As we enter the closure of another exciting sporting season, death has struck again taking away from Mother Earth one of Namibia’s most adored footballers of all time.
Just as the Namibian nation was getting to grips with the death of global icon, Nelson ‘Madiba’ Mandela, New Era Sport and the entire Namibian football fraternity was left in utter shock and dismay upon learning about the untimely departure of former Red Fire and African Stars football clubs hard galloping winger Bobby Kazondandona, better known as Hijangueja among his circle of friends, who died in Omaruru earlier this week.
The strongly built Bobby had been unwell for a considerable period after failing to recover sufficiently from a stroke. The late Bobby made a name for himself as a noted footballer in a squad mainly laden with average footballers whose physical appearance resembled wrestlers than footballers.
Bobby formed the spine of the unfashionable Kuisebmond outfit Red Fire and was arguably one of a handful of decent footballers in the squad alongside Mannetjie Tjikune and Ben Tumuna, who captured the imagination of football fans and commanded the respect of fellow players including the opposition with their football skill and know-how of the game.
In today’s edition, New Era Sport pays tribute to this fallen hero who never really fulfilled his full potential on the football pitch despite showing enormous talent during his formative years as a promising footballer.
WINDHOEK – Like many other boys his age, as a toddler Bobby was brought up in a remote village of the Omaruru district and only came to Omaruru at a fairly advanced age.
A gentle giant in the real sense of the word, Bobby’s imposing physique was in total contrast to his genuine personality – a very shy and reserved human being, he was a bloke of very few words and would always let the ball do the talking on the football field as he tormented defenders with his strong runs down the flanks while his canon-like shots left many goalkeepers with fractured fingers.
He was a good dribbler and could shoot from any range, blessed with speed, and could use both feet equally effectively while he was also an excellent passer of the long ball.
In the days when football was played along tribal lines, it was only fitting that young Bobby would throw his weight behind Ozondje’s popular football club Scorpions, a club consisting of predominantly Otjiherero-speaking players in Omaruru’s largest residential area.
Like many of his peers Bobby relocated to Walvis Bay in search of greener pastures where he teamed up with a number of his hometown buddies that included Kudu Tumuna, Karakura Katjita, Hijandama Tjahikika and Ben Tumuna.
In the old days, many black folks would flock to nearby towns in search of job opportunities and hailing from the Omaruru district in the Erongo region would require one to have Walvis Bay or Swakopmund as the preferred destination.
Bobby found himself in the company of enthusiastic young men from Otjimbingwe and Omaruru who descended en masse on the harbour town for work in the fish factories. In the continous absence of proper recreational facilities, Bobby and his newly found buddies would resort to the boxing gym at the township compound everyday after work to keep themselves fit and busy.
He was to become a founding member of the notorious Kuisebmond outfit Red Fire together with boyhood buddies Kudu and Ben. “We only used the boxing gym to while away time and kept ourselves fit punching the boxing bag at random and sparring fiercely against each other, and this is how some of our guys became formidable boxers,” recalls Kudu as he spoke fondly about his former team mate whom he described as a gentle giant.
“Bobby was in and out a true gentleman on and off the field of play and wouldn’t harm a fly despite his huge physique and serious looks. In those days football was not for the faint hearted as many of the matches were won via a combination of physical battles and threats with very little emphasis on skill and technique.”
Although Red Fire never really commanded respect on the football field, the club enjoyed enormous support fron many football followers because of their never-say-die attitude as can be attested by their countless battles with neighbours and arch rivals Blue Waters.
The unfashionable Red Fire was an instant hit at the annual Knockout Cup Tournament hosted by Otjiwarongo based Life Fighters in the mid-seventies. This popular tourney used to attract some of the leading football teams led by African Stars and Flames (both Windhoek), Black Beauty Chiefs (Okahandja) Red Bees (Tsumeb) Okaondeka (Okakarara) and Poison Arrows (Grootfontein).
Bobby spent most of his promising football career at Red Fire cousined by bone-crunching tackles, which made the red and white stripped outfit the most feared team in the business – obviously not for their football prowess, but rather for their aggressive approach to the beautiful game.
Places for starting berths at established clubs such as Explorer Eleven, Eleven Arrows, Namib Woestyn and Blue Waters were very hard to come by. The inevitable formation of Red Fire was a good omen for the action-starved Otjiherero speaking footballers.
Some of the founder members included Jomo Nakanene, Josephat Tjikumbaize, Issy and Hijandama Tjahikika, Ben Tumuna, Isaac Kahatjipara, Kudu Tumuna, Chief Kandonga and Uararere Hindjou. In the conspicuous absence of proper league structures, the club would regularly feature in knockout tournaments in the towns of Omaruru, Arandis, Karibib, Swakopmund, Usakos, Okahandja and Walvis Bay. Red Fire enjoyed mixed fortunes on the playing field until it joined the highly competitive Western Football League and went on to build a repertoire with what would become their traditional rivals African Stars and Hungry Lions.
Matches against the Windhoek based teams brought the best out of both sets of players as they fought for tribal supremacy. “We had some great footballers in our squad and the likes of Jomo Nakanene, Samani Kamerika and Mbundundu Tjombe were excellent athletes who could compete equally against some of the finest players on offer,” recalls Bobby’s former team-mate Mannetjie Tjikune.
“The competition used to be extremely tough in those days as every team in the business, be it small or big, always had one or two great players in their armoury but the good thing was all the players were selected on merit only with no favouritism,” adds Mannetjie.
In 1980, Bobby relocated to the city of lights and joined the star-studded African Stars under the stewardship of the club’s legendary player coach, Oscar ‘Silver Fox’ Mengo.
Although he struggled to carve himself a place in the starting line-up, Bobby was in the starting line-up when Stars demolished the now defunct Khomasdal based outfit Strangers by 16 unanswered goals past the great shot stopper Ronald in the opening match of the Central Football Association Division One League.
Playing on the left wing, Bobby also got his name to the score sheet on that particular afternoon but ironically that result put paid to the existence of Strangers as the club resolved to undertake the path of the dinosaur straight after that humiliating defeat and never to resurface again. The late Bobby will be laid to rest at his home village, Ovihitua, in the Oamruru district tomorrow morning. May his soul rest in eternal peace.
By Carlos ‘CK’ Kambaekwa