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Luciah Phahla

SEMONKONG

 

DUST billows as stallions gallop through the roars of exultant men and ululating women. Each is cheering for their favourite jockey.

This is not the internationally celebrated Durban July horse race but the annual Semonkong race in honour of King Letsie III’s birthday.

The scene is fantastic, complete with a relic dirt track and beautiful blue mountains, set in a small town some 1 000 metres above sea level.

Hundreds of spectators have come from surrounding villages to watch this Saturday presentation of horse racing and their joy becomes obvious when a tripling contest starts.

This contest involves a unique mix of frolicking and racing.

Tripling is a prancing style in which the front and hind legs on the same side of the horse work together. It is not a gallop and it is also not a trot.

Riders are welcomed on to the track by men shouting poems and songs. They are waving sticks, blowing whistles and wearing beautifully designed blankets.

When the tripling contest starts, the horses are immediately engulfed by clouds of dust. They stride purposefully, vying to prove their worth while jockeys and spectators alike bellow their names.

About 30 seconds before the finishing line and having tripled 900 metres, a stallion by the name of Khang proves its mettle as it out-sprints seven other competitors.

Khang’s jockey is Moholi Adoro, a shy boy of 15 years.

Adoro does not recite praise poems for his horse as jockeys are normally wont to do.

Instead, it is Khang’s admirers that gleefully recite poems as they cheerfully pat the brown stallion and run their hands down its shiny black mane.

The riders here are mostly trainers or owners.

Some are herdsmen who would normally be mounting their horses to travel to cattle posts in the mountains. None are professional jockeys.

The competitors have come from all over.

The wealthier have hired horse boxes; others have loaded their stallions into bakkies.

After the tripling contest is another competition – the gallop.

This time around spectators place bets.

Stallions on watch are Khang and Jerusalema. Both are renowned in these parts for their speed. One mineworker bets M1 000 on Jerusalema because he has seen it in a previous race. He swears no stallion can outrun Jerusalema.

Another, who recites poems for Khang, also bets M1 000 saying both the stallion’s name and its reputation on the track are a sure sign it will beat Jerusalema.

Khang is a Sesotho word meaning dispute and this enthusiastic fan believes his favoured horse will win this figurative dispute.

He is proved right.

As in the tripling contest, Khang is the victor of the gallop.

Another star is also catching the eye – the 15-year-old boy jockeying the champion horse.

Adoro has now ridden two wins and he has done it with the confidence of a master.

It is as if he has been doing this for years.

After this latest win, thepost tracks down Adoro, a Form B student at Lithabaneng High School in Maseru. He is shy, only giving short replies.

“I have been riding horses for the past four years,” he whispers. “I don’t race every year. Last year I didn’t take part but then this year I decided to come back again.”

Adoro says his family owns horses. His brother also rides.

The Semonkong race, he explains, has been challenging even if his display didn’t betray it.

“It was not easy, but it was enjoyable,” he says. “What was more difficult is that I was riding against people I don’t know. It was my first time seeing them here. It was difficult to prepare because I didn’t know who they were.”

Adoro says jockeying is his passion. He hopes to make it his profession.

“I would like to ride horses on professional basis and earn money from it,” he declares. “Today I got M750. We put a bet that the horse that wins takes all (the money) and I am happy I won.”

Adoro soon finds out he has gained M4 000 for guiding Khang to victories in the tripling and gallop events. In total, that is M4 750 for his day’s work and Adoro understandably goes home with a beaming smile.

The Semonkong horse race in honour of King Letsie III has been organised by Semonkong Lodge with financial support from the Lesotho Tourism Development Corporation (LTDC).

In total, the sponsorship amounts to M10 000.

The race is a success; it has even attracted visitors all the way from France.

They are here to shoot a documentary about Basotho culture and the importance of horses to Lesotho.

LTDC spokeswoman ‘Manchafalo Motšoeneng says the Semonkong horse race is now an integral part of their calendar of events.

