Thato Mogotsi will be 22 exactly 3 days after the curtain comes down on the Bidvest Wits era following the club’s sale just a year before it turns a century.
Mogotsi junior had hoped The Students would play in the Nedbank Cup final, slated for his birthday on Tuesday next week. At least then, he’d have had a chance to bid farewell to the team in style, but Pitso Mosimane and his Mamelodi Sundowns had other ideas when they dumped Wits out of the competition.
Mogotsi junior’s sentimental attachment with the team is totally understandable. The first time he attended a Wits game was early in 1999 as a 6 months old baby. You’d never expect a parent to take a child that young to a football stadium, especially one with no VIP section, unless the club they’re watching represents everything about them.
So, when George Mogotsi’s wife, Jeannette, had to take their newly born and only son to the stadium for a Wits tie, it all made sense to the Mogotsis. The club was everything they knew and lived for.
And for anyone who has closely followed the club it just rolls off the tongue that there is no Wits without Bra G, neither is there Bra G without Wits. The man is the quintessence of what the club is all about. He is synonymous with the club he joined as a 25-year-old back in 1984.
“I carried napkins to a stadium (Milpark Stadium), I made 2 bottles of milk for the baby and went to watch a game. We left the stadium at 11PM,” his wife, Jeannette, tells FARPost. She was initially a Kaizer Chiefs fan before she fell in love with this man whose heart is sold out for the Clever Boys.
There is hardly any job her other half has not held at Wits – from ball boy, gatekeeper, cashier, and security officer to driver and then administrator.
“I did everything for the club, from a cashier, gatekeeper, body searcher, security, supervisor, and a teller. I drove players until 2004 and when they said I must stop, I stopped and they moved me to the office, until now as a director,” he tells FARPost.
He adds that the abrupt sale of the team during lockdown did not only break his heart in his household, but the entire family.
His son, whose dream was to coach Wits one day, says it feels like a part of him is being taken away. He is blue that there will not be those beautiful Friday nights. No Brass Band performances either.
“It’s sad knowing that I was born in 1998 and I started attending Wits games when I was 6 months old. I have literally grown in this team,” says the young Mogotsi, who is a holder of a Safa D-Licence.
Wits was the reason his dad quit playing dice, a game he had started playing as a teenager. A friend, Peter Mahlangu, invited him one weekend to come and be a ball boy at a Wits game.
Gradually, his weekends became synonymous with stadium visits and sometimes he would earn as little as R1.50 from gatekeeping. While that was not much, his bond with the club continued to grow.
After a few years, John Lathan – a former Wits coach – recommended that he be hired. “He saw me at the gate, and he said let us hire this man. I had been working at the gate for a while,” he recalls.
It makes sense that Bra G has lost count of the number of Wits staff who have come and gone. Many have found him there and left him at the same spot. Even during tough times, Mogotsi remained the mainstay of the club. He was ever-present when the club was relegated at the end of the 2004/05 season, a period he singles out as the worst.
He was also part of the team that brought the club back to the PSL in the 2006/07 season.
“It wasn’t easy in the first division as only 20 people could travel to a game. We fought hard and lost only two games on our way back to the Premiership,” he says, adding that the team’s relegation coincided with the unfortunate passing of his mom.
His late mom knew so well of the bond he shared with Wits. She was the one who received the phone call confirming he had the job from Professor Ronnie Schloss. She then saw Schloss at her son’s wedding with a huge gift.
“They were all there in the rain when I got married. Prof. Schloss gave me a big present,” Mogotsi recalls.
He attributes his unbelievable rise at the club to men like Schloss, Raymond Hack, Derek Blanckensee, Brian Joffe and José Ferreira, who he calls the mastermind behind the club’s recent successes.
Interestingly, Hack, a former Wits chairman, cannot think of the club without memory of people like Bra G.
“I look at someone like George Mogotsi who has given his life to this club. He started as a ball boy when I was there. He then rose to the position he’s in now. Even his family helped out at the club. You don’t just take such history and throw it away,” says Hack.
Mogotsi fondly remembers the early days. He has witnessed the club’s transition from a university-owned side to a fully independent team.
Nonetheless, Mogotsi, a very religious man, says he has left it all to his God.
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By Mthokozisi Dube