The local football family is mourning the untimely death of Charles Konyadza Chilisa whose prominence in the sport was at its summit when he led the First Division South League (FDSL) as its chairperson.
The news of Chilisa’s death broke in the morning of Sunday, a day after he had been spotted active as usual to the cause of the beautiful game. At press time, there was no official information on the actual cause of his death. Yet with such speculative and sketchy versions on the matter, the common denominator revolved around the death being sudden. Not that there was any physical harm as from an accident or other external factors; not even stroke as others speculate – but a suspicion of overloading his system with even more football-related work on Saturday despite living with diabetic and heart conditions. It is the latter condition however, that could have played a major part in his passing on - he often showed signs of difficulty with breathing, and too much work could have easily overpowered him. In fact, information reaching BG Sport is that he had a scheduled football-related meeting for Sunday and was that Saturday night preparing for it. Such was the man whose passion for football knew no bounds.
So intense was this passion that when his club Sharps Electrical was relegated from the First Division in 2005, he collapsed just when the referee blew the final whistle to signal the end of a match that was to decide the survival of the club in the league. “Football e tlaa mpolaa,” (football will kill me) he confided to Mmatlhapi Modise-Kabamana after he regained consciousness in what was a scary ordeal for the onlookers at that match. At the time, Modise-Kabamana was Chilisa’s Secretary at the First Division South, a relationship they would share for five more years. How ironic that he would eventually die in the middle of football chores. At the time of his death, he was the chairperson of the South East Football Regional Association (SEFRA) which grew in leaps and bounds after he took over in 2011.
He had before then been the First Division South League (FDSL) chairperson from 2001 until he lost the position to one Tariq Babitseng at the league’s 2010 elections. Chilisa literally lived football, and in the words of former BFA President Philip Makgalemela, it is football that has had the lion’s share of his life. Long before his death, he had spoken to BG Sport about his life in football, as well as the controversy that so often followed him while at the helm of the FDSL. In that interview, he poured scorn on those who accused him of favouring some teams against others. “My crime is sticking to the written rules and applying them to the letter. There was a time I was accused of favouring Black Peril. When I applied a rule that saw them deregistered, I was accused of hating Black Peril.
When Black Peril came back to the league again, I was still accused of favouring the team. So, such talk doesn’t bother me,” he said at the time of the interview. Having been born at Nswazwi village in 1950, Chilisa revealed that his stint with football would later begin in his early 20s when he was an ardent follower of Gaborone United. He would later form a club called No Mathata FC, the same club that would later change names to Sharps Electrical – this after Chilisa had convinced his then employer at a company called Sharps Electrical, to take over the club through a sponsorship deal. Incidentally, when Rennie Borrello – owner of Sharps Electrical – allowed Chilisa to use the name of the company for No Mathata FC, he had declined to sponsor the club. But Chilisa told BG Sport, “I knew what I was doing. When he said there was no money, I asked him to allow the club to use the company’s name still. He agreed. Eventually the company had no choice but to fund the club because it was carrying their name.” He had actually played as a full back at a Selibe-Phikwe club called Mosweu FC during the time he worked there for a company called Brown and Root.
It was when he had relocated to Gaborone that he kicked ball for Sharps as well. It is however, the cunning manner in which he ensured Sharps acquired sponsorship that defines Chilisa’s determination towards the development of the local game. BFA’s former CEO Ashford Mamelodi disclosed on Wednesday how Chilisa’s heartache with the perennial losses of the Zebras in the 90s induced him to suggest a visit to the traditional medicine men. “He was so fed up with the beatings we endured that he asked me to reserve funds for the consultation that would ensure we started winning,” Mamelodi told a gathering of mourners at a memorial service held in Chilisa’s honour at Lekidi. Such was the go-getter that Chilisa was. When he took over as the FDSL chairperson, he ran the affairs of the league from the boot of his car and that of his secretary. He then fought tooth and nail to ensure an office at Lekidi was given to the FDSL, and to date, that office is still there. To raise funds for the division and its office, he ensured 5percent of gate takings at all matches was collected, with the eventuality of the office getting its own phone line, fax machine and a computer. He also introduced tight security measures at FDSL games to ensure referees were safe. At the time of his death, Chilisa still believed that the FDSL could achieve a lot more than where they are right now, a reason for which he had started preparing for a grand return to the league that goes to the polls next year. He will be buried this Saturday at a settlement called Ntondola near his birth village of Nswazwi, and as many in the game agree, local football will never be the same without his often imposing presence.