“The LTDC sponsored the event with M9 000 and the other M1 000 comes from the Semonkong Lodge. We are promoting domestic tourism and international tourism,” Motšoeneng says.

She adds: “People who will watch this documentary will want to visit Lesotho in future. This activity is for everyone and we are trying to bring it to the attention of Basotho that tourism lives. As we always say, know your country first.”

Echoing her words is Semonkong Lodge owner Jonathan Halse who has been living in Lesotho for two decades.

Halse says his years in the country have taught him horses are not just a form of transport but central to local culture.

“I have been into horse racing for over ten years now, I think. Ever since I came here I have learnt that horses are very important and we are trying to promote tourism in Lesotho by using horses,” Halse states.

“The lodge is linked to the horses. I think we have about 50 horses that belong to the community that stay at the lodge. Some horses are bred here in Semonkong while others are coming from outside,” he says.

As the dust and cheers slowly subside, the departing throng already murmurs on what to expect at next year’s Semonkong showpiece for the King.

All and sundry have clearly enjoyed the spectacle, a day celebrating Lesotho, its beautiful culture and its horses.

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Moerane signs for Orbit

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CAF President Dr Patrice Motsepe made a bold statement during the opening ceremony of the 2023 Africa Cup of Nations in Cote d’Ivoire that this tournament will go down as the best in the history of the beautiful game.

The tournament has indeed lived up to those expectations as it reaches the quarter-final stage. The continental showpiece has entertained us with everything that every football fanatic would expect from a big continental tourney like the AFCON.

His decision to join Orbit FC ends months of speculation where he was linked with several clubs in South Africa in both the Premier League and Motsepe Foundation Championship.

The Mazenod-born goalkeeper had been the centre of attention after years of impressive displays playing for his country in various competitions.

Moerane had not only been a hit in Southern Africa, where in 2023 he was named the Goalkeeper of the Tournament at the COSAFA Cup, but had also been given standing ovations in countries like Cote D’voire and Nigeria, where Likuena surprised the continental powerhouses.

The goal-minder was also the 2022/2023 Vodacom Premier League Goalkeeper of the Season adding that he was sad to leave the police outfit, who had been on an impressive run in the current season.

LMPS remains the only team that is still unbeaten in the league.

“This has been a challenge I have been looking forward to and I’m very happy that it has finally come true,” Moerane said after his arrival in South Africa.

“I know that it will not be easy as I come to a new country, new team, new teammates and new coach, which I all have to win over to trust me as their new player.”

Moerane is adamant the presence of experienced Likuena teammate, Tshwarelo Bereng, who is a journeyman and is well respected, will help him settle down quickly at his new club.

“He is a very experienced and respected player, whose presence at the club, I have no doubt will help me settle down quickly at this club,” he said.

“This is a new chapter of my career, where I need to start all over and make a legacy like I did during my time with LMPS.

“I have been preparing myself for some time now and I think I’m mentally and physically ready for this new challenge,” he said.

Moerane said the First Division will be a good stepping stone for him to make a name for himself in South Africa.

“I’m happy with the move to the First Division, it’s a good platform for me to make a name for myself and I believe I will still get to the bigger league or clubs, but it has to go through the right channels,” he said.

The agency that represents the player, Opus Sports Group with renowned football administrator Chris Bullock as the managing director, stated that they felt the first division was a good platform for Moerane to gradually grow into South African football.

“The move was about Moerane taking the next step of his career. He will get a good opportunity to get exposure at a good NDF club and if he does well, it will be a chance for him to progress further,” Bullock said.

“We liked how Orbit conducted themselves throughout and their vision for Sekhoane too and I think everyone is on the same page.

“It’s now up to Sekhoane to work hard and perform the way we know he is capable of and the rest will take care of itself,” he said.

Bullock also expressed gratitude to LMPS FC for allowing Moerane, who was recently promoted to the rank of Sergeant, to leave the country for greener pastures.

