As Botswana inches closer to the 49th Independence Day celebrations, Staff Writer, MQONDISI DUBE sat down with one of the country’s finest defenders and the first captain to lead the Zebras to Africa Cup of Nations finals. He opens up about a decorated career, which yielded numerous league titles but always presented prickles on the flip side
He would unflinchingly fly into a crunching tackle with his ‘legs of steel’ and dominated his opponents despite a small frame.Mompati ‘Apache’ Thuma had the imposing height of a central defender. He took no prisoners in a career spanning nearly two decades. Apache’s finest moment came when he led the Zebras to their first ever appearance at the Africa Cup of Nations finals.
It is a journey, which began in the dusty grounds of Selebi-Phikwe in 1996 when Thuma was turning out for First Division side, Real Movers. He began his career as a striker but when there was a crisis in defence at national Under-17 level, Thuma moved to centre back due to his favourable height.
He was to continue his studies at Lotsane Senior Secondary school where he was snapped by then First Division side, Motlakase in 1999.
Notwane then expressed interest in his services, but instead he chose Mogoditshane Fighters.
“Fighters coach, David Bright drove all the way from Gaborone to meet my parents. It was an easy decision for me,” he says.
The Fighters side brutally dominated the local scene, winning the league title three times in a row with some of the finest talent on display. Thuma played alongside Modesto Chilundumeni, Masego ‘Abedi’ Ntshingane, Barney Marman and Mogogi Gabonamong. He moved to BDF XI, under Stan Tshosane when Fighters were relegated from the top flight.
He was to make his Zebras debut against Zambia in 2006 where he came on for the last five minutes under Veselin Jelusic. It was a frenzied period where Zebras’ support reached new heights.
“The fighting spirit was there even if results were not forthcoming. Vasco (Veselin Jelusic) taught us to fight and instilled that spirit,” he says.
Thuma made his full debut away in Kenya the same year in a losing cause. He says Jelusic told him to go out and enjoy his game. Ever since then, Thuma has gone on to represent the country 80 times before hanging up his boots last season.
His last game for the national team was against South Africa’s Bafana Bafana in Durban in 2013.
Briton, Colwyn Rowe made Thuma captain when he replaced Jelusic as coach. He wore the captain’s armband until he quit as Tshosane kept faith in his leadership.
The former BDF XI defender says they prospered at the Zebras because they functioned as a family.
“Stan (Tshosane) selected a committee of senior players. The likes of Dipsy (Selolwane) and (Modiri) Marumo were the leading figures,” he says.
On the player mutiny, which rocked the Zebras camp on the eve of an AFCON qualifier away to Morocco, Thuma says although it was wrong, players had to send a message.
“When we are out there, we benchmark. We felt we were getting a raw deal. I am not saying it’s good but we had to air our views,” he says of the infamous incident.
He notes they did their all to put the country on the map, but they did not get what they deserved. He feels it is critical for former players to get involved in the running of the game as they understand burning matters. Thuma says he is ready to assist BDF XI in any administrative capacity.
“I want to help administratively. I am still very much involved with the team. I even train with them,” he says.
Thuma wants players to be treated fairly and believes the new Minister of Youth, Sport and Culture, Thapelo Olopeng has the right enthusiasm to take sports forward.
“Together with HE (President Ian Khama) they have the passion and hopefully they will drive sports forward,” he says.
He argues the country is not doing enough for former stars who are neglected in most instances.
“Look at a country like South Africa, legends are honoured and still very much involved in the game. In Botswana, if I want to watch a Zebras game, I have to buy a ticket. Our 2012 achievement is not even captured at BFA. We once went to Ethiopia and their first AFCON appearance 25 years ago is captured everywhere,” he says.
He weighs in on the naming of the Francistown Sports Complex issue saying it was a missed opportunity to honour a legend.
On his former team, Mogoditshane Fighters, Thuma believes the management has to get its act together otherwise it will be an uphill battle to restore the side to its former glory.
While Thuma was a tough-as-teak defender, he remembers the torrid time former Morocco forward, Mustapha Hadji gave him.
He has respect for Dirang Moloi’s quality on the pitch, saying he is one of the most gifted footballers.
Thuma was last year honoured by President Khama with the Presidential Meritorious Award.
Full name: Mompati Thuma
Nicknames: Leg of Steel, Apache
Clubs: Real Movers, Motlakase (both First Division) Mogoditshane Fighters, BDF XI (Premiership)
Position: Centre back
Honours: Presidential Meritorious Award (2014)
Zebras caps: 80
Favourite dish: Home cooked Setswana meal
Hobbies: Sleeping and catching up with friends
Favourite tourist destination: Okavango Delta