History reveals that 1977 was the year when the inevitable introduction of multi racial football came about in the then apartheid South West Africa (SWA), but 1985 would be best remembered as the year when domestic football took a dramatic turn.
The country’s leading football clubs wanted a change of guard with radical innovation introduced into the game and resolved to sever ties with the country’s football governing body SWAFA – much to the chagrin of the authorities.
A rebel league was formed but players from the breakaway teams were declared ineligible for selection to the national football side.
It was back to square one, since the newly formed predominantly white league, the Amateur Soccer Association (ASA), became the only recognised football entity in the country under the auspices of SWAFA.
The authorities also denied the newly formed rebel league the use of municipal facilities, but a timely intervention by local football guru Bobby Sissing rescued the situation.
The streetwise hippy-look-alike, uncle Bob, managed to smooth talk the militant coloured authorities in the second tier government to make the Khomasdal field available for NSSL matches.
In today’s edition, New Era Sports takes you our esteemed reader down memory lane with a look at the formation of the NSSL, including an overview of what led to the breakaway.
Carlos ‘CK’ Kambaekwa
Windhoek-Back in the day, Namibia, the territory previously known as South West Africa (SWA), or South Africa’s fifth province, had for some strange reasons always been ahead of big brother.
The country attained its Independence from apartheid South Africa in 1990 – exactly fours years before South Africa achieved freedom.
On the sporting front, Namibia abolished segregation across all sporting disciplines in 1977, a year before her colonisers introduced multi-racial football in South Africa.
The inevitable introduction of multi racial football in the then apartheid SWA brought athletes of mixed race together, but discrimination was still rife since the top tiers of football administration remained in white hands.
Katutura giants Orlando Pirates under the shrewd guidance of no-nonsense retired fullback Dios ‘Zebo’ Engelbrecht won the 2nd edition of the annual Mainstay Cup.
The Doc Hartley inspired Ghosts went on to defend the coveted trophy successfully the following season – only to be denied by a green table rule (boardroom decision).
The Ghosts defeated SKW, a club predominantly made up of local Germans, 5-3 in extra time after the match ended in a 3 all stalemate in regulation time at the newly built Windhoek stadium in 1979.
However, the Buccaneers arrived 45-minutes late for the kick off and though the match was allowed to go ahead, officials resolved to declare SKW the winner as punishment for the Ghosts’ coming late.
The majority of the black teams did not take the decision kindly, and it left an unhealed wound in domestic football for years to come.
A few years later, another Katutura team Pirates (Dolam) was summarily kicked out of all football related activities for life.
The expulsion came after some of their players physically assaulted referee Martin Kehrmann during an official match against Black Africa at the Windhoek show grounds.
Katutura glamour football club African Stars won the double in the inaugural edition of multiracial football in the then SWA – leaving cross town rivals Ramblers to pick up the pieces for the runners up spot in both the national league play offs and the coveted Mainstay Cup in 1977.
In the interim, the composition of the provincial football team for the annual South African Provincial tourney, the Currie Cup held every August, would raise eyebrows with some of the finest talent on offer always left out of the travelling entourage.
However, the last straw on the camel’s back came in 1985 when eight of the country’s most prominent clubs led by Katutura giants African Stars, Black Africa, Orlando Pirates and Tigers severed ties with the influential Central Football Association League (CFA) under the auspices of South West Africa Football Association (SWAFA).
Coastal representatives, Blue Waters and Eleven Arrows as well as Northern giants Benfica and Chelsea were roped in to form the breakaway elite league, the Namibia Super Soccer League (NSSL) in 1985.
The newly formed league hit the ground running – attracting masses to their matches. Amongst the issues that prompted the clubs to seek greener pastures elsewhere was the league’s stance that it would keep all gate takings from league matches.
Tigers won the maiden edition of the NSSL league and to rub salt into the wound, the country’s controlling football body, SWAFA resolved to exclude players plying their trade in the rebel league from selection to the SWA provincial team.
As a result, new pairs of legs were fielded to compete in the final of the biannual South African Provincial Impala Cup for Natives (Bantus).
SWA won the cup for the second time following their victory in Johannesburg in 1974, when the under-strength team defeated Transkei 2-0 at the old Katutura stadium in 1985.
Active footballers successfully masterminded the breakaway league despite all the odds stacked against them, and as they say, the rest is history.
They achieved this under the stewardship of Oscar Mengo, Five Hochobeb and Rusten Mogane joined by club officials-cum-politicians in the shape of the late pair of Daniel Tjongarero and Rapama Kamehozu as well as Stanley Kozonguizi and Johnny Akwenye.
They increased the league to 12 teams the following year when both Hungry Lions and Young Ones jumped ship from the weakened CFA, while coastal side Explorer Eleven with Tsumeb based Chief Santos also joined the fray to complete the line-up.
Starved of provincial competition, the league would resort to organising high profile exhibition matches against strong visiting teams from neighbouring South Africa.
Ironically, South African clubs also followed suit and broke away from the country’s football governing body (SANFA), to form the National Professional Soccer League (NPSL) the same year the NSSL was established.
Whereas the top teams here at home were in unison when it came to a breakaway league, divisions existed in the South African Professional Football League.
Rebellious players formed their own teams, modelled on their former teams, leading to the birth of Ace Mates (Kaizer Chiefs), The Birds (Moroka Swallows) and a breakaway faction of Soweto giants Orlando Pirates.
Ageing Kaizer Chiefs midfield kingpin Ace Ntoesolengoe and a few of his past their sell-by-date teammates including long serving midfield partner Jan ‘Malombo’ Lechaba and former bulky defender at Benoni United Ben Ntuli formed Ace Mates.
The Swallows defectors, Aubrey ‘The Great’ Makgopela, Frederick ‘Congo’ Malebane, Joe ‘Ace’ Mnini, Samuel ‘Happy Cow’ Nkomo and Aaron ‘Roadblock’ Makhathini formed their own team, baptised The Birds.
Sadly, there were catastrophic consequences in the South Africa setup after Moroka Swallows defender Aaron ‘Roadblock’ Makhathini was gunned down and killed during that senseless period.
In the same month, on March 22, another painful event unfolded at Ellis Park stadium when a bunch of knife wielding fellows surrounded Orlando Pirates’ official China Hlongwane in the centre of the pitch.
The gang plunged their deadly “oukapies” into bro China’s bulky frame drawing blood every time they withdrew their bloodied blades.
Soon afterwards, Durban outfit Bush Bucks and Ace Mates visited the country for exhibition matches against local invitational sides with footballers drawn from teams campaigning in the competitive NSSL.
By the time The Birds arrived in Windhoek for two exhibition matches against invitational sides, including the strong NSSL Eleven, the visitors wore black armbands in remembrance of slain defender ‘Roadblock’.
Both Black Africa and Orlando Pirates supplied the bulk of the players in that particular squad with four each followed by Hungry Lions (3) African Stars, Blue Waters (2 each) and Tigers (1).
That era also saw history in the making when two brothers Lesley and Justice Basson played in the same representative side against the visitors from across the Orange River.
While Makgopela bossed the midfield, Doc also made his presence felt as he ran rings around the visitors’ plucky defence – weakened by the tragic death of ‘Roadblock’.
Not even the conspicuous absence of Ace Mnini could dampen the spirit as the visitors played some entertaining football – much to the delight of the large and appreciative crowd gathered at the compact Katutura stadium.
Crowd favourite, Mnini was booked on a late flight but developed cold feet at the eleventh hour and retreated back to Swallows in fear of his life.