When former Life Fighters beanpole defender Eliah Tjazerua, aka ‘Okahirona’, was a young boy growing up in the dusty streets of Orwetoverni, Otjowarongo’s largest residential area for Bantus (darkies), during the 1960s, he was like all other boys at the time in the neighbourhood, football crazy.
The soft-spoken calculated skinny lad would play football at the slightest provocation, be it on his way to the grocery shop, during lunch break at the nearby Herero Primary School and after school with boyhood buddies until the old lady calls.
“My most cherished football memory is without an iota of doubt when I was promoted to Life Fighters first team while I was hardly out of my pair of shorts.
“I think I was doing Standard Six (Grade 8) at the time,” recalls the retired lanky centre back, who enjoyed a successful managerial career as shrewd team manager upon retirement from competitive football.
Together with wily mentor Ngaa Katjiuongua, one the most under-rated football brains in domestic football, the pair masterminded the astonishing rise of Okahirona’s golden generation, the Oscar Tjikurunda-inspired outfit at the turn of the 20th century.
Ohahirona surprised friend and foe when the purple and white strip Otjiwarongo outfit reached two Namibia Football Association NFA Cup finals in succession, only to stumble at the final hurdle against Orlando Pirates and Chief Santos, respectively.
New Era Sport caught up with the tall and likeable bearded defender, as he relived his long and winding journey in the world of football and how his uncompromising political stance landed him in hot water with local authorities, leading to his expulsion from Okakarara Senior Secondary School in only his first year.
Carlos ‘CK’ Kambaekwa
Okakarara-Born Eliah Tjazerua in the Okaepe enclave near Okakarara in the vast Otjozondjupa Region on the 14th of March 1958, young Eliah was destined to become a noted athlete.
After all, his elder siblings Rudy and Percy ‘Sledge’ Tjazerua, distant cousins Sergius Kazonduki and Sadrag ‘Zico’ Tjazerua were formidable footballers with Otjiwarongo outfit Life Fighters, Hungry Lions and African Stars Football Clubs, respectively.
Though Percy was generally regarded as the most talented amongst the sports crazy Tjazerua siblings, Eliah was slowly making inroads into sports and was a noted athlete at primary school, excelling in both the long distance road races and longjump in the track and field athletics.
Like many other young boys his age, the beautiful game of football always enjoyed preference. The boys would compete fiercely in the closely contested popular ten goals street games, “five halftime and ten hooray”.
“We used to play football at any given time with my boyhood buddies, such as Five Kandingua, John Kake, Tolla Munjaro, Daniel, Percy Tjazerua and many other young boys from the neigbourhood,” he recalls.
The tall defender rose to prominence when he went to further his schooling at the Okakakarara Technical College (OTC).
Sadly, the brother was soon expelled from Okakarara Senior Secondary School, because of his involvement in politics and for challenging authorities over the despised Bantu education system, including an assortment of discriminatory laws systematically designed to keep the country’s original inhabitants (blacks) at a disadvantage.
It was while at the revered Okakakarara Technical College (OTC) that young Eliah was to unleash his full potential as a formidable defender. There were two equally highly competitive football clubs at the hostel, namely Young Life and Manchester United.
“Some of my teammates were former parliamentarian Killus Nguvauva, Fuzzy Semba, Sergius Tjazerua and the late Otjiherero radio announcer Mupaine. We used to compete in mini tournaments against local and sometimes visiting teams and I tell you the competition was quite tough in those days”.
Upon completion of his studies, Eliah found employment in the city of lights (Windhoek) with government and while a sizeable chunk of his former teammates at OTC, the likes of Kallie Bilhawer, Eleazer Kapi Ngatjiisiue, Bernard Newman and others, joined local teams Hungry Lions and African Stars, respectively, Eliah would have none of that.
The tallish defender stayed put and would hit the 224-long kilometre road to travel up north to turn out for his beloved team Life Fighters ‘Okahirona’ for league matches on weekends.
Although he was not training with his teammates, Eliah kept his place in the Okahirona’s uncompromising rearguard, manning the defense alongside the ever skillful Leva Ngavetene, Jatjinda ‘Yster Katenda’ Kahingunga, Joe Shaduka, Oubaas Pogisho and former African Stars/Blue Waters stalwart Julius ‘Zenzeni’ Stephanus.
“I used to train on my own in Windhoek after hours and would do lots of roadwork, because football demanded fitness back in the day. Reflecting on our time in football, there was no money in the game, but footballers were very committed, dedicated, disciplined and above all, extremely loyal towards their respective teams.
A one-club man, Eliah politely declined persistent and unwanted approaches from Katutura outfit Hungry Lions, as the giant-killers tried everything in the book of tricks to persuade him to jump ship and join his former teammates from OTC, Kallie Billhawer and Eleazer Ngatjiisiue.
Eliah would not budge and remained stuck with his beloved purple and white striped outfit until he called it quits when he started becoming a bit long in the tooth.
History would reveal that there has been little love lost between Life Fighters and bitter rivals African Stars ‘Starlile’. The rivalry dates back to the days of the hotly contested popular annual Ovaherero Knockout Cup hosted by Okahirona in the 70s, a tournament strictly contested by Ovaheroro-speaking football teams.
Apart from hosts Life Fighters, other participating teams were; Africana Stars Flames, (Windhoek) Black Beauty Chiefs (BBC – Okahandja) Red Bees (Tsumeb), Sunshine (Gobabis) African Stars (Otavi), Poison Arrows (Grootfontein), Scorpions (Omaruru) and Red Fire (Walvis-Bay).
Under the despised South African regime, football clubs were established along tribal lines until the intervention of smart emerging politicians, who called for the abolition of exclusive football tourneys that unconsciously promoted tribalism.
Unlike many of his peers who upon retirement turned their backs on the game that made them household names, Eliah remained with his beloved ‘Okahirona’ and became team manager when he hung up his trusted Adidas togs.
The tough-tackling defender took up a managerial position with the club and oversaw several generations as the club went into transformation with a number of highly gifted youngsters roped in to steer the ship in the right direction. His experience and expertise certainly paid dividends when he steered the resurgent young Okahirona outfit to two consecutive appearances in the coveted NFA Tafel Lager Cup in 2001 and 2003.
The father of seven is happily hitched to his lovely spouse and currently holds the plum position of chief works inspector at the Ministry of Works in Otjiwarongo.