against all odds. In the final, we had only 14 players. Doctor (Khumalo) was the 14th on the bench after he was pulled off.

Your heart must have skipped a beat when Patrick Mabedi scored the penalty as the ball moved so slow it was like in slow motion?

(Whistles). I've never in my whole life seen anything like that. I've seen penalties missed, but I've never in my whole life seen a penalty scored the way that one was scored ... when he hit the net everyone was so relieved. It was unbelievable. It just took us there and we just couldn't believe what we were seeing.

Stuart Baxter gave Chiefs joy, but it's been pain since then. You once told the Sunday Times that Steve Komphela was a soldier for Chiefs.

I must confess I was confident that Steve was going to do it because of his work ethic. And because I felt that he understands the players and he's been around for quite a while. I felt that he would be a success. But, unfortunately, things didn't work out well. It could be either him or the entire technical team that he put around him was not the right one. We don't know. But we cannot fault him for his work ethic. Nobody can question that.

Kaizer Motaung and the man he considers the best Chiefs player ever, Ace Ntsoelengoe.
Kaizer Motaung and the man he considers the best Chiefs player ever, Ace Ntsoelengoe.
Image: Supplied

When Baxter came, you opened the chequebook, buying the Bafana Bafana back four of Siboniso Gaxa, Eric Mathoho, Tefu Mashamaite and Tshepo Masilela ...

But you must also remember that we opened the chequebook because we were replacing players on their way out. It was the time to do it. Even Baxter himself didn't know those players.

The only players he knew were those who were playing in Bafana. He didn't even know Mathoho. In fact Mathoho was not one of his favourites. The only reason Mathoho played was because Morgan Gould got injured very early in the season. Otherwise, his plan was Gould and Mashamaite.

Incumbent Ernst Middendorp started badly, finishing outside the top eight and that loss against TS Galaxy in the Nedbank Cup final?

I don't know how to address that one. It looked like a mindset problem more than anything else. Everyone thought the cup is in the bag. I cannot fathom to this day why we lost that game ... I can only bring it down to one thing, which is the mindset of the team. And maybe the technical team as well. So you can put it down to the question of tactics or something, I don't know. Maybe the approach of that game. Even now I still can't give a clear answer to say how can we lose to that team. I didn't even think that we were under threat.

It seems Middendorp has redeemed himself looking at your log position?

There's a lot of promise I see in the team; a big change in approach and mental attitude. But football requires us to look further ... depending on how we do, we're into the Caf competitions. We'll still need to beef up the squad. It's a dog-eat-dog world out there. Your squad must be strong and not just be one dimensional.

Speaking of one dimensional, planning for your team could be very easy. The two towers up front Samir Nurkovic and Leonardo Castro, Lebo Manyama or George Maluleka on set-pieces, Yagan Sasman and Reeve Frosler on the flanks. If it doesn't work, first substitution in the second half is (Dumsani) Zuma. Is there a plan B?

Exactly. You see, at the moment we do still have some challenges. As much as we're on top of the log and conceded the least number of goals, but the goals that we've conceded are too many for the team challenging for the championship.

We've conceded too many soft goals. I mean the latest one, for instance, is the one against SuperSport (United). Those two goals; for me they're soft goals. The first one by (Bradley) Grobler, the ball is played there and Sasman goes there and everybody goes there; the ball is crossed facing the goal. It's a gift. Grobler just puts his head, it's a goal. Where's the defence?

Similarly (Thamsanqa) Gabuza just comes and the ball is played and Sasman is watching the ball and he forgets that he's defending a goal. So how do you defend a goal when you don't even know where you are? And then when the ball comes this way, he follows and the man comes; it's a gift. For me, those are some of the challenges that I think the technical team has to work on - the defensive part of the game.