Kaizer Motaung’s exceptional journey
From player to South Africa’s most successful club boss
Kaizer Motaung’s journey has been a fascinating one, starting with his first team debut as a 16-year-old to founding Kaizer Chiefs and turning it into South Africa’s most successful club.
Motaung was born on 16 October 1944 and grew up in Phefeni, Soweto. He loved soccer from an early age and proved to be very talented. He made his debut for Orlando Pirates’ first team at the age of 16. This made the inside left footed player the youngest footballer to play for the Buccaneers in the South African Soccer League.
Some older players in the Buccaneers squad felt that Motaung was too young, including Eric ‘Scara’ Sono, the team’s big star at the time. But the young striker continued to impress with his speed and his excellent dribbling skill. He had a powerful shot in his left-foot, scoring numerous goals, often from long range. The youngster was also known to work for hours and hours extra to improve his game on the dusty pitches in Soweto.
There was, however, one other problem – Motaung was still at Orlando High and the principal insisted he play for the school side instead of the Buccaneers. That’s when the 16-year-old decided to leave school. He joined Pirates full-time and, as they say, the rest is history. Soon the youngster won over even his fiercest critics and collected nicknames such as Chincha Guluva (the man with the quick feet) and King Kaizer.
“I’m surprised that people don’t talk much about the SA Soccer League,” Motaung reflected once.
“The League functioned during the height of apartheid, but we played non-racial football. There were players of all colours.”
This started to change in 1963 when the apartheid system got their tentacles more and more into sports, with Pirates often being accused by the authorities of fielding ‘coloureds’.
Motaung, considered as the best player in South Africa in the sixties, formed a lethal combination with Percy ‘Chippa’ Moloi. Rashid ‘Dynamite’ Khan was a prolific goal scoring striker at the time but he was not black and had to leave Bucs because of apartheid.
In 1968, Motaung was recruited to participate in trials by former West Ham United player Phil Woosman, who managed Atlanta Chiefs in the recently formed North American Soccer League (NASL) in the United States. The trials were held in Zambia.
Motaung passed the trials with flying colours and made his debut for Atlanta Chiefs in a friendly against England’s Manchester City as a substitute, scoring twice. The South African ended the season being voted NASL Rookie of The Year. Atlanta Chiefs were crowned champions that year, beating San Diego Toros over two legs in the final. Motaung scored the third goal in the 3-0 win in the second leg (the first had finished in a goalless draw).
The following season, ‘Big Boy’, as the South African was soon nicknamed in America, scored 16 goals in 16 matches, becoming the top goal scorer in the league. The speedy forward was also voted onto the NASL All-Star Team.
Meanwhile, Motaung’s former club Orlando Pirates was suffering internal problems and team manager Ewert Nene and three players were expelled. After Atlanta Chiefs finished the 1969 season, Motaung returned home and tried to resolve the impasse. He was, however, unsuccessful. Out of these circumstances, the Kaizer XI was formed in late 1969.
Kaizer’s XI played numerous friendlies, fielding a fantastic team with players like Vincent ‘Tantie’ Julius, Jackie Masike, Herman ‘Pelé’ Blaschke, Patrick ‘Ace’ Ntsoelengoe and the three former Pirates players, who were expelled.
The positive response from the supporters made Motaung consider setting up his own club, using the lessons learnt from the United States. Above all, he thought, it should be a professionally run club with players getting paid the money they were promised. That might sound normal these days, but at the time most South African club bosses said one thing and did the opposite. Not Motaung, his word is his word. That’s how Kaizer Chiefs came into existence on 7 January 1970.
The first years of Chiefs were not easy. There were many who didn’t want the rookies to succeed. But most of the original players believed in Motaung’s vision of founding a club that would be run professionally.
With the help of various business partners and some personal capital, the club soon became a force to be reckoned with, winning the first league title in 1974. Motaung contributed to the victory with 13 league goals, despite having missed most of the season, playing for Denver Dynamos in the NASL.
After a successful career in the United States, Motaung returned home permanently in 1975 to continue playing for, and run, the club that he had started five years earlier. However, he hung up his soccer boots a year later to concentrate fully on guiding Chiefs to become the dominant force in South African football it is today.
Motaung’s contributions to soccer have extended beyond Chiefs and beyond South Africa. For example, he served on both National Soccer League (NSL) and the South African Football Association (SAFA) executive committees. He was a member of the 2006 and 2010 South African World Cup Bid Committees. He also became part of the Local Organising Committee (LOC) established to oversee the 2010 World Cup, an event which was regarded as one of the most successfully organised World Cups ever.
Motaung was instrumental in setting up the South African Premier Soccer League (PSL), founded in 1995. This helped greatly in bringing more sponsors and money into the local game. Motaung still serves on the NSL Executive Committee.
Since its foundation in 1970, Kaizer Chiefs chairman Motaung guided his club to 68 official trophies and more than 90 trophies in total.
Winning so many trophies since Chiefs’ founding is certainly not a result of being lucky a few times. Instead, the club’s success is the result of hard work based on a vision to continuously improve and to do things better than the opponents. Or, as Kaizer Motaung often says: “Luck is a by-product of hard work.”