He was a cut of a special mould. You don’t become a player, a referee, a coach and astute administrator easily in one lifespan. Yet that was Nicholas Lele Sebele. He was a rare and unique breed of his generation; a peerless sportsman and a true gentleman throughout. You would aspire of him for his style; well-groomed athlete, immaculate dapper dresser who carried a mirror and a comb to the dressing room to ensure his afro never fell off its clean cut.
Speakers at his memorial service on Thursday harped on the trait of a humourous gentle giant that lived for sport, football in particular. He would ensure that a team of students he coached as a boarding master got the best ‘warm’ breakfast available. A founder of Gaborone United (GU) where he starred as a ‘prolific midfielder and defender’ and established himself as a faultless penalty taker, it is said his passion saw him quite often running all the way from Ramotswa to Gaborone to practice with his team. He was a fitness fanatic and road running was his forte when most shunned it.
Lele Sebele breathed life into GU and for many years was its life-wire. He led, nurtured and created the team’s superstars. During Lele’s playing days GU current president Tymon Katlholo was still young; yet it was easy to pick the superstar and leader among players. He talked glowingly of the man; reciting how much Lele – in his jersey 4 – detested being rough tackled. The GU faithful came in droves to the memorial in honour of their hero.
Former playmates recited their shared experiences, with some alluding to the normal naughtiness of boys growing up. Clean and smart, they acknowledged how he admired and was equally adorned across the sexual divide. Wonderboy Tlape, a GU great of their time said Lele would dribble and hang on to the ball just to relish the moment of raving and screaming fans. He loved the soccer stage and was its master. A moment to enjoy, they said, was when it came to taking a penalty. No one could stop his shot. It was game over; celebrations would start immediately. His former teams are listed as Maletamotse, Gaborone United, Mochudi Rovers, Mahalapye Hotspurs, and Mokgosi Young Fighters. He was a key player of the national team.
Former player and President of the Botswana Football Association (BFA) Phillip Makgalemele appreciated that Lele has been honoured while alive; as a recepient of the Presidential Order of Meritorious Service; outstanding service medal from the Confederation of African Football (CAF) where he served for many years as a referee, Match Commissioner and Referee assessor and instructor. He was among the first crop of outstanding service leaders who were honoured in the inaugural Botswana National Sports Council (BNSC) Hall of Fame inductees. Makgalemele wants to have a monument or a major national sport site named after him. Ashford Mamelodi has urged the BFA to harness talent of former players and legends to use for the good of the game, while hailing Lele as “a man who dedicated his entire life to the game; a very meticulous and pleasurable man to work with”.
He was and became anything and everything he wanted to be in soccer. As referee, his life was never threatened as a result of poor decisions he rendered. Edwin Senai dubbed him his role model, a man that made light difficult moment with his humour and inspired upcoming refereeing talent he worked with.
So much was this man dedicated to sport that after a reasonable recovery from a stroke he suffered he put all his energies into serving the Paralympic Association of Botswana (PASSOBO) rising to become its President.
And yet out of so much service it was pure volunteerism. There is no significant assets he has to show for his massive involvement in sport. Football, as it is, robbed him of a precious time with his family; he couldn’t even have time to grow a massive cattle stock. And as the leader of Botswana National Sports Council (BNSC), Solly Reikeletseng, conceded - sports time come at a cost; fathers get to be called ‘uncles’. They get estranged to their children. This is the plight of sports volunteers; they follow their passion and patriotically serve for little returns.
The selflessness of Lele and many others has advanced the country in ways that no amount of money could have. He will forever remain a legend and an inspiration to draw from in taking this country forward. A sports maestro and decent gentleman whose service found no limits; Botswana must count itself lucky to have had him. La la sentle Alibaba!