losing ground

Meshack Khotha

Meshack Khotha

Yet another community-initiated soccer ground in a black township faces closure.

Rather than improve the sports facility by either laying artificial turf or planting grass and also building dressing-rooms at the famous Botsotso ground at Mopeli Section in Katlehong, the Ekurhuleni Metro Municipality has threatened to close it down to make way for a shopping mall.

The move has not gone down well with the community of Katlehong and the local football association petitioned the council last week to register their objections.

The 30-year-old ground has a rich history in terms of producing quality players who ended up playing in the elite league and the senior national squad.

It has hosted many soccer tournaments, ranging from those in local football to industrial football leagues.

On top of that, most of the school competitions in the area are played at Botsotso, often with large crowds in attendance.

This ground has in the past attracted some of the well-known professional coaches including the Bafana Bafana 2002 World Cup coach and Jomo Cosmos coach, Jomo Sono, Khabo Zondo, Walter Rautmann and Eddie Lewis, just to mention a few, during the off-season tournaments.

In a nutshell, Botsotso ground has been regarded as the mecca of soccer in the Kathorus (Katlehong- Thokoza-Vosloorus) area.

Five other soccer fields in Katlehong were closed down by the council, to make way for schools and houses without offering alternative sort facilities in the immediate vicinities.

Tshongweni made way for Alafang Secondary School, Ngema for Cathula Primary School, while houses stand where Sali and Siluma grounds used to be. An informal settlement has mushroomed where Moleleki ground once was.

The Moshoeshoe ground, famously known as Number 4, which in the past was graced by the likes of the late Albert "Hurry Hurry" Johanneson, is in such a poor state that it is no longer in use.

Long before Soccer City was built, Katlehong was to have had its own multipurpose stadium in Phake Section. Instead, Huntersfield stadium was renovated and renamed Katlehong Sports Complex.

Negligence of football grounds is not the only setback that affected sports people in Katlehong. In Hlahatsi section, about 100m from Botsotso ground, tennis courts were demolished and in their place a shopping centre was built.

Some of the players who started their career before moving to the Premier Soccer League are unhappy about the state of affairs.

Thanda Royal Zulu's Emmanuel "Scara" Ngobese says: "I would love to make one or two appearances at that ground [Botsotso] after I have recovered from TB.

"That ground has contributed a lot towards what I am today and I have great memories as far as the ground is concerned."

He adds: "By closing this ground, the council will be closing the door for up-and-coming players to display their talent like I used to.

"I am humbly appealing to the council to find an alternative for the mall and maintain the ground."

When told about the possible closure of Botsotso ground, former Lamontville Golden Arrows, Kaizer Chiefs and SuperSport United defender Siphiwe Mkhonza exclaimed: "What? You are lying to me. I can't believe that. Are they aware of the great talents produced from that popular field.

"Actually, I am a product of that ground that they want to turn into a business place today.

"They are doing a great disservice to the development of soccer in the township and Ekurhuleni as a whole.

"Instead of demolishing the field, let them kindly upgrade it and put a fence around and maintain it," Mkhonza says.

Mkhonza played at the ground from the age of seven before his parents relocated to KwaThema in the late 1990s.

Another product of this ground is former Moroka Swallows, Orlando Pirates and Mamelodi Sundowns player Patrick Twala who played alongside Ngobese in off-season tournaments at Botsotso.

Says Twala: "The council would be doing a great disservice to the soccer-loving people and the community of Katlehong at large."

Development coach Sammy Thage is also upset.

He says: "It is really unacceptable for the council to toy with the idea of closing the ground because they would be killing the development of soccer. Why does the council choose to close down the only ground that is still playable?

"Instead of closing it, let them put a fence around it and plant grass,'' he suggests.

In other township soccer fields were closed down by councillors with total disregard for the development of football, as was the case at Meadowlands Zone 1, Soweto years ago.

It was on this particular field that the likes of former Bafana Bafana striker Marks "Go Man Go" Maponyane (Chiefs), Mandla "Metroblitz" Sithole (Pirates) and midfield dynamo Aubrey "The Great" Makgopela (Swallows).

How long will the rot continue?

Katlehong is keen to know whether Ntombi Mekgwe, Ekurhuleni mayor, will allow the killing of potential future Bafana Bafana stars by endorsing the closure of Botsotso? - additional reporting by Molefi Mika