gifted, humble player

Petrus Kgalema Motlanthe, now the new president of the Republic of South Africa, was a talented footballer yet humble. A shy, obedient and a level-headed person.

Petrus Kgalema Motlanthe, now the new president of the Republic of South Africa, was a talented footballer yet humble. A shy, obedient and a level-headed person.

A born leader who was rated among the great soccer players around at the time.

He was always quiet. But whenever there were arguments he would come on board and solve the problem without any hassle.

He did that during his side's - Spa Sporting Club - meetings and also among friends. Even the most virulent youngsters in the area held him in high esteem.

He was called "Wizard" in football circles and was a maestro on the field of play. He captained the club's teams from the juniors right up to the first team.

When forced removals caught up with Alexandra Township in 1959, we were relocated to Meadowlands and that's where I met Motlanthe.

He went through his primary education at Masekhene Higher Primary School and enrolled at Meadowlands Secondary School under G.M. Simelela who was then our headmaster.

After his secondary education he went to Orlando High to further his studies under TW Khambule in 1966.

I also went to the same school a year later, but neither at school nor at any time did I discern a nascent political activist in him.

This was because of his humbleness and that sense of humour that was bestowed on him.

We were both alter boys with his younger brothers Tlatlane and Nanaboy at the Church of the Resurrection in Meadowlands. We were also Boy Scouts at the church.

My main buddy was Tlatlane, who was naughty, but we used to get on very well as boys would always be boys.

At church we sometimes took part in Christmas dramas, (then called sketches) which were exciting and Motlanthe always had us in stitches with his wit.

I never saw him play soccer at school, and thought he would never kick a ball. That was until I witnessed him play for his side Meadowlands Spa Sporting against arch-rivals Shamrocks Special at the dusty grounds of Zone 8 in Ndofaya.

It is then that I witnessed a footballer par excellence. He was outstanding with his body swerves, flicks, back heels and immaculate passes. He had the qualities of a great footballer.

He wore jersey number 6 and was the engine room and visionary of his side. With the kind of football he played then, he could have walked into any national or top team without any hassle.

Some of the players who played alongside him in Meadowlands said Motlanthe always set a good example within the club.

"At one stage we were 4-0 down at half-time against Shining Stars of Thabazimbi," said Phillip Robinson, one of his then club mates.

"We were demoralised and the entire team believed that we'd never come back. But with his humour and leadership qualities he told us that we must stop worrying, but revert to the 'Soweto style' of play.

"He said the goals scored by our opponents in the first half, could be doubled in the second half, and we did it," said Loss Thabeng and Billy Chalale his former team-mates.

Sporting won 7-4 and that was Motlanthe's last game in Meadowlands because he joined Pretoria Spa as a professional player.

David "Chief" Kholoane former Spa player said: "He used to create scoring opportunities and was unselfish in his play."

At Pretoria Spa Sporting, he played alongside Stanley Mogale in midfield, Frank "ABC" Motsepe was their winger and Stopper Seopela, the full back then.

They took part in a number of competitions in the now defunct National Professional Soccer League. They played against teams such as Orlando Pirates, Moroka Swallows, Avalon Athletics, AmaZulu and many others.

"He was a phenomenal player," said his former team-mate at Spa, Motsepe.

When he was sworn in as President of the country there was ineffable joy in Meadowlands and a lump in the throat.

I felt humbled when he called me on a Friday a day after he was elected president and had a chat with me.

I told him that since he was now President, it was going to be difficult for me to contact or to meet him. "No, we'll make time and we'll meet," said Motlanthe to this scribe.