Judge talks about ups and downs in football
MASERU — Sitting in Justice Tšeliso Monapathi’s office it’s hard to ignore the number of books in it. Apart from the dozens neatly piled on the book shelf behind his desk, there are many others protruding from all places, like squirrels from burrows on hot summer days.
They are books that have all probably been read or, at least, referred to. High Court business is no child’s play.
But today, in an exclusive interview with the Sunday Express, the judge’s focus is on football.
Monapathi wrote Lesotho football’s constitution. He has been a keen stakeholder in Lesotho football for over three decades — a period that has seen more ups and downs than the price of petrol. He has a lot to talk about including Bantu, Matlama’s chaotic elections and the future of football in the country.
But first a history lesson.
“Around 1985, we started agitating for the formation of a football association,” Monapathi recalls. “I remember it was three of us, Kolisang Lepholisa from Linare, the late Bambatha Tšita of Lioli and myself from Matlama, who came up with the idea. (But) the attitudes of the government and the sports council at that time were very harsh — soon we abandoned it,” he says.
Monapathi says as recently as the late eighties football in the country was run by the Lesotho Sports Council through the Senior Football Executive Committee (SFEC), and not by the Lesotho football Association (LEFA).
“Around 1989 the whole thing picked up again,” Monapathi adds, a LEFA badge pinned to his suit. “This time the initiative was headed by the late Thabo Makakole and Mahao Matete amongst others, and when they formed an interim committee and I was asked to join.”
After the collapse of the initial thrust to form LEFA Monapathi had drifted into “retirement” from top level football administration, and in 1989 was enjoying a brief flirtation with Chelsea, a then first division outfit.
The lawman by trade was coaxed out of his self-imposed retreat to draft Lesotho’s football charter by the new LEFA committee.
“It is the constitution that was used when we fought for autonomy from the sports council,” Monapathi recalls. “The government was ambivalent and the case even went on appeal, (but) we didn’t understand why we didn’t have an association.”
The campaign finally succeeded. “I was secretary for one and a half years. We were a very strong executive committee,” Monapathi says.
And it stayed that way until early 1993 when Monapathi lost elections for his post. His attention switched, somewhat, after that.
“Since then I have not been involved in sporting activity,” Monapathi says before adding, “The history of LEFA is as short as 1990 till now. The agitation for the formation of the association only started in 1989, before then football was run by SFEC,” in reference to a question of how old LEFA really is.
Monapathi himself briefly served in SFEC.
“When the BNP government took over in 1970 they introduced the Lesotho sports council order. Under it there were associations and sports management committees which ran sport.”
The conversation unavoidably turns to Matlama, a club Monapathi has deeply associated with since 1974. And on the subject of Tse Putsoa he is an encyclopaedia of knowledge.
“When you talk of Matlama you are talking about a club that was formed in 1932,” Monapathi says. “At the time the strongest team for a number of years was Bantu, the reason being that the people of Mafeteng used to run very efficient sporting organisations — cricket was played. They were very sophisticated and it made Bantu strong.”
“One of the biggest differences of that time was that the teams were run by civil servants who were very sophisticated administrators in their own right,” he continues.
Matlama at the time played junior fiddle not only to Bantu, but to Linare, Lioli and Majantja. But the boom of Maseru and the stabilisation of management saw Matlama became the country’s biggest team by the late 50’s and “thoroughly dominated” the football scene in the 60’s.
But success hit the rocks hard in the early seventies as Matlama went into its first big crisis brought about by the side’s lack of titles and worse still the failure to qualify for the top four. Maseru, Majantja, Maseru Police and Linare all won titles.
“In the early 70’s Matlama went through a turbulent phase, and when we finished school in 1974 we re-wrote the club’s constitution which had been set in 1966. It is the constitution that is there today,” Monapathi says.
“One of the amendments we made was to reduce the committee from 11 members to seven. The president became chairman, that was the biggest amendment. We wanted to streamline the executive committee to have an effective committee. We also introduced the position of team manager that was almost independent, which is why Matlama have always had very strong teams. Even if the executive struggled we have never had a weak team — it’s very rare.”
“The league was very important, there was also the Gold Dollar cup, there was Top Four and then the league. In those days to get into the top four wasn’t easy at all and Matlama got in every year,” Monapathi says.
“We have always had youth divisions
“And it’s something that would get the committee into trouble if the team didn’t get into the top four.
“It was seen as a sin – it is a sin for our people,” Monapathi says.
Matlama have now become synonymous with chaos.
“That is probably one of the problems now — that the team hasn’t got into the top four,” Monapathi says.
But that’s not the only reason. Matlama has in recent years been associated with chaos.
“Around 15, 10 years ago we began to have a club that was mismanaged with the failure of elections and the executive epitomised by shoddy financial reporting,” Monapathi says.
“One of the causes maybe has been the weakness of supporters’ branches. We no longer relied on supporters, so people withdrew and we were no longer organised as we had been. We had serious mismanagement of funds and elections lost value. Up to 2003 there were elections that were outrightly disorderly,” he says.
Is there any evidence?
“You would have a situation where there were very few people participating in elections, you would have members that were not subscribed voting and you would have drunkenness. There were no reports, just fraud. This has a five-year history or so, climaxing in the situation we had last year,” Monapathi says.
Last December after serious uproar a new committee had to be ushered in.
“I don’t know exactly what happened but you could see that there was the formation of factions, some from Sea Point, some from Thamae, and young people began to dominate elections because they were ordered to do so by their factions. It reached the peak of corrupt practices,” Monapathi says. “Maybe you cannot call it corruption but there was chaos. There was something that was unusual in electioneering.
“One of the of serious problems was that a committee would be elected but it would not manage a quorum,” Monaphati says. “There was no consensus so that a committee that would work together. That shows that there was outright chaos and a serious lack of communication. This committee had to do a patch work inviting people that were not even in the committee – they were co-opted.”
January 2009 saw an upturn in form for Matlama but it didn’t last long and the side ultimately missed out on the top four.
“The team did pick up but as a result of the in-fighting there were always going to be problems. These problems started typically with a situation where the president was sought to be dismissed, in turn he and others sought to dismiss others. This was a problematic situation that made teams to not even get in the (top four) finals,” Monapathi says.
“The committee said it was in control when it was not. People started factions. It was as simple as that,” Monapathi says.
When the situation reached boiling point a petition was drafted in July to elect a new committee. The committee was against elections.
“We managed to calm down the situation. The general secretary of the committee (Ikarabele Sello) wanted to resign.
“The result of Sello resigning meant that we had three people being left in the committee and the quorum of Matlama is five. They had been less than five for a month because others had resigned,” he says
“The president had lost control and the people who were against him went out to provoke him.
“Sello resigned and the president declared the meeting closed. When he had said that he was closing the meeting we had two choices either there was a fight and there was bloodshed or we were going to have no team. These were people who had lost control, who were below quorum so we decided to appoint an interim committee — we took the risk,” he says.
The committee has been operating for the past six months.
For now the stormy seas seem to have calmed. A new committee and a new season mean a chance for change for Matlama. But for any endeavour to succeed the law has to be adhered to, says Monapathi.