Johnny “Continental” Kekana has slowed down considerably these days. He is no longer the elegant, highly mobile midfield maestro who bossed the Orlando Pirates engine room driving the Black and white forward every time they played in front of packed audiences at Orlando Stadium.
A few days before Pirates folded their shirt-sleeves to do battle against their arch enemies Chiefs in yet another anticipated epic encounter at the FNB Stadium on October 31, Kekana recalled the first ever derby match that was to herald a new era in South African football, to ushering in a match-up that would grow into one of the biggest clashes on the African continent.
In recent years, SuperSport has been able to broadcast the match to a global audience across the continent and last year, broadcast houses from Arab nations as well as New Zealand and Australia purchased the rights to beam the match for their respective audiences, gaining the two clubs an even larger following.
Kekana, a man who was both dazzling and could bamboozle the opposition with his aggressive yet gracious passing style, was blessed with an uncanny ability to find the net even from awkward positions. Kekana will be remembered as the man who scored the first goal in the first ever derby match between the two teams back in January 1970.
“The greatest rivalry at the time was between Moroka Swallows against Pirates,” recalls Kekana. “I remember my first derby against Swallows, we beat them 7-4 and I scored four goals.
“The same day I was approached by a lady from Canada representing a team from that country, seeking my services. She negotiated with Pirates officials and a fee was agreed.
“I was excited but when I arrived home, my mother put a stop to my dreams and replied that no child of hers would go gallivanting across the world like Steve “Kalamazoo” Mokone had done before and not come home. My father had passed on at the time and my mom ruled us young ‘uns with an iron fist. Her word was law and order.”
But it is the derby between Chiefs and Pirates that brings back bitter-sweet memories for Kekana. The atmosphere was electrifying, Orlando packed to the rafters as people came to watch the all-conquering Pirates teaching the upstarts from Phefeni a lesson.
“It was an amazingly unforgettable affair. It is still etched deeply in my mind. I remember scoring the first ever derby goal and then Russia Jacobs and Herbert “Man-O-Man” Leroke added two more to give Pirates a 3-0 interval lead.
“But unbelievably we ended up losing the match 4-3 and if my memory serves me well, the man who destroyed us on that day was Zero Johnson. In later years, Johnny “Magwegwe” Mokoena would become our nemesis, but in the first derby, Johnson killed us, leaving a lingering, bitter taste in the mouths as we felt humiliated by losing to a team that was barely out of its nappies.”
Amakhosi Managing Director Kaizer Motaung has also retired and these days, leaves the running of the club to his children, Bobby, Jessica, Kemiso and Kaizer Jnr call the shots. But Motaung senior was a hell of a player, according to Kekana.
“Kaizer was a giant of a man blessed with a sweet left foot. They did not call him “Chincha Guluva” for nothing. We can change certain things in life, but nobody can alter what Kaizer Motaung did with the ball. Few people could shield the ball better than “Guluva” or bump him off the ball and boy, did he pack a wallop in that left foot?”
THOMAS KWENAITE: I seem to notice that spectators no longer flock to stadiums like they used to during your playing days.
CONTI KEKANA: The fact remains that we were not restricted. That is why stadiums would be packed anywhere across the country when we played. I think we were allowed to express ourselves on the ball. In addition, clubs had personalities and had built fortresses at their home games. For instance, we knew going to Umlazi to face Golden Arrows, we had to contend with the late Henry Cele or Dinini Mwanza, in Mangaung there was Ephraim Madikgetla and Ace Mgedeza, in Kwa-Mashu there was Themba Twala, Sugar Ray Xulu and Richard Ngubane, in Benoni there was the Njokweni brothers and in Pimville, Ben Kwape, George Brains Mnchunu and in Pretoria, Lucas Moripe and Nkosi Molala and there were goals, plenty of goals unlike the game today.
TK: Is it the reason why today clubs struggle to attract spectators to their matches?
CK: That and more. Remember today entertainment includes movies, going to malls, play stations and these modern gadgets of which football has to battle with them to attract a share of spectators. But today players have become rigid and follow instructions from the coach to the letter without using their own discretion. I think the importation of foreign coaches as well has contributed to the rigidity of today’s game. I mean, look what Mpho Rakgale did the other day and his trick trended the world over. It’s a sign that people like to see that kind of sideshow instead of sticking strictly to the rules.
TK: There is an argument that foreign coaches have enlightened our players and brought modern trends into our game.
CK: I disagree totally. How many players have done the shibobo and have been reprimanded and called clowns by foreign coaches? A man like Clive Barker not only tolerates it, but encourages it because he knows it is inherent in our tradition and culture to show off a little bit; it is part of our game. I recall Geoff Hurst when he came here with Malcolm Allison’s British All Stars for a ban busting tour during 1973. They played a Black XI and won 3-2, Kaizer Motaung and Moripe scored. But I recall Hurst saying in sheer wonder, that he remembers Moripe approaching him with the ball, he imagine he saw the ball but could not recall what happened next as he was struggling to get off the ground to applause from the crowd after Moripe had scored!
TK: When you played for Pirates, was former Bafana Bafana coach Ephraim Mashaba playing or had he not yet joined the team?
CK: I personally recruited Shakes from Preston Brothers, you can ask him. He was supposed to join Moroka Swallows and the night before his move, I went to his home with some Pirates officials and we persuaded him to join the Bucs. I actually said to him “Shakes, how do you play for a team from Dube when you reside in Orlando?” And yet I played for a Soweto team when I lived in Pretoria, what an irony! The next day we beat Swallows 7-4 and I scored four goals.
