Geingob: Namibia’s sport-loving president 

Former president Hage Geingob. Photo: AFP

History will remember president Hage Gottfried Geingob as a flamboyant and charismatic figure both in his lifestyle and visionary leadership.

But his lifestyle and leadership aside, Geingob had another passion – a storied love-affair with sport, football in particular.

Apart from having played the game in his younger days, Geingob enjoyed watching a good game of football either at the stadium or on television.

Speaking to The Namibian Sport recently, his former teammate at the now defunct Tsumeb outfit Etosha Lions, Thomas ‘Madala’ Uushona, described Geingob, nicknamed ‘Danger Point’ during his heyday, as someone who loved playing the beautiful game.

“The late Geingob was someone who loved playing football a lot. Unfortunately, we were not teammates for long because we only played a month or two together before he and his best friend Paul Kalenga went into exile,” says Uushona.

“Geingob, alongside his namesake Gottfried Haipare in the two-man defence of Etosha Lions. I, alongside the likes of Willem Kruger, Hans Howaeb, Duimpie Joodt and Kalenga were tasked with the scoring duties. Geingob was a powerful defender.”

Meanwhile, retired teacher Manuel Uiseb, who was Geingob’s pupil at Tsumeb, echoes Uushona’s sentiments that Geingob was quite a toughie on the football pitch.

“The late president was one of the toughest defenders of his generation. He was such an intimidating figure on the football pitch and he used his huge physique to his advantage. An opposition player had to know his story when he approached him,” Manuel said.

“With him it was just one thing. It’s either you pass him but the ball stays behind, or the ball passes him but you stay behind. Make no mistake, he may have been a big man but he was also very comfortable with a soccer ball at his feet.”

INTIMIDATING PRESENCE

Geingob’s former pupil points out that Geingob was also a powerful shooter of the ball and he was very aware of that fact.

“The football field was behind the bushes near the Tsumeb Corporation Limited (TCL) hostel, which accommodated the contract workers. When the Etosha Lions players were tired they would just kick the ball into the bushes to allow them to rest a little,” Uiseb narrated.

“We, the little boys at the time, were tasked to retrieve the ball from those bushes and it was never an easy thing to do because the bushes were very thick. Apart from playing as a central defender, Geingob would also play goalkeeper occasionally when needed.

“This came as a surprise given the fact that goalkeeping requires quick reflexes, reading opponents and diving, considering his huge frame that, while intimidating for the opposition strikers, gave him a huge advantage to deal with the high balls.”

Geingob was driven by his ambition to help liberate his country from apartheid and it didn’t take long before the Etosha Lions pack broke up, soon after their fullback went into exile in 1962, due to a player revolt.

Geingob may have been in exile but he never stopped following Namibian football and in his own words said: “I was happy the day The Namibian was established because I could follow what was happening in the Namibian domestic football leagues.”

When Geingob returned from exile, he took time out to reconnect with his former Etosha Lions teammates at Tsumeb, in what was described as “a very emotional reunion”.

He was appointed by the Swapo Politburo to spearhead the party’s election campaign in 1989, following the implementation of the United Nations Resolution 435.

Throughout his demanding political career, Geingob’s love for the game never wavered one bit.

In fact, he came out strong as an athletics, boxing and rugby fan as well, which saw him becoming a popular figure at sports events around the country.

INSPIRATIONAL FIGURE

The late president was particularly an ever present figure at football matches, especially whenever the Brave Warriors were engaged in continental tournaments. He would on occasion follow them to other countries across the continent.

Although it was not officially recorded, it is widely believed that Geingob went into the fired-up Zambian change room at half-time in 1992 to ask them to slow down a bit.

Chipolopolo were destroying the Brave Warriors 4-0 during a 1994 Fifa World Cup qualifier played at the Independence Stadium in Windhoek and looked poised to add more goals after the restart.

His passion prompted the Namibian Football Association to name him its patron.

The former school teacher also famously travelled to the 1998 Africa Cup of Nations finals in Burkina Faso, where the Brave Warriors won the hearts of the hosts and Namibian public alike.

Rusten Mogane, then the Brave Warriors head coach, told The Namibian Sport Geingob’s presence inspired the team.

“Namibia, who were renowned for their second half comebacks, trailed two-time winners Ivory Coast 3-0 in their opening in Bobo-Dioulasso, after which they staged a dramatic second half resurgence to draw the scores level at 3-all before going down to a dying minute goal 4-3.

The Brave Warriors drew 3-3 with Angola in the second match before they succumbed 4-1 to Bafana Bafana in their final group match.

“I must say that the former prime minister’s presence in the change room really motivated the players and technical team,” Mogane said.

Geingob was also present at the Estadio da Cidadela in Luanda, when Angola narrowly beat Namibia 1-0 in the first-leg of the Cosafa Cup final, while the two nations played the second half to a thrilling one-all draw at the Independence Stadium in Windhoek in 1998.

The voice of Geingob may have been silenced but his legacy will prevail, particularly in the minds of football lovers around the country.

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