‘Ntate Molemela was the Nelson Mandela of SA football’
To me, Ntate Rantlai Petrus Molemela – who died this week aged 83 – will go down as the Nelson Mandela of South Africa football. He deserves to be in the hall of fame when one is created.
South Africa must really build a soccer museum to honour great administrators such as Molemela, the late Solomon “Stix” Morewa‚ George Thabe, David “Pine” Chabeli, Cyril Kobus, Irvin Khoza, Danny Jordaan, Kaizer Motaung, Jomo Sono and many other selfless football leaders.
Ntate was at times a controversial figure‚ but also an enormously generous benefactor to the poor in communities around South Africa. He achieved a lot without any formal education, but found huge success in the construction industry at a time when it was difficult for black businessmen to flourish.
He used the profits from his various businesses to purchase Bloemfontein Celtic in 1975, and his nononsense and hands-on approach helped grow the club’s brand and turn it into one of the best-supported teams in the country.
He was a great soccer administrator and businessman. He would build houses and churches free of charge. He was a great philanthropist. He remained a servant of all people despite his success.
Ntate was a loving and caring husband and father.
He was an inspirational, humble servant, a fearless sports administrator, soccer scout, intellectual, political activist, entrepreneur, community leader and employer par excellence.
He played a huge role in shaping the National Professional Soccer League, which morphed into the National Soccer League before becoming the current Premier Soccer League (PSL).
Ntate believed in education and young people, and he always encouraged youngsters to study.
The highlight of his life was when he met former president Nelson Mandela at an event in 1995. Mandela walked straight to Molemela and asked how the boys were, referring to Celtic players. Mandela even joked that Molemela was the only “white head” that was outside of prison during their time. He then invited him to sit next to him at the function.
Celtic was Molemela’s last born and he loved the team wholeheartedly. At some stage, long after being forced to sell the club, he said to me: “Charley, let’s start our own Celtic again because my heart can’t take it if the team is not doing well.”
I wish to thank the Molemela family for allowing Ntate to serve his country while they came second to Celtic.
He loved his family dearly and was always proud to share his family members’ achievements.
To Max Tshabalala and the Celtic team, Ntate was very proud of you, let’s do our best to win all our remaining games. To our Celtic supporters, please fill up the stadiums and keep that warm spirit in honour of Ntate.
We have lost a father and mentor, but heaven has gained an asset.
To share a quote from Molemela’s book, I have seen it all: “A lot of people didn’t like me because of my assertiveness, confidence and will to succeed. I have grown old and wise; I believe no one will go through this life without the need to be forgiven or the opportunity to forgive.”
My last conversation with Ntate was on March 25 – a day before he died.
Ntate, you will never be forgotten. Tsamaya ka gotso khiba ya motsoeneng.
REMEMBERED The cover of Charley Pietersen’s book on Rantlai Molemela, titled I have seen it all