Remembering multi-talented athlete-cum-political activist.....Bernard ‘Bennie’ Petrus De Sales 1952 – 1986
The overall dominant view is that the beautiful game of football has taken a nosedive as a result of non-existing structures at national schools, apart from sporadic tournaments.
Back in the day, various government high schools formed the backbone of the big local clubs campaigning in the then popular knockout cup tournaments.
One particular school that springs to mind is the St Joseph’s Secondary Learning Institution (Dobra) situated south-east of Namibia’s commercial capital, Windhoek.
The likes of Steve Stephanus, Oscar Mengo, Benjamin “Spokes” Tibinyane, Sagarias “Celle” Auchumeb, Mikey Hans, Pele Eigowab, Joseph “Malaka” Somseb, Sebastian “Stu” Damaseb, Anton “Orlando” Damaseb, Gabes Dausab, Linus Gariseb, Ambrossius Vyff, Max “Zoda” Johnson, Albert Tjihero, Hannes Louw, Bernard “Hassie” Mingeri, Gotthardt “Black” Kangootui, Samani Kamerika, Willy Katire, Hubert Mootseng, Ben Kauejao, Bonifacius “Kantori“ Paulino, Fighter Louis, Laurentius “Vossie” van Wyk, Gregory “Corrie” Uri-Khob and Frans “Speed-Trap” Kazimbu were all products of the unofficial “School of Excellence” (football-wise).
Inevitably, lots of others followed suit in later years but none other captured the imagination of local football followers more than the athletically built versatile athlete, going by the name of Bennie Petrus De Sales.
WINDHOEK – Ever since his infant years at the revered Roman Catholic Mission School (Dobra) young Bennie was an energetic kid who excelled in almost every piece of object he ever laid his hands on.
One of his old classmates and former teammate at club and school level, Hermann “Blue” Karimbue, is well placed to narrate Bennie’s exploits on the dusty sport fields at Dobra during their formative years.
“I actually met up with young Bennie when I arrived at Dobra in 1971. We were in the same class, Standard 7 (form one) even though he had already started his lower primary school grades at Dobra. In those days, there was not much recreational games for scholars and many young boys would engage in playing football at any given time. He was playing for a hostel team Chief Santos as a striker,” recalls Blue.
It was not long before “Bennie” graduated to the school’s second team before moving to Augustineum High School in Windhoek, alongside other defectors led by Rudolph “Ghenno” Himarwa, Ronnie Kahuure, Rusten “Zukhile” Mogane and giant lanky shot-stopper August Gaeb.
“Bennie” announced his arrival in his new environment with breathtaking displays and was soon converted to the position of central defender, cementing himself as an uncompromising center back in the star-studded Augustineum football side.
The squad included Ace Tjirera, Japhet Isaacs, Jerry Tjizo, Abraham Kukuri, Gabes Gariseb, Metusal “Babes” Kangombe, amongst a horde of highly talented young footballers.
Apart from his exploits and exceptional talent on the football field, the multitalented “Bennie” was a formidable volley player and ranked amongst the finest in the business when the game was introduced at school (Dobra).
As it turned out, his arrival at Augustineum Secondary School perfectly coincided with nationwide school boycotts in both South Africa and her sister colony South West Africa (SWA) in 1976.
A fearless political activist, “Bennie” rolled up his sleeves hitting the ground running as he almost single-handedly gallantly spearheaded the revolution against the much-despised Bantu Education system imposed at all native schools.
In the meantime, Katutura giants Orlando Pirates Football Club came knocking on his door for his services and “Bennie” was roped into the untouchable Ghosts’ rearguard alongside “Captain Fantastic” Steve Stephanus, Ananias “Bigman” Nanuseb and Tsotsie Afrikaner.
Such was his huge influence in the team’s dressing room that “Bennie” managed to persuade the team management to recruit his former Dobra Football Club’s teammate and close buddy Hermann “Blue” Karimbue.
“Bennie” would also occasionally turn out in the deep blue sea colours of exciting Kuisebmond outfit Blue Waters FC during the school breaks.
Word has it that “Bennie” was the mastermind behind the burning of the Augustineum School – amidst heavy protests condemning the sub-standard education system deliberately tailored for Bantus (Blacks).
The trigger-happy “Bowker Boys” got wind of his hands-on involvement in the unrest and started to engineer moves to corner the young political activist for interrogation, ultimately possible imprisonment without a fair trial.
However, the wide-awake slippery political activist “Bennie” acted swiftly and escaped the jaws of torture and inhuman treatment at the hands of the bloodthirsty apartheid regime.
He quietly skipped his native land, cat-footing in the darkness of the night into exile. A trusted SWAPO cadre, the strongly built “Bennie” Petrus resurfaced in Zambia to further his academic aspirations in search of equal decent opportunities for his marginalised people back home.
A crowd favourite, young “Bennie” was amongst dozens of young people fleeing the country en masse to join the liberation struggle under the ruling party SWAPO in the mid-70’s.
Other prominent local footballers who left the country during the turbulent times were Nema “Lemmy” Lazarus, Lawrence “Zondi” Amathilla (both Blue Waters), Manfred “Bush” Menjengua (African Stars), Johnny Veiko, Vincent “Botsotso” Hermann (both Tigers), Erich //Khari-Axab Lambert, Naftalie “Koekie” Naobeb (both Black Africa), Japhet Isaacs (Ramblers Katutura, “Ramkat”), Ignatius Ngarukue “Karau” Kaitjirokere, Markus Shilongo (both Black Beauty Chiefs, “BBC” – Okahandja).
Upon their arrival in Lusaka, Zambia most of the exiled footballers joined up with the Namibian students’ football team, under the supervision of the football-crazy Namibian presiding Head of State Dr Hage Geingob.
“A promising political journey, gone awry”
As fate would dictate, the militant political activist, going by the name of “Bennie” Petrus, who sacrificed his youth in exchange for the betterment of his community through politics, would never reach the promised land of “milk and honey”.
Sadly, his boyhood aspirations were interruptedly curtailed by his confinement to the notorious Lubango dudgeons, in Angola.
His name is prominently thrown in the narration of Oiva Angula’s no-holds-barred autobiography “Swapo Captive, a Comrade’s Experience of Betrayal and Torture”. The former Nanso activist painstakingly details the sorry-plight of the Lubango detainees.
The author pulls no punches, stating to the bone in no uncertain terms that some of his detained comrades were exposed to serious bodily harm.
“It ultimately led to a rather painful slow death in the pits. Most of the deaths resulted from malnutrition and open wounds from severe daily beatings while others disappeared without trace in the deep dark hours of the night.”
“My friend Bennie Petrus was next to be snatched away from us on 13th November 1986 at the Omungakwiyu detention camp. He was a revolutionary fighter who dauntlessly struggled for the freedom of his motherland and finally died as a dog at the hands of criminals within SWAPO,” reads an extract from Angula’s autobiography.
As we bring closure to this unpleasant episode of a true revolutionary, who had dedicated his entire youthful energy to liberate his beloved motherland, death at the hands of a liberation movement to which he dedicated his life was the ultimate reward for his undying loyalty.
Bennie Petrus, the complete athlete, fearless political activist, diligent political commissar, you might be gone to be reunited with your ancestors, but your legacy remains embedded in the memory of many Namibians in both the political realm and football fraternity. May your soul continue to rest in peace.
2019-08-16 08:51:47 9 months ago