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Motlojoa: Lesotho’s brightest tennis star



Maseru – Kukutla Motlojoa is one with the tennis racquet, his playing style both smooth and commanding.
Perhaps this prowess shouldn’t be a surprise.
At 19, Motlojoa has already been playing the game for nearly 15 years and, as he speaks, his passion for tennis is abundantly clear.
This dedication to his craft has made Motlojoa one of Lesotho’s brightest young sporting talents. Today he is based in the United States, on the next leg of a long journey he hopes will eventually lead him to the professional ranks.

“I started playing tennis at four years old,” Motjojoa says as thepost meets him during his break back home.
“My father was a tennis player; he taught me tennis at the age of four,” he adds.

“I used to go to the tennis court with him and that is when I started playing tennis. It was before I had knowledge of anything else, before I could say I want to play football or any other sport code. I grew up in the environment of tennis. I started slowly and now I have almost 15 years playing tennis.”
So far the fruits of this long labour are good.

In 2014, Motlojoa won a scholarship through Grey College in South Africa to go to the United States and study at the New Mexico Military Institute, an experience he describes as life-changing. There Motlojoa is among a community of hopefuls from around the globe that are privy to the best tennis coaching and facilities. “Playing internationally is nice, I like it,” he says.

“I enjoy playing with different people, not only that, but one gets a chance to make friends and talk to them. They explain to you how they play tennis in their different countries and you learn. Those things that you find helpful you take them and implement them into your game. But, the big issue is to make friends. Yes, when we play on the court we are all serious because we want to win but after that we are friends no matter what,” he continues.
Motlojoa’s new surroundings are a far cry from the struggles he faced when young.

Born on January 6, 1998 in Haramokhele, Mafeteng, Motlojoa studied at Community Centre Primary School in Berea where the closest tennis facilities were the national courts all the way in Maseru.

The firstborn of Retšelisitsoe and ‘Mamokete Motlojoa, he would make the trek with his young brother, Nyathi, and their father would coach them in often demanding one-on-one sessions. “I used to go to the Lesotho Lawn Tennis Association courts with my brother and practice with him while our father was watching,” he says. “I practiced with my younger brother a lot.”

When Motlojoa moved to Ladybrand High School in 2011, making it easier for him to play tennis was at the heart of the decision.
“I went to Ladybrand so that I wouldn’t miss school,” he explains. “Here in Lesotho, when schools were closed there were no tournaments; there would only be tournaments when schools were open. In South Africa there were tournaments during the holidays when schools were closed.”
2011 is the same year Motlojoa began competing on the International Tennis Federation’s (ITF) African junior circuit.

It was during this time, amid endless hours of training and watching favoured players such as Rafael Nadal, that his game was moulded.
Motlojoa played at the U18 Mauritius Open in 2011 and the African Junior Championships in Egypt in January 2012. He was chosen for the junior World Championships in Qatar in April 2012 after his displays in Egypt and again competed at the African Champs later in the year in Namibia.
During those early years on the ITF circuit, the dedication of Motlojoa’s family helped overcome several challenges the youngster faced.
“Going out to international tournaments was very challenging because it required support financially but, thankfully, I had a father who managed to help me in those challenges,” he says.

“It doesn’t mean that he could do everything but he did the best he could to help me. There were challenges with equipment, facilities and many other things but the main problem was participating and competing in tournaments.”
In 2014 Motlojoa moved to Grey College in Bloemfontein.

By now he was ranked fifth in Africa in junior doubles. He competed at the 2014 African Junior Championships 2014 in Kenya and won bronze in the doubles at the African Union Sports Council (AUSC) Region 5 Under-20 Games in Zimbabwe in December 2014.

His performances led to his qualification for the 2015 Commonwealth Youth Games in Samoa and won admirers far and wide.
“A girls coach at New Mexico Military Institute named Dan O’Connell, who had lived in Lesotho for 15 years, needed players,” Motlojoa says.
“I was recommended to him by the ITF development officer in South Africa, and then he started negotiating with my father. That’s how I ended up getting the scholarship to go to the US.”

Upon his arrival in the United States in 2016, Motlojoa immediately had the chance to meet his role models, Spain’s 15-time Grand Slam winner Nadal and eccentric Frenchman Gael Monfils.
“I had always been watching them on screen, but seeing them live, shaking hands with them and also getting an autograph from Gael Monfils was true happiness to me,” he beams.

Inspiration is indeed much easier to meet in the United States where the professional ATP Tour, with all its top stars such as Nadal, Monfils, Andy Murray and others, frequently visits.

“I have had a chance to play with highly experienced players and that has taught me to improve my game-play and work hard because those people are serious with this sport,” Motlojoa says of his time so far at the New Mexico Military Institute.
“The most important issue is fitness and the way they hit the ball. We can all hit the ball but the point is what you do with the ball,” he continues.
“What is your game plan? The one who wins is the one who is able to capitalise where necessary and those minor things are the crucial things that we have to take into consideration.”

