Bantu striker swims against tide

Lesotho Times - - Sport - Mikia Kalati

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.

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