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Bra Les ran his newsrooms like an army commander

By unknown | Jun 01, 2007 | COMMENTS [ 0 ]

Aeons ago I hobbled into the offices of The Mail newspaper in Mafikeng and asked for a job.

Aeons ago I hobbled into the offices of The Mail newspaper in Mafikeng and asked for a job.

Being in Bophuthatswana, I rattled on in my mother tongue, SeTswana.

"Talk English, dammit!" roared a short, thick-set man with a Don King hairdo and the upper-cut of Mike Tyson in his prime.

"I'm sorry sir," I offered meekly.

"Stop calling me 'sir'!" he retorted.

Years later, I learnt that many top-drawer journalists, including Phil Mthimkhulu, Phil Nyamane, Joe Latakgomo (a former editor of Sowetan), Sekola Sello, Thami Mazwai, Siphiwe Nyanda and even the revered Aggrey Klaaste had received similar baptisms of fire before they could get their hands inked.

Such was Leslie Sehume's reputation in journalism. He ran a newsroom with the precision and rigidity of a military commander.

A trained boxer, many of his journalists where pole-axed for simple things (but cardinal sins in this game) like a misspelt word or failure to check the facts.

"I have killed a person only once, when I was younger and inexperienced," Sehume told me this week.

"I heard that someone prominent had died and I rushed to print without verifying the facts. It turned out that that person was not only alive, but well and furious.

"He had the misfortune of sharing a name with someone less famous. In journalism, that's murder."

But it was not only his journalists who forced the debonair editor to flex his muscles. Officials and fans of major soccer teams from Soweto used to irk him.

One day he sent one of his reporters to cover a meeting of Orlando Pirates in Soweto.

The reporter was not only barred from the meeting but was threatened with violence if he mentioned anything about it.

"You will carry your intestines in your own hands," he was warned.

The next week saw the "Skipper" himself, as sports editors are usually romanticised, attending a meeting of the Buccaneers.

There were jeers from the people attending, some calling for the blood of the man from Bantu World.

But Sehume screamed back, calling on whoever dared square up to him to come out.

Nobody did.

Sehume's reputation went up a notch or two and nobody at Pirates threatened his reporters again.

But these constant clashes between Pirates and the press culminated in the selfsame Sehume instigating the formation of what is today Africa's best-known and richest club, Kaizer Chiefs.

For those not in the loop, the idea of Kaizer Chiefs was hatched not far from where I'm sitting as I write this piece now.

Sehume summoned four or five Orlando Pirates players and officials who had been suspended, including the late Ewart "The Lip" Nene and Edward "Msomi" Khoza, to his office at The World, predecessor of Sowetan, and suggested that they form a team to be called Kaizer Eleven.

"For three of four seasons I spoke to Kaizer [Motaung] about forming the team," said Sehume.

"He was playing for Atlanta Chiefs in the US then and every time he came home I would have a meeting with him. But he didn't commit for a long time."

Anyway, his efforts eventually bore fruit when Kaizer Eleven - later Kaizer Chiefs - was born.

In hindsight, it is difficult to understand why the man who instigated the formation of the team was never given the recognition he deserves.

History has been very unkind to Bra Les. Besides being one of the best sports and showbiz writers of his era, he dabbled in other things, such as music and training boxers.

He wrote scores for the professional quartet in which he sang.

One of his boxing charges, Jacob "Baby Jake" Ntseke, won the Transvaal lightweight championship in 25 seconds flat, knocking-out his opponent in the first round before he could warm up.

Besides working for The World, Sehume did stints with Drum magazine, Golden City Post and edited The Mail of Bophuthatswana.

But his achievements came at a price.

A fierce opponent of the sports boycott during the dark days of apartheid, Sehume became a member of the Committee for Fairness in Sport.

He went abroad and spoke to the international media, such as the BBC, railing against the sports boycott against South Africa.

"We black people didn't make the laws. We suffered under apartheid laws. I couldn't understand why we had to suffer again because of the sports boycott," he says.

Now Sehume, a father of five in his late 70s, enjoys his retirement at home in Dube with his former model wife, Merona, reminiscing about the good old days.


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