It is clear his international exposure has played a major role in Motlojoa’s development as a tennis player.
“I observe how people react in different situations. I play at the baseline while most people like to play close to the net so I always try to learn,” he adds.

Motlojoa’s big dream, of course, is to turn professional and someday compete on the ATP Tour against his idols.
“I am now at school, I am playing for the college (New Mexico Military Institute) after which I will go to university to get a degree,” Motlojoa says.
“The whole process is something that is going to take me more like three to four years to complete, then after that I will look to play on the professional level. I am intending to go professional but there is a long way ahead of that,” he continues.
Indeed, the immediate future has more junior competitions on the horizon.

From July 5 to 10 Motlojoa will be at the KZN TSA Series in Durban before jetting off to compete at the Botswana Open from July 17 to 24.
It is probably a taste of the busy schedule that will one day come. Motlojoa, certainly, has the world at his hands – his tennis racquet to be more exact.

Mohloai Mpesi

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Dicing with death



MASERU – spinning is a motorsport that originates in South Africa.


The pastime started in the 1980s in the country’s townships and was used mainly by gangsters as a way to show-off their stolen cars.


In the subsequent years, the sport has grown in popularity in South Africa’s neighbouring country and it has made its way to Lesotho.


Although spinning competitions are not held regularly in Lesotho, they always come with a huge fanfare and hundreds of supporters normally flock to its venues to watch drivers spinning, drifting and doing stunts.


It is a loud and mostly dangerous sport that has been labelled as the world’s most reckless sport.


It’s not just any car that is used in spinning, there are special cars that favourties for entertaining crowds.


The BMW 3-series famously known as Gusheshe owing to the brusque sound its engine makes are designed for the spin. Spinning enthusiasts say that BMW 3-series cars can be manipulated and their engines maintained easily.


Lately other people have started to opt for the V8 Toyota which they sport with BMW wheels.


In Lesotho, the shows are held at various places, including the Masianokeng filling station in Maseru. In 2021, Seisa Mohapi left the crowd yearning for more thrills, stunts and spins at Makoanyane Barracks and he emerged as a local favourite.


He has since gone on to make a career out of car spinning and because of the lack of competitions in Lesotho, Mohapi has to travel outside very often to compete.


Today, Mohapi, who is one the most famous spinners in Lesotho, is preparing for the Battle of the Nations competition to be held in Pretoria, South Africa, on April 29.


He is not a newbie to the competition. Last year he was the only Mosotho competing against drivers from the host country, Eswatini and Botswana.


One fascinating fact about Mohapi is that he was not into spinning cars until a friend urged him to join the sport because of his fast driving. Mohapi insists, however, that when he is driving on the road he is not as fast as he is on the track.


He may now be a well-recognised spinner, but it was a difficult road. Getting invitations to South African competitions was mission impossible in the beginning because the sport was not recognised in Lesotho.


The best Mohapi managed was competitions in Bloemfontein and Thaba-Nchu, before he eventually started getting invites to big events.


In 2018, he received his first invitation to attend big spinning events in Villiersdorp, Western Cape, and now the rest is history. He has travelled to several countries including Eswatini and Botswana.


Mohapi remembers: “(My friend) gave me an idea that you already have speed, if you can spin, you can do it well. From there I started spinning on the streets until we started taking it seriously, (we are) hosting events and joining spinning groups.”


When Mohapi is not throttling cars on weekends, during the week he has an office job at the Ministry of Social Development. He says his routine is between his job and spinning.


It is a costly passion.


Motorsport is one of the most expensive sports in the world because it requires fully operational engines and such are costly. Mohapi has no sponsor, he bears all the costs when it comes to his car. Luckily for Mohapi, he can repair cars which means the costs of fixing have not weighed as heavily on him as they otherwise would have.


“Even though spinning is a very expensive sport, I am still fully self-sponsored and it does not cost much on my pocket because I know how to repair cars. So, this is different to someone who waits on engineers when their cars crash,” Mohapi says.


“Because these cars are being used heavily, they kill engines a lot. The cheapest engines range from M3 000 to M4 000 so if you are buying them regularly it becomes expensive. The (engine) I am using is about M18 000 to M20 000 – I am hoping spinning will be recognised as a growing sport,” he continues.


In spinning contests, it is the host’s responsibility to provide participants with tyres, while the participants should make sure that their rims are fit for the performance. Many drivers have earned themselves a reputation with drifting, but that is not the case with Mohapi.


He enjoys spinning and doing stunts most and that has become his trademark.


“For the spin to be performed best, it requires skills,” Mohapi says.


“Some can draw the interest of the audience and some just drift and confuse the audience. When the audience cannot capture what you are doing, they keep themselves busy by buying refreshments,” he adds.


There is a difference between spinning and drifting. Spinning which is more popular is when drivers lock their cars into a spin and screech tyres and make clouds of smoke. They then climb out of the car to perform stunts while spinning.


