As Kaizer Chiefs turned 50 years this week, one felt that the tributes and speeches made were only about the brand and its chairperson and had nothing to do with the club’s real founders, notably Ewert “The Lip” Nene.
While club manager Bobby Motaung once infamously remarked that Chiefs was a family business, the real supporters who know the history of Africa’s most famous football brand will find it impossible to imagine it without The Lip, as Nene was known because of his incessant, fast-talking style and habit of driving around with a loudhailer to publicise matches, especially Pirates/Chiefs derbies.
Debonair, charismatic and flamboyant, its said when Nene hit the Golden City from the Banana City, he did so with a bang. His forte was running grocery stores and filling stations, but soccer was his life.
He was blessed with natural leadership qualities and proved to be an astute administrator. So it was no surprise that he immediately found his role within Orlando Pirates’ top hierarchy as team manager, talent scout and PRO. This was in the early ’60s and he became great friends with the club’s top striker, a lanky left-footed ball juggler named Kaizer Motaung.
The Lip’s presence was immediately felt, thanks to his livewire personality. His witty quotes were a reporter’s dream. He was a master of hype and a marketing genius who contributed remarkably to Kaizer Chiefs’ overnight success as a sporting brand.
In 1969 Motaung was in his second season at Atlanta Chiefs in the US when Nene got into trouble with the club’s management. He had a case in his defence but his outspokenness could have contributed to his expulsion and that of other players – Ratha “Greaves” Mokgoatlheng, Thomas “Zero” Johnson and Edward “Msomi” Khoza.
He was subsequently beaten up by a crowd of hooligans believed to be Pirates supporters, all because he had given a lift to the three players. The message was that as an official it was inappropriate for him to fraternise with players who had been found guilty of gross insubordination.
Their story was that they had been assaulted at a general meeting by club officials and fans for having participated in unauthorised off-season games in Botswana during the festive break. Nene’s crime was trying to speak in their defence.
But he was upset by the fact that another player, Percy “Chippa” Moloi, had also played and coached during the same period in Swaziland but there had been no consequences for him. He felt there was favouritism from management.
Thereafter he announced he was done with football.
Nene teamed up with four schoolboys from Orlando West High (Matseke) who dreamt of making it big in the music industry. They were drummer Sipho Mabuse, bassist Om Alec Khaoli, guitarist Monty “Saitana” Ndimande and their leader, Selby Ntuli. They called themselves the Beaters and for a while The Lip was happy to be their manager and PRO.
Showbiz was a perfect distraction from the cutthroat politics of football. That’s where he discovered the love and peace sign.
On August 15 1969 in the US – against the background of a nation divided over the civil rights movement and the Vietnam War – half a million people converged on a small dairy farm in the state of New York outside Woodstock to hear Joe Cocker, Jimi Hendrix, The Grateful Dead, The Who, Janis Joplin and other music icons in a concert billed as “3 Days of Peace and Music”.
It was a defining moment in the hippie movement and the counterculture revolution in the US. And like many artists and rock fans around the world, the Beaters also caught the Woodstock fever and adopted the historic festival’s “love and peace” message.
However, Nene’s love for the beautiful game got the better of him and after six months with the Beaters he persuaded Motaung and the three expelled players to form an invitation side that would serve as the foundation for a rival club.