Botswana: BFA Gives Ismail Bhamjee a Hero's Send-Off

Former Botswana Football Association (BFA) and COSAFA president, Ismail Bhamjee was given a heroes send off in memorial service on Thursday that was attended by distinguished Botswana and regional sports administrators at the National Stadium in Gaborone.

Among the dignitaries were Minister of Youth Empowerment, Sport and Culture Development (MYSC), Tumiso Rakgare, BFA President Maclean Letshwiti, former BFA president David Fani, Botswana National Olympic Committee (BNOC) President Colonel Botsang Tshenyego, COSAFA General Secretary Sue Destombes, and former FIFA development officer for Eastern and Southern Africa Ashford Mamelodi.

Bhamjee died on March 12 and was laid to rest on the same day.

Letshwiti said the Bhamjee was a pioneer and founding father of Botswana sport, adding that hiscore footprint across the world was synonymous with football.

"Bhamjee has set the bar very high for any Motswana to achieve his accolades," Letshwiti said."Having started as a referee in football, he meticulous worked his way up the ladder to the FA presidency, then COSAFA president, and serving in CAF and FIFA executive roles.

"The life of Bhamjee is celebrated. However, death has robbed us of a true soldier. Bhamjee,together with Ashford Mamelodi, set up structures at BFA and brought in the late Ben Koufie to improve coaching education in Botswana.

"It was his vision that footballed need a technical expert to move forward. Subsequently, the Zebras' maiden 2012 AFCON qualification can also be attributed to his contribution.

"We are grateful to the Bhamjee family for allowing football to take up so much of his time, for the development the game in our country."

In his early years in Botswana, Bhamjee formed BNOC along with his board that comprised of former vice-president, the late Lt Gen Mompati Merafhe, and thus it was befitting for the BNOC president Colonel Botsang Tshenyego to remember their founding father. Tshenyego said Bhamjee was the last surviving of the 14 founding members of the BNOC.

"I met Bhamjee as the BNOC President and we exchanged visions. At his age, he was still oozing confidence, ready to help anyway he could. He was a selfless man. An icon for Botswana.

"I encourage the secretariat of the BNOC, my board to patriotically give remembrance of our fallen hero," said Tshenyego.

For her part, when remembering Bhamjee, Destombes described the administrator as a true football servant who worked tirelessly to improve the regional COSAFA tournament. She said Bhamjee's contribution was immense.

"I first met Bhamjee in 1996 at the AFCON hosted in South Africa and from the onset I knew he was a staunch football administrator par excellence. He conceptualised a regional tournament, what is now the COSAFA Cup, and we have become a household name in the region and Africa.

"We are deeply saddened by his depature. Bhamjee was generous with his knowledge of football, and he shared his experiences with all those who worked with him," Destombes said.

A former friend of Bhamjee and veteran football administrator, Mamelodi described his colleague as a selfless, God-fearing man and a hard worker. He said Bhamjee marketed BFA beyond measure, sometimes at his personal expense. He said it was therefore by no mistake that Bhamjee became the first man to serve in the FIFA executive committee in Southern Africa.

"It was through his efficiency that Bhamjee accelerated to positions he held in football leadership. He was an epitome of success for Botswana football. He wanted everyone around him to succeed. Personally, he pushed me to achievements I have managed in football and I remain indebted to his school of knowledge," said Mamelodi.

Meanwhile, Botswana's football coaches, represented by Philemon Makgwenkgwe, described Bhamjee as a persuasive character who birthed coaching education at the time when football was just for leisure in the country.

"It was a through the leadership of Bhamjee that he saw that without technical advice, the BFA wouldn't improve and he brought the experts for mindset change.

"His philosophy then exponentially rubbed down the chain to school teachers becoming coaches. He developed a strategy that started coaching courses and I am proud inductee of Bhamjee's legacy," recalled Makgwenkgwe.

Minister Rakgare also took to the podium and said he was privileged that in his previous life, he was a journalist and had interactions with the late administrator.

"Bhamjee had a long career in football and sport in general. He served in various international bodies, a true testimony of a true compatriot. He was also a businessman as he knew how to balancethe both.

"Football nowadays is run like a business and this shows that Bhamjee was ahead of his time, his vision was artistic. We will continue to celebrate his life and take the baton," said Rakgare.

Bhamjee's grandson and namesake Ismail said they are saddened by his untimely passing. He described his grandfather as hero.

"I have learnt so many lessons from him. Most of all was his huge heart, he was constantly helping people. He loved Botswana. He moved to Botswana in 1974. He loved football. We talked football every time, he would go and watch lower divisions in the dusty field and to him it was for the love of sport.

"It was his passion. He was unbelievable. He has left a huge gap in our lives and of the people he helped. He was our pillar," Ismail said.

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