Mikia Kalati

 

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Manonyane boss blames injuries for poor run

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Manonyane head coach Mosholi Mokhothu has blamed injuries for his side’s poor Vodacom Premier League campaign.
After a promising 2022/23 season in which they won two of their final four games and finished 11th, Manonyane have taken a major step back and find themselves languishing in 14th place.

The Roma side haven’t won a league match since a 1-0 win over Machokha on November 18, a run of nine games that includes five losses.
Manonyane have been so bad, in fact, that they haven’t scored a goal in all three games they have played since the turn of the year.
Their poor form has, unsurprisingly, dragged them firmly into the relegation picture.

Manonyane are four points above 15th-placed CCX who occupy the final relegation place, and the Roma side are in real danger of relinquishing the coveted top-flight status they gained in 2020.
Mokhothu pointed to Manonyane’s lengthy injury list as the reason for their struggles.

Thabang Tsakajoe (midfield), Bokang Matobo (striker), Molise Masoabi (midfield) and Bakoena Mosola (fullback) are all injured while Moraphate Nkejane has only recently returned to training.

All five players are key and their absences have hurt a squad that doesn’t have great depth.

“(After the injuries) it became difficult to use the available players in positions they do not play,” Mokhothu said.
The former Lioli and Lesotho Correctional Service mentor admitted Manonyane have to turn the corner quickly.
“We are at the point where we are fighting for a win in every game,” he said.

“We are trying to not put the players under pressure (but) we are in a risky position now, we are now discussing how we can move up the table,” he added.
Having won the league with Lioli and LCS, Mokhothu has experience of what it takes to navigate the challenges of a season. He said Manonyane’s improvement needs to start on Sunday when they host Lesotho Defence Force (LDF) who haven’t had the best of seasons themselves.

The army side, who finished third last season, are in ninth place with 22 points from 12 games and have fallen short of their own pre-season expectations.
“I believe starting from this coming week; we will work hard on winning game after game,” Mokhothu said.

“It might happen that we win or draw in those games but, most importantly, we want to see if our results are pushing us up (the league table) or not,” he said.
He said the team plays well but do not have enough knowledge of how to score goals, something that was evident in their latest blank last Sunday when they lost 1-0 to LCS.
“Last season, we were creating many chances, even if we lost some of the games but we were still converting them unlike the LCS game. On Sunday, most of my attacking players were not there so I ended up making forced changes because of the situation,” he said.

Mokhothu said the LCS game taught him valuable lessons about his players, however.
“We saw who can play where and where some (players) need assistance and I am pleased that if they can hear me out, we can change our way of playing and results,” Mokhothu said.

For that to happen, the club’s supporters will also play a big role, he added.
“The players really need the supporters, so they should always show up and give (the players) hope,” Mokhothu said.
“It is true that the supporters are supporting us with crying hearts but I promise them that, one day, they will get what they expect.”

Relebohile Tšepe

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Afcon lives up to expectations

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CAF President Dr Patrice Motsepe made a bold statement during the opening ceremony of the 2023 Africa Cup of Nations in Cote d’Ivoire that this tournament will go down as the best in the history of the beautiful game.
The tournament has indeed lived up to those expectations as it reaches the quarter-final stage. The continental showpiece has entertained us with everything that every football fanatic would expect from a big continental tourney like the AFCON.

In the last edition of the tournament held in Cameroon, I was able to put my head on the block from the word go that the Terranga Lions, as the Senegal national team is popularly known, would go all the way, which they did as they were crowned champions after defeating Egypt on penalties.

I have tried to do the same with this tournament and I must confess, it was very difficult to make a prediction as to who will walk home champions when the tournament ends on February 11.

At the completion of the group stage, a lot of people had their money on the defending champions Senegal and Morocco, who looked unmatched in the group phase as each won all their games.

Fast forward to the last 16, both countries were eliminated by Cote d’Ivoire and South Africa respectively. Worse for Cote d’Ivoire, their tournament looked to be over when in their last match of group stage, they suffered a humiliating a 4-0 defeat at the hands of Equatorial Guinea, who everyone regarded as minnows.

