It’s not every now and then that one would find aspiring footballers adopting the sacred name of the legendary Brazilian football genius, one Edson Arantes Donascimento, alias ‘Pele’. So far, Namibia has had quite a few footballers going by that famous name, but three names immediately spring to mind.
Herman ‘Pele’ Blaschke, Pius ‘Pele’ Eigowab, aka Garrincha, and the late medical practitioner Dr Pieter ‘Pele’ Damaseb, were exceptional footballers in their own right and certainly lived up to the demands of their top billing.
However, ‘Kaffertjie’, as Blaschke was affectionately known, was a phenomenal athlete during his heydays with coastal outfit Atlanta Chiefs, bamboozling opposing defenders with amazing speed and penetration not seen before in our neck of the woods.
The winger formed a deadly combination with the bow-legged Ruben Kamulu, Issy Kamara and Kaningandu Masilo in the late sixties. Other footballers of note that had the privilege to play alongside Pele in the star-studded Atlanta Chiefs lineup were Efraim Hangala, Alpheus Gaweseb and Hanga Namupala.
From the moment young Pele started kicking plastic balls in the streets of the Laeveld suburb of Khomasdal in Windhoek – a township previously reserved for the coloured community – the energetic Kaffertjie showed talent way beyond his years and was soon turning out for Khomasdal club Thistles. Here Pele would rub shoulders with the likes of Fritzie Poulton, Edward Morgenroth, Nimrod Williams, Hobby Brocherhoff and younger brother Gustav ‘Ou Reus’ Blaschke.
He also enjoyed sporadic spells with the Flames and Black Africa, where he cut his teeth with the likes of Benjamin Tibinyane, Bethuel Hochoeb, Corrie Uri-Khob, Stu Damaseb, Pius Eigowab, Hassie Mingeri, Hubert Mootseng and the late Albert Louw.
It was at Atlanta Chiefs where Pele rose to prominence, leading the firing line during the seasiders’ campaign in the then popular annual Easter football tourney in Tsumeb, way back in 1969.
“When the legendary South African ball juggler Percy Moloi came to Namibia at the invitation of Etosha Lions, under the shrewd stewardship of late football guru Herbert Conradie, Pele was thrown into the mix and certainly announced his arrival in domestic football with a near faultless display.
“Eish! We played the match of our lives against the hosts on that particular day, leaving the football loving fans going as far as requesting a rematch – to which we duly obliged,” Pele recalled with a twinkle in his eyes. “That was an exhibition match second to none, because I was even requested to swap sides with Chippa, who was playing for the hosts.”
Pele’s big break arrived by public demand after the South West Africa (SWA) Invitation Eleven was given a thorough roasting by the visiting Kaizer Eleven at a packed to rafters Katutura Stadium in 1969. The fans demanded the inclusion of Atlanta Chiefs’ terrible twins, Pele and Ruby, prompting football officials to retreat to Swakopmund after darkness set in to fetch the pair in a desperate effort to salvage some lost pride.
“We should have been in that team in the first place, but you know mos football politics in those days. Our initial exclusion had nothing to do with our playing ability, it was more location-wise because we were not from the city of lights (Windhoek).
“We came up against a very strong Kaizer Eleven and convincingly beat them. The final score was 3-0, and I vividly remember scoring a scorcher from long range that beat my great buddy, Joseph ‘Banks’ Sethlodi, hands down.
“Our squad had very good footballers, such as Martin Williams (Okambua-Kombandi) Tommy Uushona, Benjamin Tibinyane, Ishmael ‘Lemmy’ Narib, Eddy Cloete and dribbling wizard Timo Mwetuyela.”
Soon afterwards, the fired-up SWA Invitational Eleven was invited to tour South Africa for several exhibition matches against top sides that included Giant Aces, Orlando Pirates and Kaizer Eleven.
“We were very tired upon arrival after travelling the long journey by train and lost heavily to Kaizer Eleven 5-1. However, we managed to regroup in our second match and beat Orlando Pirates 3-1.”
The trio of Lemmy, Timo and Tommy played a blinder in that particular match, leading to Pele and Lemmy being signed straight away by the late Ewert Nene, who had an incredible eye for talent.
Aged 21, Pele had to return to Namibia to bid farewell to his family and friends, but his romance with the Soweto glamour club almost turned nasty. “You know what happened?” he asks, and after a long pause laughs… “I chopped the money that Chiefs had given me to pay for my flight ticket to Jo’burg. It took some bravery from Bra K, who traveled all the way to Namibia to come and fetch me.”
It was not long before Oscar Mengo and Pius Eigowab joined the Namibian foreign legion at Chiefs. Pele reckons Mengo could have made the grade at Chiefs had he not become homesick, a claim supported by his wife, Jane, who chipped in to say: “Daai ene was altyd baie stil and wou net heeldag slaap. Yes, I remember him very well. He was a mild mannered young man. I really liked him a lot.”
“My broer! That was the real Kaizer Chiefs. We had great players like our late captain Ariel Kungoane, Gerald Dlamini, Johannes Mofokeng, Eliakim Khumalo, Petros Maphuti, Petros Nzimande, Joseph Sethlodi, Jacky Masike, Michael Dlamini, Zacharia Lamola, Jerry Sadike, Kaizer Motaung and the legendary Patrick ‘Ace’ Ntsoelengoe.”
Such was Chiefs’ popularity that the team went straight into the country’s top league after its formation. “We were just playing friendly games in other townships under the Nigel Association that saw us attracting large crowds – courtesy of our style and entertaining brand of football wherever we played.”
They left established teams, such as Orlando Pirates and Morokka Swallows, struggling to draw crowds, a scenario that did not go down well with the football administrators who literally begged Chiefs to join their league.
“During my stint at Chiefs, I always scored vital goals or played a vital role (assists) in the club’s many goals. We had Ace – to tell you the truth, that boy had a football brain second to none. He could read the game so well. I was also honoured to play alongside Ryder Mofokeng on the right flank, he was making the runs, overlapping non-stop like a mean machine.”
Pele and Ace left Chiefs briefly and signed up with Miami Torros in 1972 after Kaizer had brokered the deal for the team’s most prized assets. However, the pair’s departure had a negative impact on Chiefs’ fortunes, with Pirates starting to dominate proceedings on the domestic front.
“I came back to Chiefs the following year, a move I still regret up to this day considering what I could have earned in those days, but nevertheless, I still have great memories of my days at Chiefs. I’m indeed thankful to people like Ewert Nene and Bra K. He (Kaizer) instilled professionalism into South African football with his vast experience gained while he was playing in the United States of America and that really rubbed off on the rest of the team.”
Whilst enjoying unequalled success on the field, Pele recalls a very nasty incident that almost led him to cross swords with authorities while still playing for Chiefs in the late ‘70’s.
“The late politician Danny Tjongarero came to Jozi and we hooked up as homeboys from Swakopmund, not knowing he was being closely watched and placed under surveillance by the South African intelligence squad, who thought I was also practicing politics. I wanted to deny that I knew Danny, but Chiefs’ management advised me otherwise and I was eventually let off the hook after pleading ignorance.”
Until recently, Pele worked for South Africa Airlink upholstery maintenance department. The late Pele was married to Jane who bore him a son, Sidney, and daughter, Jolene.
May his soul rest in eternal peace.