“South Africa has lost the Nelson Mandela of football” – Dr Petrus Molemela’s autobiographer

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Molemela‚ 83‚ was Honorary Life President of the club and a hugely influential figure in their history‚ but Pietersen‚ also a former CEO of Celtic‚ says his work outside of the game deserves as much recognition.

There is no doubt that he was at times a controversial figure‚ but also an enormously generous benefactor to the poor in communities around Mangaung‚ reveals Pietersen‚ the author of ‘I Have Seen It All’‚ Molemela’s autobiography that was first published in 2013. Born in 1933‚ Molemela had no formal education but found huge success in the construction industry at a time when it was difficult for black businessmen to flourish.

He used the profits from his various enterprises to purchase Celtic in 1975‚ and his no-nonsense approach helped to grow the side into one of the best supported in the country.

“I always tell people that he was very short-tempered‚” Pietersen tells Times Media Digital.

“For him‚ if something is green‚ something is green‚ you can never change it. He would tell it like it is.

“But he was a great soccer administrator and businessman. He would build houses for people free of charge and he built churches for the local community.

“Despite his success‚ he was a servant of the people. I honestly believe we have lost the Nelson Mandela of South African football.”

Molemela brought his Midas touch to Celtic and after they returned to the top-flight in 1984 with Dave Roberts as coach‚ they won the Mainstay Cup (now Nedbank Cup) in 1985 with a team packed with quality imports from Lesotho‚ Malawi and Mozambique.

It was the season that Malawian Ernest Chirwali was named Footballer of the Year and it catapulted Molemela to a figure of national prominence.

The club would go on to finish second in the league in 1986‚ still their best return to date‚ but Molemela’s explosive relationship with a succession of coaches meant there was a steady turnover of tacticians that stunted the team’s growth into regular title contenders.

It would be almost 20 years before they lifted major silverware again‚ after Molemela had sold the club to former Celtic player Jimmy Augousti in 2001 following their relegation from the top-flight.

There were controversies that dogged him too as‚ along with QwaQwa Stars‚ the club were involved in the fraudulent registering of foreign players with false South African identity documents.

Several players were arrested and deported‚ though no action was ever taken against Molemela.

Pietersen remembers another incident involving his former boss that showed his combustible nature.

“It was against African Wanderers or AmaZulu‚ the referee was very bad and blatantly biased against us‚” Pietersen recalls.

“Molemela invaded the pitch with his hand in his jacket and his finger pointing so it looked as though he was concealing a gun.

“The referee started running away! The game was stopped for 10-15 minutes and eventually resumed.

“The PSL wanted to bring a DC charge‚ but Molemela just told them‚ ‘do you honestly believe I would chase people with a gun?’ and never went to the hearing. I think he got a three-match suspension from memory.”

But Pietersen says Molemela was also a trend-setter ahead of his time‚ who saw opportunities that others did not and at heart was kind‚ generous and excellent at his craft.

“He was a great businessman. He was the first to do just about everything. He was first businessman to build a hotel and Celtic was the first team to go fully professional‚ the first to pay players full-time.

“He was an excellent professional‚ even without a formal education. He was in the construction business and could read a plan and tell you immediately what the issues would be.

“He would show all the educated quantity surveyors and so on where they had gone wrong. We have lost a true giant.” – TMG Digital

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