TK: As the national coach; did he possess that leadership quality even from back then?
CK: He was bull headed and extremely talented and yet a very mobile player. I believe he should have been appointed national coach a long time ago. Shakes is not a yes man. And for a coach to succeed at the highest level you must have a thick skin. I respect the fact that he is not afraid to bring in young players into the senior team. Some people claim he brings far too many young players because he wants to control them but I have seen how the national team has improved under him and think he was unlucky at the recent AFCON. That penalty miss was the turning point and I think we could have gone very far in the tournament. Anyway, I just hope and trust SAFA would support him and give him enough time to build a strong and competitive squad. We are finally playing kasi football under Mashaba and I like that.
TK: But our clubs continue to bomb out in the early stages of Pan-African club competitions and this is disconcerting.
CK: It’s obvious our clubs are not interested in taking part in African club competitions. And yet a club gain credibility and prestige by doing well in the Champions League. With due respect but how do a team like Bidvest Wits win 3-0 at home and lose to a team from Swaziland a fortnight later? The bottom line is that our clubs are not serious about African club competitions period. They cite issues like transport and travelling across the world but why is Pirates the only ones continuing to do well without complaining. We need to change our mindset about African club competitions and begin to take them seriously if we aspire to conquer the continent.
TK: How did you end up playing for a Soweto team in the first place considering that you grew up in Pretoria?
CK: I was playing for a semi-professional side in Mamelodi called Transvaal Black Birds and we received an invitation to play for Orlando Pirates at the Moroka Jabavu Stadium. We led Pirates 3-0 but ended up losing 5-3. I had managed to score all the three goals. The same evening they came to my home in Saulsville and persuaded me to join them. It was a Saturday night and the next day, I accompanied them to the same venue in Soweto where they played against the JBFA Invitation XI. I scored five goals on debut for Pirates; the others were scored by Gerard Van der Haar and Bernard “Dancing Shoes” Hartze as we ran out 7-4 winners.
TK: What happened to those phenomenally talented players like Hartze, Hans Moses, Van Der Haar, Richard Khan etc.?
CK: The government at that time introduced a glut of discriminatory laws and decreed that Blacks, Whites, Colored’s and Indians could not play together. As a result, it became an offence for players like Hans Moses, Bernard Hartze etc, to turn out for Pirates and that is how Blacks ended up forming the NPSL, Whites turned out in the NFL while Coloured and Indians formed the non-racial Federation Professional League.
TK: How was the effect of losing such great players like Hartze for Pirates?
CK: I was among the first players recruited to fill that void. I in turn recruited players like David “Republic” Fakude, Dave Mogololo, Blanco Bilankulu, and Yellow Manguwewa and somehow, although we could not adequately fill the gap created by their departure, we somehow helped cushion the blow. Russia Jacobs was there as well as Remember Maja, Gabriel “Tiekie” Khoza and shortly thereafter, Jomo Sono emerged from the junior divisions.
TK: Jomo turned out for Pirates while a little older that 17-years, what made him stand out among his peers to deserve promotion?
CK: He was unbelievably talented. Jomo was disciplined and his natural talent bordered on the arrogance. He was super fit and enjoyed training like a marine. He had incredibly strong legs and was not easy to shake off the ball. He used to spend Christmas holidays with me in Pretoria and we would train together, doing hard, physical labor despite the fact that other people were making merry.
TK: Christiano Ronaldo scores four at times five goals in a single match, but you used to achieve that at Pirates but, tell us about some of the defenders that gave you a hard time.
CK: It has to be Shakes Mbuyane; we called him “Ntshebe” from Pimville United Brothers as well as Slow Masuku of Witbank Black Aces. Those two I rated among the best defenders of their time and I have no doubt that had South Africa been playing international football at the time, people wouldn’t be raving about the likes of Charles Puyol or John Terry.
TK: Any funny moment that you recall from your playing days?
CK: I remember Pirates playing Pretoria Callies at Super Stadium and I warned Ronnie Shongwe who was then our right-back to keep a sharp lookout on Molala and to be extremely cautious when he came up against him. But despite my warnings, the first time Molala came up to him, Shongwe ended up tumbling all over the field and upturned our bench where Jimmy Sojane and the technical bench were sitting. He implored me to switch him to the other side and I refused and he was stuck with Molala who skinned him alive for the duration of the game.
TK: Why did you retire because from what I hear, you hung up your boots long before your time?
CK: Pressure. I was working at a wholesaler in Pretoria, knocked off at 5pm, then get picked up to be rushed to Phefeni where we trained until 8pm, then brought back to Pretoria after 10pm and next day it’s the same routine. On weekends, you had to contend with supporters who did not take defeat very kindly, there was also a powerful group of ladies made up of bo-Mme Moipone, Mma Setlogelo, Esther Mtshali and sometimes we jumped from windows as supporters meetings got heated and of course, there was the “Makwaitos” gang who would sometimes hold you hostage and demand to know why we lost. I claimed I suffered from an ankle injury and bowed out. I then coached Pretoria Callies but after a season I quit.
Name: Johnny “Continental” Kekana
Date of birth: 26 June 1946
Former Clubs: Iscor Blue Birds; Mokopane Dynamos; New Madrid; Transvaal Black Birds (all amateurs) Orlando Pirates.
Coaching: Pretoria Callies (1974)
Marital Status: Married with three kids and three grand children