It's Saturday afternoon at the National Stadium and Township Rollers are the home side. One of the men manning the gates is the team's longtime diehard supporter Nelson Leepile, once a dominant voice on Radio Botswana.
Leepile has blended two loves - broadcasting and football - over decades of service to the nation. His was the voice that dominated sports broadcasting for over 20 years. This makes him an ideal source of information for the origins of the signature tune for Radio Botswana's Saturday sports programme, "Dikgang tsa metshameko".
In 1968, when the authorities at Radio Botswana decided to have a sports programme, there was a slight problem. They could not identify the right musical piece to the programme's signature tune. Its first producer/presenter, Molemane Molefe, took a cursory look at football teams around the country. Juggling the teams' names around, he managed to compose a song that was passed to a commissioned band in South Africa to put on vinyl. The group chosen for the task was Mahotella Queens, the divas of South Africa's Mpaqanga music. Their melodic voices have anchored a programme that has had many presenters since the days of Molefe, who passed the microphone to the present Member of Parliament for Mogoditshane, Patrick Masimilole.
After Masimolole, Geoffrey Motshidisi took the seat, before passing it on to the programmes's longest presenter, Nelson Leepile.
"I presented the programme from 1978 to 2000, although in the later years I shared it with a new crop of presenters such as Lesego Mohutsiwa, Michael Kaote and Small Boy (Mmoloki Mothibi), but the song has remained," says Leepile. "The song is part of the programme's brand. There was a time when it was changed, but before long, it was brought back," says Leepile.
While the song has survived, teams whose names form part of the lyrics have had mixed fortunes. The football landscape, laid out in the song, has changed dramatically, leaving a trail of broken hearts and a nostalgic yearning of days gone past, never to be relived.
Notwane's name is in the mix. Formed in 1964 in Mafikeng, Notwane won the inaugural league in 1978. This feat was followed by a long drought that was only quenched in 1996, when Paul Moyo's side won the league. They annexed the championship again in 1998.
Perhaps the greatest name to have turned out in the black and gold colours of Notwane was the late William "Paymaster" Dennison, considered to be Botswana's finest player of all time. Other famous sons include Ambrose "Walker" Rathedi, Moffat brothers Boyce and Themba, Robin "Banks" Masala, Mbatshi "Brown" Gasemotho, George "Pro" Rahube, Ngwaele "Malombo" Thari, Shono "Madonsela" Ngaka and Terence Mophuting.
Also mentioned in the song is Gaborone United (GU), for many years managed by the charismatic Matheadira Wellie Seboni. GU have experienced pain and ecstasy since the song was first played on radio. Formed in 1967, the team was a permanent feature in top-flight football until disaster struck in 1999, when they were relegated from the elite league. It took five years for the team to regain their lost pride - just this season. In the team's life, GU have won the league twice: in 1986, under the tutelage of Thomas "Zero" Johnson and in 1990 led by Arthur James. However, the team's major exploits were in short sprints of cup competitions, earning the nickname "Money Machine" along the way.
Sometimes the old supporters reminiscence about sons of the golden era, the likes of Horatio Mahloane, Wiseman Lesole, Patrick Zibochwa, Kabelo 'Kempes' Ebineng, Seth Brown and Rueben Mgadla. The success that these players brought galvanized the team's supporters - who have nothing to celebrate since coming back to the elite league.
If GU see their situation as grave, what can be said of the other two teams mentioned in the song: Tlokweng Pirates and Happy Hearts? These days Tlokweng Pirates have been reduced to envying their neighbours, Naughty Boys, who are playing in the Premier League, after a 20-year absence. Naughty Boys are not mentioned in the song because they were only registered in 1970 - two years after the single was cut. Pirates' games these days draw a small crowd of supporters, while younger fans - the lifeblood of all teams - follow the glamorous sides like Naughty Boys.
Red Sparks, another of yesterday's greats, are struggling to beat relegation in the Med Rescue First Division South. Since the song was composed, the number of teams in the village has proliferated. These include Tlokweng United, who are also involved in relegation dogfight in the Med Rescue First Division South.
Happy Hearts used to fill the Thebe Primary School ground to capacity. The team, which was formed in Mafikeng before Botswana's independence, is a pale shadow of its more illustrious past. Happy Hearts campaign in Gaborone District's Third Division.
Med Rescue First Division South is also home to Maletamotse of Lobatse, which has fought numerous turf wars with another local side, Extension Gunners. In those glory days, Maletsamotse had the cream of young stars such as Horatio "Chippa" Mahloane, who later decamped to GU. The team is also looking to avoid relegation to district football.
Formed in 1962, Extension Gunners are among the oldest teams in the country. The Lobatse side's years of relish were 1992 - 1994, when they won the league three times in succession. Gunners were a breakaway from Young Tigers. Rightly, Gunners are in the 1968 composition and have given Botswana football some of its most charismatic names, such as the Kelly brothers Jim and Robert, Bushy "States" Hirschfeldt, Odirle Sengwaketsi, Ramagwinya Bogatsu, Naphtally "Scara" Kebalepile, Joshua "Jojo" Mogotsi and Itumeleng 'Tummie" Duiker. And there was the rose of Peleng, Pro Mauco, who dazzled defenders on the wings during that era.
The Mahotella Queens song also mentions Township Rollers, the most successful team in Botswana soccer, with nine championship titles to their name. Wearing navy blue and gold shirts, the side that was formerly known as Mighty Tigers before switching to Township Rollers in 1964 tasted relegation not long ago but bounced back with a bang, winning a double -the league championship and Coca-Cola Cup under the guidance of Joseph "Banks" Panene, a former goalkeeper who has played for Centre Chiefs, Notwane, and Gunners.
The song does not mention today's powerhouses such as BDF XI, Mogoditshane Fighters and Mochudi Centre Chiefs as they were not yet in existence at the time. BDF XI and Fighters came into existence in 1978 and Centre Chiefs were registered in 1972.
BDF XI has won the league seven times. Nicknamed "Matebele a Mantsho", a phrase taken from Balete poem, they struck fear in many teams' hearts.
Besides Centre Chiefs - the only glamorous side south of the Tropic of Capricorn not to have won the league- other forces have emerged, with disciplined institutions providing a backdrop of unfancied but competitive sides. Prisons XI and Police XI are good examples, with the latter poised to make history by winning the championship for the first time.
The present crop of presenters of "Dikgang tsa metshameko", Mothibi, Sakaeyo 'Squander' Baitshepi and Thuso Palai were not yet born when the programme commenced. Leepile has left radio. He now lends a hand in the development of a game that gave him a voice for more than two decades.
"Dikgang tsa metshameko" has served as a platform for teams to announce their activities. Any team can send a notice of their activities to be aired on the programme. Football still dominates the programme. The menu has widened to include leagues in far flung places such as England and Spain. Other sport codes like softball, volleyball, boxing and athletics are also featured these days.
How neutral have been the programme hosts? Leepile says Molefe and Masimolole followed GU, while he supports Rollers. One urban legend of the programme involves none other than Leepile himself. It is said that he once read a notice inviting Rollers' supporters to a meeting many times, as a clear sign that he was promoting the team he loved. In defence, Leepile is said to have claimed that the message was faxed many times, and he was not aware that it was the same notice. Which teams do the present generation of presenters support? Well..you guess!
The melody has outlived the playing careers of all players. None of the players plying their trade these days was born when "Dikgang tsa metshameko" went on air- and the music continues. (FPN)