That was the biggest defeat suffered by AFCON hosts but the Elephants were thrown a lifeline into the round of 16 qualifiers as one of the four best-third placed finishers.
The Ivorian FA didn’t waste time and sacked Frenchman, Jean-Louis Gasset, which didn’t come as a surprise to me as the Elephants were not convincing at all during his spell in charge of the West African country.

I managed to watch his team closely as they played against Likuena in the qualifiers. During the first leg played at the Dobsonville Stadium, the two countries played out to a goalless draw while in San Pedro, the Elephants secured a narrow 1-0 victory.

Former Ivorian international Emerse Fae was tasked with the responsibility of saving the sinking ship of the Elephants, a job he did with aplomb as the hosts fought their way back from a goal down to salvage a 1-1 draw against defending champions, Senegal taking the last 16 tie to penalties, where they won 5-4.
I must say the Elephants looked a different side to the one I saw under Gasset as Fae got them firing to stun the defending champions, who have since packed their bags and gone home.

Cote d’Ivoire were indeed very lucky as the same cannot be said of the likes of Ghana and Algeria, among the big guns sent packing in the group stages of the tournament.
The poor performance of the Black Stars and the Dessert Foxes led to both Chris Hughton and Djamel Belmadi agreeing to step down as the coaches of the West and North African countries respectively.

Morocco is another country that was tipped to contest for the AFCON title, but they also failed to come to the party in their last 16 encounter.
Bafana Bafana won the match 2-0 to book a place in the quarter-finals.
Bafana Bafana have proved a hoodoo for Morocco, who many people thought would win the continental showpiece after their exploits at the 2022 Qatar World Cup, where they became the first African country to reach the semi-finals.

Their struggle against Bafana Bafana is nothing new as it dates to the days of former African Footballer of the Year, Mustafa Hadji.
Bafana Bafana’s opponents in the quarter-finals, Cape Verde, have been the surprise package of the tournament. The Blue Sharks’ remarkable journey in Cote d’Ivoire saw them win a group that had both Egypt and Ghana.

They have since inked a milestone in the history of their country winning a knockout match for the first time after beating Mauritania to set up a showdown against South Africa in the quarter-finals.
Mauritania themselves punched above their weight to have made it to the last 16 at the expense of a powerhouse like Algeria, who they beat 1-0 in the group stage. I have been impressed by their coach, Amir Abdou, who is making a name for himself as one of the best coaches in the continent having achieved a similar feat with Comoros in the previous edition of the tournament.

The one team that was under the microscope going into the tournament for unconvincing performances is Nigeria.
They eliminated Cameroon in the last 16. Their talisman Victor Osimhen has lived up to the billing of having recently been crowned African Footballer of the Year.
He has been the main man for Nigeria so far in the tournament by not only scoring goals, but also providing assists. His attitude and commitment in the field of play has been second to none.

I must say, the Super Eagles looked ordinary without Osimhen as they struggled to get their groove in matches played before AFCON where they were held by Lesotho and Zimbabwe.

Nigeria, Cote d’Ivoire and South Africa have all looked very solid in their last 16 matches and I have a feeling they all have a very good chance of making it to the semi-finals. My gut feeling tells me that the AFCON trophy is going to remain in West Africa with Nigeria or Cote d’Ivoire winning it.
I really think that they tournament has lived up to expectation both on and off the field. Credit goes to the continental football body CAF under the leadership of Patrice Motsepe and Cote d’Ivoire as the host country, for putting so much effort to make the tournament a success.

To the government of Lesotho, this is yet another lesson of how football can be powerful when it has the support of its government as witnessed with countries like Mauritania and Cape Verde, who were deemed as minnows but are making strides in major continental competitions.
I have managed to visit some of these countries as well as others like Comoros, who have also qualified for AFCON tournament in recent years. Their governments have invested hugely in football infrastructure hence they are able to go pound for pound with some of the best in the continent.

Mikia Kalati

 

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