PSL chairman Dr Irvin Khoza has paid a glowing tribute to the late boss of Free State Stars, Bra Mike Mokoena.
Mokoena passed away recently after battling cancer and he was laid to rest in Bethlehem, Free State, on Friday.
This is the full eulogy delivered by PSL Chairman Dr. Irvin Khoza at Free State Stars chairman Michael Mokoena’s funeral on Friday, 26 June 2020.
“Ladies and Gentlemen, today is five months and a day since we buried my wife, the Orlando Pirates Matriarch, Mme Yvonne Mantoa Khotleng-Khoza. On that day, 25 January 2020, Bra Mike and Ausi Joyce were there for me and my family ho re thekga.
“Today, 26 June 2020, I am here for Ausi Joyce and your family – our family of Members. I repeat the words I said in relation to my beloved Mantoa. Ausi Joyce, it is in this words that I hope you to find your solace – “Long life is not good enough, good life is long enough”.
“Today, on this important day when we are gathered to pay our last respect to Liphapang Michael Mokoena, we do so at one of the toughest moments in the history of humankind. Like the rest of the world, our nation is plagued by a pandemic. Living among us, and in some of us, is an invisible, inaudible, tasteless and odourless virus that we can unknowingly touch, ingest or inhale to our detriment. Standing up to tough times and dealing with adversity, in the most practical manner possible, defines the gentle giant lying here today for us to eulogise.
“Members of the National Soccer League which Chairman Mokoena was a Founding Member, are a Club of Men and Women that have dedicated their lives to bringing happiness to a nation by being the hosts, on whose platforms, the nation joyously enjoy their love and following of the world’s largest sport – the Beautiful Game – football.
“Ladies and Gentleman, monna yena, Lephapang Mokoena, was in the business of building stars. Long before the players command national attention and recognition, Bra Mike would have seen the fire and potential. Would then teach them determination and go on to build and grow them, with his own resources and at his own risk.
“Being a Member is not vocation or job. Those in vocations and jobs are protected by employee rights. They have entitlements. Some even abuse their positions away from the ideals of the organisations that employ them. They create fiefdoms that defocus organisations from their purpose. Members do not have these luxuries and latitudes. Instead of being on the payroll, Members are the payroll. Livelihoods depends on the organisations that Members have created and sustain.
“The Executive Committee of the National Soccer League has spent the year 2019 visiting with the leadership of political parties with a particular mission of educating our law makers about the business of Club Football in our country.
“This was our practical response to the legislative and regulatory initiatives that demonstrated a lack of understanding of the difficulty, vulnerability and sacrifices that self-made men and women like Mike Mokoena lived with on a daily basis. The massive appeal and success of Club Football turned us into targets of interference and hijack plots. It is true and known that the PSL is one of the Top Leagues in the world.
“What is true yet not known is what it took to build a top league in the world and even more, what it takes to sustain this top league. Today is the Godsent day that I, in letting the nation know Mike Mokoena ka mesebetsi ya hae, get to tell you about what it takes to be a Member that he was.
“Ladies and Gentlemen our beautiful country South Africa is as wide and broad in its geographical and human diversity. It is unique in how its rich and poor, urban and rural, educated and illiterate, formal and informal coexists side by side. The movement of people since 1994 has exponentially been towards bigger cities. Small towns are becoming ghost town characterised by lack of opportunities and poverty. Bra Mike was awake to all of these. He saw himself as part of the solution. I said in my statement announcing his passing that ‘Bra Mike was an epitome of practicality’.
“That ‘people do not come more practical that Mr Mokoena lived’. He impressed me in how he broke down complex issues and challenges into chunks that made whatever issue suddenly not so insurmountable.
“Talking of a Practical Man, let me give you a practical example. Bra Mike believed the so-called “small towns” are made unattractive and wilt when creators of opportunities and livelihoods like him trek to work and live in big cities. Like a religion, he believed and with himself as an example, he embraced his QwaQwa home as his primary home to live and work. I remember how after every Executive Committee meeting, he would whisper to me that he is going to disappear lest he is caught in Johannesburg traffic as if he lived there.
