Bantu striker swims against tide
IT is not an everyday occurrence for South African footballers to cross the border and ply their trade with Lesotho clubs.
Yet that is exactly what has happened with Bantu striker, Lazola Tjokotjokoana, who hails from Sterkspruit in the Eastern Cape.
The 24-year-old, who joined Bantu midway in the 2013/14 premier league season, has been outstanding for A Matšo Matebele, and was particularly devastating in the recently concluded LNIG Top8 tournament in which he was the top-scorer with four goals.
Tjokotjokoana was on target in his team’s 3-0 semi-final win over Likhopo at Setsoto Stadium last Saturday, and struck again in the final the following day as the Mafetengbased outfit beat Matlama 3-2 to clinch domestic football’s premier knockout trophy.
“I must confess that in the beginning, I underestimated the standard of local football, but once I signed for Bantu, realised that the level was almost at par with the South African premiership,” Tjokotjokoana told the Lesotho Times.
“I can say the only difference is the amount of money the players are paid as there is more money in South Africa, but as far as the standard is concerned, the game here is also very competitive.”
Tjokotjokoana said he ended-up in Lesotho after undergoing trials at Bloemfontein Celtic, and when he failed to win a contract at the South African premier league giants, was recommended to Bantu by club legend Lehlohonolo Seema. Seema, who once captained Celtic and is now an assistant coach at the club, also played for Bantu and remains part of the coaching structure at A Matšo Matebele.
“Before I tried my luck at Celtic, I played for Young Tigers and Seven Stars in my hometown. Both teams were in the South African Football Association (SAFA) regional league, and I felt the need to take my game to a higher level.”
And since joining Bantu, Tjokotjokoana has helped the team win the league title and Sunday’s LNIG Top8 tournament—a feat the powerful striker believes confirmed he was right to move to Lesotho in the first place.
“It’s a nice feeling winning trophies at the highest level, and it was even special lifting the Top8 trophy after finishing the competition as the top-scorer,” said Tjokotjokoana.
With mounting calls from the local football fraternity for the striker to be accorded Lesotho citizenship in order to play for the national team, Tjokotjokoana said he had not considered such a possibility and still hoped to play in the South African Premier League, and even Bafana Bafana.
“I’m aware that I have won the hearts of many local fans, as some have already approached me urging me to consider playing for the national team, Likuena. However, I have not thought about it that much because of my wish to play in South Africa one day.
“There is still hope that I can find a team in South Africa because Bantu are doing well, and we are playing a lot of international matches which might eventually get me the recognition I am looking for.”
However, Tjokotjokoana said his focus was currently on helping Bantu retain their premier league title.
“That’s my main concern right now; helping Bantu win more trophies and become one of the most successful teams in Lesotho.”
Former Likuena coach and Bantu technical advisor, Leslie Notši, told the Lesotho Times that he had been impressed by the hardworking striker.
“He has the potential to go places for as long as he remains grounded and continues to work hard,” Notši said.
“I have been impressed with what I have seen of him and I think he has all the attributes that make a good striker.”
BANTU striker Lazola Tjokotjokoana celebrates his winning goal in the 3-2 win over Matlama on Sunday.