Meanwhile, the internet defines drifting as a driving technique where the driver intentionally over-steers, with loss of traction, while maintaining control and driving the car through the entirety of a corner.


The technique causes the rear slip angle to exceed the front slip angle to such an extent that often the front wheels are pointing in the opposite direction to the turn. For example, if the car is turning left, the wheels are pointed right or vice versa.


Mohapi says spinning is all about entertainment, no one can be considered a winner, the only way to know if you did well is by the crowd’s reaction to your performance. South Africa is now preparing to host bigger spinning events in which there will be prize money given to participants who impress, and he says he is looking forward to it.


“All I can say is Basotho should support spin because their kids love it,” Mohapi enthuses.


“Their kids must know there is someone in Lesotho who spins and his name is Seisa. At these events there are really a lot of kids, it brings happiness to them.”

Relebohile Tšepe

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Bereng raring to go



MASERU – Likuena star midfielder Tshwarelo Bereng says it’s good for Likuena to go in the match against star-studded Zambia as underdogs despite winning the last encounter between the two countries.


The two southern African countries will face-off in back-to-back matches of the 2023 Africa Cup of Nations at the Levy Mwanawasa Stadium and Dobsonville Stadium on March 23 and 26 respectively.


Motebang Sera was the hero in the last match at the COSAFA Cup beating Kennedy Mweene twice to become Likuena’s all time leading goal-scorer in the regional tournament with six goals.


Bereng, who now plays his football for Eswatini giants, Mbabane Highlanders, makes a return to the Likuena squad since last year’s goalless draw against Ivory Coast, where he was an unused substitute.


“Look, it will be a totally different ball game to the one when we last played at the COSAFA Cup and they also know that it’s not going to be a walk in the park for them,” the midfielder said.


“We just have to approach the game with the same mindset we had against them two years ago in Port Elizabeth, which was self-belief and playing to our strength.”


Bereng, who had a long career playing in South Africa for the likes of Moroka Swallows, Chippa United and Black Leopards, admitted that Zambia are favourite on paper going into the two matches, but is adamant they can cause an upset like they did in holding star-studded Ivory Coast to a goalless draw.


“Of course, on paper they are favourites because they have a lot of players playing abroad such as Patson Daka of Leicester City, but like I said, self-belief is very important at this level of football,” Bereng said.


“I think for me it’s very good to be labelled underdogs, it takes the pressure away from us and gives us room to surprise them.


“They are going to be to tough games, but we have been there before and we know what we have to do to improve our position if we are to qualify for the Africa Cup of Nations,” he said.


Likuena will host Eswatini in a training match this Thursday as both countries fine-tune their preparations for the upcoming 2023 Afcon matches.


Mikia Kalati

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Free show for football fans



MASERU – The Lesotho Football Association (LEFA) has opened its gates to Basotho who want to watch the national team Likuena today. Lesotho hosts Eswatini this afternoon at Bambatha Tšita Sports Arena in their last friendly match before they fly to Zambia.

This training match is part of Likuena’s preparation for the back-to-back 2023 Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON) qualifiers against Zambia in two weeks’ time.

Three weeks ago, Lesotho coach Veselin Jelusic and his charges travelled to Malawi for a friendly match which ended with a 1-1. At the time the Serbian coach said he wished for more games and today’s match will surely come in handy as it will help him to fine-tune mistakes Likuena made against Malawi.

The first leg match of the AFCON qualifier against Zambia will be played at the Levy Mwanawasa Stadium on March 23, with the return leg set for Dobsonville Stadium in Soweto on March 26th. Lesotho needs to win at least one of the two games to stand any chance of qualifying.

After two AFCON qualifying games, Likuena are bottom of Group H which also includes Comoros and Ivory Coast.

Like Likuena, Eswatini is also preparing to take on Cape Verde in their AFCON qualifying campaigns on March 24 and 28 respectively.

LEFA has invited Basotho to come and watch their team free of charge as this could be their last chance to watch Likuena on their home soil until Setsoto Stadium is upgraded to meet international standards.

Because of the unavailability of the national stadium Likuena have been forced to play their home matches in South Africa.

Likuena lost 2-0 away to Comoros in their opener but played to a spirited 0-0 draw with giants Ivory Coast at ‘home’. Both games were played last June.

Two of Likuena’s foreign based players have already joined up with the team. Lead striker Motebang Sera, who is still recovering from a minor injury that side-lined him for his South African premiership club Royal AM, is with the team. He missed his team’s 5-1 clobbering by Mamelodi Sundowns on Tuesday. Tšoarelo Bereng, who is also based across the border, is another one that is now in camp with Likuena.

Richards Bay striker Katleho Makateng is yet to link up with the team, he is expected to be part of the Richards Bay squad that will take on TS Galaxy in the DSTV Premiership in Mpumalanga on Sunday. He will be allowed to join Likuena after and is expected to be a key figure against Zambia.

Tlalane Phahla

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