“The National Soccer League is the biggest event organiser in South Africa by far. There are 32 teams of the PSL and NFD that each play a home and away game in a season for the league contest alone. If you add matches of the Cup Competitions and playoffs, the NSL hosts more events than there are days in a year. This important reality, especially its opportunity was not lost on Bra Mike. He understood that this means he will be able to host at least 20 events in the Eastern Free State all of them televised throughout our country and continent.
“Followers of the Free State Stars and the competing clubs would travel and sleep over in Thabo Mofutsanyane District which is one of the most beautiful regions in our country.
“Bra Mike advocated for a visit, at least once a year, to his neck of the woods, as a necessary requirement for stress relief and to, as he called it, “have air across your head – o shape ke moya hlohong”. He understood how a fixture match between Free State Stars and Orlando Pirates was not only newsworthy but created economic activity of every kind – payments; bank transfers; buying of airtime and data; social media interactions; transport; filling stations on the way; accommodation, television and radio viewership and listenership respectively, support services – medical, security and many more; food preparation and consumption.
“Bra Mike knew he was a catalyst of something much bigger than himself. A true Member that he was, he did all this without requiring or even expecting a pat on the back.
“Ladies and Gentlemen, Bra Mike’s practical nature is not that type which apply only if he is in the ring. In 2001 when the PSL was rightsized from 18 to 16 teams. The operation was a close guarded secret. The common wisdom was that the teams that were going to be bought out by the league would be Ria Stars and African Wanderers. But Bra Mike raised his hand and volunteered to have Free State Stars bought out of existence.
He later told me that he was working on a transaction that required his personal 24/7 attention for a year or two and he needed the money as he did not want to bother himself with bank financing hassles. Selling Free State Stars at the time provided him the space and money to better himself and return with a bang. And return with a bang he did. In 2005 he went on to acquire a National First Division Club that he managed to get promoted to the PSL a year after his acquisition.
“Bra Mike and I had a relationship where we sought to influence each other to try something that the one did that the other did not do. So in this trip to France I find him, as it would be the case each time there is group travel, sitting alone against the wall lost in his thoughts. I invited him to go buy presents for our wives.
“He looked at me with eyes that effectively communicated – get lost and please leave me alone. He soon realised I wasn’t going anywhere. I continued to give him an unsolicited lecture about how gifts to our wives, were a love language. I told him that Monna o tshwanetse go becha motho wa gagwe. Go tiisa lerato. He relented. Probably to have me keep quiet. To my surprise he understood Ausi Joyce’s style and preferences. He even knew the shoe size. He bought a beautiful bag and pair of shoes.
“He did say to me that he hopes this love language of mine does not create problems for him when he returns home empty handed after not getting time for shopping whilst travelling under time pressure. I see Sis Mato Madlala is smiling, she witnessed this exchange between Bra Mike and I.
“I remember the last conversation I had with Bra Mike. It was unusual in that it was very emotional. Those who know Bra Mike well know that he would rather we focus on the solutions to the pain rather than the pain itself. We were talking about what was important in life. I said to him, “Bra Mike, the biggest asset you ever have in your life is your name”. He said to me, “Really”. I continued as he had interrupted me before I finished my point. I said, “And your name is big. No amount of money can buy that”. I told him that he underestimates the reach and depth of his work and contribution he has made. He looked me straight in the eyes and said, “Ke a leboha Ntate Khoza, ke a leboha hle”. He was very emotional.
“Ladies and Gentlemen, I became emotional when the State President approved the deserved request for the funeral of Chairman Lephapang Michael Mokoena to be declared a Special Provincial Official Funeral. This selfless Member deserves having the National Flag to fly at half-mast in his honour today.
“I have a special message to the Children and Grandchildren of Bra Mike. I know you are going to miss him and wish he was physically there. When you do, remember that in you he lives. You have a fine privilege of having been cut from one of the finest cloths there is. Having been nurtured by him was a privilege you should never take for granted.
“Robala ka khotso ya Modimo Bra Mike.”
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