Any footballer lucky enough to have worn the gold and white strip of exciting Katutura outfit Explorer Eleven (Ovispoele) FC, would certainly be deserving of a special mention.
Truth be told, the club was the first ever multi-cultural sports entity during the South African apartheid regime. It attracted highly talented footballers from all groups, including the slightly more privileged Coloureds.
Just the mere mention of Werrick ‘Uerivara’ Zimmer, Floyd Maharero, Coloured Kakololo, Paul Willemse, George Kanima Hoveka, Timotheus Mwetuyela, John Swarts, Cleophas Siseva Siririka, aka ‘Danger’, as well as the Kariko siblings Zorro and Joe, would be enough to send butterflies running riot in the bellies of any opposition.
A small-framed afro-haired attacking midfielder (Number 10) christened Urbanus Kauru Billhawer, found himself among a galaxy of stars led by the legendary Times Mwetuyela.
He was described as a “complete footballer, blessed with pace and a delicious left foot,” by former Etosha Lions utility defender and incumbent Namibian Head of State Dr Hage Geingob.
Sadly, Kauru exited the game of life in a Windhoek hospital last week. New Era Sport thought it good to revisit the life of this forgotten football icon.
Urbanus Kauru Billhawer was born and bred in the Copper Town of Tsumeb in 1948 and his flirtation with the spherical object started as a toddler in the dusty streets of Tsumeb’s old location.
By the time he started his schooling at the town’s Rhenisch Primary School for natives (Bantus) – he was already comfortable with a football at his tiny feet.
He played with childhood buddies Albert Louw, Ono Koutondokwa and Phillip Ipinge at school before he was lured to Black Pirates FC, where he teamed up with Alex Kaveru, the Apere siblings Martin, Piet and Veiko.
“In the absence of organised structures, we mostly competed against other local teams that included Etosha Lions, Rangers and Ndundu Football Club in exhibition games and mini-cup tourneys,” recalled the late pocket-sized former Red Bees attacking midfielder when New Era Sport paid him a visit at his hometown, Tsumeb, in 2011.
He relocated to Windhoek to further his schooling at the predominantly Coloured school, Ella Du Plessis High School, holed up in Khomasdal, only to find himself isolated as rugby took centre stage at the school.
Kauru had to look elsewhere to be able to bang in the goals with his feet, rather than chasing an oval-shaped ball.
The pop star look-alike Kauru joined the newly formed untouchable Katutura-based outfit Explorer Eleven and wasted little time, as he quickly established himself as a gifted goal-poacher alongside former homeboy, Times Mwetuyela, in the star-studded line up.
Upon his return to his native Tsumeb, Kauru and other boyhood buddies formed the famous Red Bees FC. The team was made up of predominantly Ovaherero and Oshiwambo-speaking athletes under the stewardship of late football guru Felix Kakuenje and northern business mogul Issy Kahungi.
“Apart from playing against teams from the Maize Triangle, we used to compete fiercely in various knockout cup tourneys in Walvis Bay and Windhoek and were also regular campaigners at the popular annual Ovaherero Cup.
“Our team would always reach the semi-finals of many of the knockout tourneys we took part in, but never managed to lay our hands on any notable silverware during the club’s existence,” he recalled.
Back in the day, almost every football side had an extraordinary player in their armoury and Kauru was to Red Bees what Mwetuyela was to Tigers, as Oscar Mengo was to African Stars, Archie Ochurub (Chief Santos), Lemmy Narib (Orlando Pirates), Albert Louw (Black Africa), /Nerab Gariseb (Jungle Boys/Ramblers Kat), Gabes Mupupa (Eleven Arrows) and Orlando Damaseb (Chelsea) were to their respective teams.
Without an iota of doubt, Kauru was undoubtedly the shining star at the unfashionable Red Bees. The nimble-footed attacking midfielder tormented teams with his clever little runs into the penalty box and goal-poaching instincts, complimented by phenomenal close ball control, while his dribbling skills were second to none.
He later moved to Otjiwarongo to join forces with Life Fighters, where he found himself in the company of gifted footballers, led by bulky shot-stopper Alphons Tjikoriho Njembo, the Kuhanga brothers Kaputji and Seadog, Kanomora Ngavetene, Skelly Kavetuna, Jaez Mbakera, Pottie Mbarandongo, George Kausto and Abe Katire.
After a short stint in the attractive purple and white colours of Okahirona, Kauru retreated to Tsumeb to rejoin his former team, Red Bees, for a brief period before his former mentor Felix Kakuenje came knocking on his door.
His next stop was Windhoek, where he was to become a vital cog in the attacking line of Flames FC. Kakuenje dangled a juicy carrot in front of young Kauru to join the newly established green and gold outfit with the prospect of touring Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe).
Kauru packed his bags and headed to the city of lights, where he was to mingle with the crème de la crème of domestic football.
Amongst his new teammates on the rebel tour to Rhodesia (Zimbabwe) were Asser Mbai, Oscar Mengo, Leviticus ‘Karretjie’ Hindjou, Willy ‘Garrincha’ Katire, Albert Louw, Brown Amwenye, Albert Tjihero, Kaputji Kuhanga, Paul Kaurimuje, Simon Nujoma, Kanepi ‘Half Jack’ Amutjira and Edward ‘Utjo’ Semba.
Kauru became a valuable member of the Flames side during that team’s famous win over eternal rivals African Stars in the final of the annual Ovaherero Cup at Otjiwarongo. On loan Spoilers FC striker Gotty Geiseb scored a stunning winner in the dying minutes of the match.
That victory led to the famous terminology: “Vlamme, Vlamme, Jateja Ozondavi,” which was coined tongue-in-cheek by the late Nguendu Maxie Mbaha, simply meaning “the Flames chopped down the big tree leaves on the queen’s tongue”.
Kauru would always represent the Northern Invitation Eleven in exhibition matches against the Central, West and Southern teams. His football prowess took him to Okakarara in later years, where he joined a local team to pass on his vast experience to the many raw, but highly talented footballers in the area.
Yet it was not long before he developed itchy feet again. A painter by profession, his work took him to the remote enclave of Opuwo in the Kunene Region. He immediately became the toast of the far northwest town after he joined Opuwo Chiefs FC in the final stages of his flourishing football career.
Eventually he moved to back Windhoek, but at that juncture he had already lost interest in the game and resolved to quit football forever.
Kauru opened up about his glory days on the football pitch with a pinch of regret. He strongly believed that had Namibian Independence come a bit earlier – he and many others could have easily played professional football on foreign soil.
“Our playing style was quite entertaining and extremely competitive, unlike modern football which is boring to watch. Nowadays footballers are not gifted and lack commitment.
“In my time I would take five penalties alone slotting them in with the precision of a seasoned butcher, whereas footballers these days would miserably miss spot-kicks like they were going out of fashion,” he famously said.
“Etosha Lions used to be our biggest enemy. That side was loaded with exceptional footballers in their midst. It was always very difficult to play and win against them,” he readily acknowledged.
He was adamant that athletes in the mould of Tommy Uushona and Nangi ‘Watch’ Nickel were footballers capable of winning matches with a single moment of individual brilliance.