Mochudi — How Radio Botswana finally agreed to broadcast football matches outside Gaborone live and how the station stopped interrupting live coverage of such games for the sake of religion for decades can now be revealed 20 years after pressure on the management to bring the game to the people through airwaves became insurmountable.
It was none other than President Lt Gen. Dr Seretse Khama Ian Khama who made it happen and to whom credit should go as he goes on retirement in the next few days.
Before then, previous management at "the station at the heart of the nation" had, despite repeated requests from their staff members, not found it necessary to extend live coverage of football games to areas outside the capital.
But there were some sports commentators who for the love of the game occasionally visited areas such as Lobatse and Mochudi at the weekend to record proceedings of football games using Uher tape recorders for the programme "Tsa Metshameko" which was aired on Mondays at 8pm in the evening.
This means that the results of games played on a Saturday were relayed to the public 48 hours after the game.
Although what they brought to the people was not live broadcast, it helped fill the gap.
Patrick Masimolole was one of those sports commentators. In one incident in Mochudi, a dog added spice to the game when it entered the field during a highly charged encounter between local rivals, Mochudi Rovers and Centre Chiefs.
Play went on for a couple of minutes without the referee stopping it to give the dog a red card. Masimolole focused his attention on the dog's participation while commentating.
It was the scoop of the day as the amazing dog avoided biting players but simply fought for procession of the ball without taking sides.
The dog left the pitch and walked confidently into the crowd when the ball was out of play.
Furthermore, Sunday live broadcast of games in Gaborone was conditional.
The condition was that the game should end before 6pm because that was the time allocated to "Tirelo Ya Tshipi," a Radio Botswana church service programme.
Government journalists and sports commentators had in the past requested for flexibility stating that in the event a football match proceeding beyond 6pm the live broadcast should not be interrupted to accommodate the needs of football fans who were eager to know the results instantly. That was also rejected by the management.
Things changed for the better in 1998 when President Khama appeared in the political scene as a non-parliamentarian cabinet minister pending the conclusion of a bye-election in the Serowe North constituency.
Roy Blackbeard had created a vacancy in that constituency by resigning his parliamentary seat.
Soon after joining politics, Lt Gen. Khama was appointed Minister for Presidential Affairs and Public Administration. Luckily, the Department of Information and Broadcasting fell under his portfolio responsibility.
It was during his familiarisation visit to the department that sports commentators like Sakaiyo Jani ceased the opportunity and presented their frustrations to him as their last hope.
The director of the department, Ted Makgekgenene was in high spirits welcoming Lt Gen. Khama with broad smiles and the fact that he would not take the minister around the premises because as he once stayed there when the building was the State House, he was familiar with its surroundings.
Lt Gen. Khama responded with a smile as well.
Makgekgenene was unaware that a ferocious attack on his and past administrations' attitude towards live broadcast of football games was about to be launched by his junior staff.
The view of sports writers and commentators had always been that while the church was important, it was erroneous on the part of the management at the department to elevate the status of religion above that of football.
There were those who felt that most nations were popular because of their footballing skills and not because of the Bible and not even due to that country's economic power or anything else.
Lt Gen. Khama did not disappoint. When he responded to reporters' presentations, he simply said he too had been wondering why live coverage of football games by the radio was none existent in the country-side and why games staged in Gaborone were interrupted every Sunday when the duration of the game proceeded beyond 6pm.
"My understanding is that this is not Radio Gaborone. It is Radio Botswana and should provide service to Batswana and not a section of them. This thing of interrupting coverage of Sunday games annoys people. Just imagine the frustration of football fans in Maun who had been listening to a match commentator live on the radio and suddenly the radio abandons the broadcast and the priest starts preaching," he said.
He said those Maun football fans could not necessarily be supporters of the teams playing at that time.
But they could be supporters of other teams which were in competition with those teams which were on the field on that day and the fans wanted to immediately know how the outcome of the game affected teams of their choice.
Lt Gen. Khama did not issue direct instructions but his response was a clear message to the management team that a change of attitude towards football was necessary.
But his comments were interpreted by the management at the Department of Information and Broadcasting as an instruction as seen by the speed with which changes were put in place by the management team.
Lt Gen. Khama's visit to the department was on a Tuesday.
Interestingly, the following Saturday, Radio Botswana was in Selebi Phikwe bringing the game live to the people. As if that was by design, a week later a game at the National Stadium in Gaborone had to go for extra-time.
At 6pm, the radio station did not air "Tirelo Ya Tshipi" programme as usual. Instead the continuity officer announced that "due to the ongoing game at the National Stadium, the programme, Tirelo Ya Tshipi will be delayed until after the game."
The programme was aired later during the time for "Dipina le Dikitsiso."
No newspaper ever reported on this major changes taking place at Radio Botswana. Journalists at the department perhaps considered the issue an internal matter or not newsworthy at the time.
The euphoria which had greeted Lt Gen. Khama's nationwide tour bidding Batswana farewell and the nation in turn showering him with praise for having introduced popular programmes such as the housing appeal, poverty eradication, youth and agricultural programmes and many others, enticed those who had closely worked with the general as a politician to look back at what he did for the department with which one was associated throughout his public service days.
It is because of that 1998 visit to the department that Radio Botswana and Botswana Television are able today to bring games from anywhere in the world live to the people.
But the attitude of management at the radio station towards sports prior to the emergence of Lt Gen. Khama in the scene was not an isolated incident.
It had been the culture throughout the entire public service that football was one of those things which did not matter much as indicated by budget allocation of the National Sports Council by the then Ministry of Home Affairs.
It had to be shared by the various sporting codes affiliated to the council yet it was too small to run a single football club.
The inactivity of Radio Botswana in the game during those days resulted with Batswana turning to the then South African radio station, Radio Bantu which later became Radio Setswana and now Motsweding FM because it brought football games live to its people without a limit.
In the process, South African teams and players became popular in Botswana at the expense of local sides.
The influence of that radio station on football fans in Botswana was so huge that locals tended to hero worship that country's players more than their own.
Again, nobody in government intervened when the then Botswana National Sports Council chairperson, Chris Dambe admonished national team football players for requesting appearance fee for their game against visiting Russian champions at the Gaborone Hotel in 1979.
Dambe had been brought in by Botswana Football Association officials to deal with the players' request.
Undiplomatically, Dambe told the players, "banna I am told you want to be paid for playing, just for playing. I have come here to tell you that I am not Kaizer Motaung I am Chris Dambe.
He who wants payment for playing, I repeat, for playing football should approach Kaizer Motaung with that request.
That is what Kaizer Motaung does, not me Chris Dambe" adding that, "Kaizer/Motaung is not far away from here, he is just across the border."
When it was thought he was done, Dambe looked around the room as if he was having second thoughts.
He spotted a player from Mochudi Rovers and said to the player, "and you too young man, young and innocent looking as you are, I am going to tell Chief (Linchwe II) that you were among the players who wanted to be paid just for playing football."
Among those in the squad were Solar "Ace" Mokgadi, Willie Dannison, Rammala "Rider" Sekobye, Banks Masala, Super Dinala and Kwapeng "OB" Modikwe.
Source : BOPA