The journey of Life Fighters FC, aka ‘Okahirona’ unzipped
Ironically or rather coincidently, Namibia’s topflight football league NPL has three affiliates born in the same year.
The year 1964 will go down in history as the year the trio of Premiership campaigners, Katutura giants Black Africa, coastal outfit Eleven Arrows and Orwetoveni-based Life Fighters football clubs all started gracing football pitches across the length and breadth of then South West Africa (SWA) under South African occupation.
As a result of tribal segregation in those days social entities and activities were conducted strictly along tribal and ethnic lines. Football clubs could not escape the strictures of this nauseating apartheid philosophy, deliberately designed by the masters of segregation to systematically pit black people against each other.
As was customary in those days, people living within close proximity to a particular urban area descended en masse on the nearest town in search of employment and greener pastures.
So it was only proper that rural folks from Omatjete (Omaruru District) and Ozonahi (Okarakara District) resurfaced in Otjiwarongo, while those from Okotjituuo (Grootfontein District) were to be urbanised in the Maize Triangle of Tsumeb, Otavi and Grootfontein.
Life Fighters, affectionately known as ‘Okahirona’ among its ardent followers for its astonishing and beautified purple and white attire, complemented by a thin black lining, was called into life by Ovaherero-speaking athletes living in Otjiwarongo’s Ou Lokasie.
History will reveal that no football club in the topflight domestic league suffered as many setbacks and still managed to weather the storm against all odds stacked against them.
Life Fighters endured the pain and embarrassment of featuring in the country’s most prestigious knockout cup final, only to be relegated that same season; the second time the club dropped to the lower tier division.
The purple and white striped squad boasts a voluminous and rich history and was ranked among the finest football teams for long periods, as they dominated football in the north alongside Etosha Lions (Chief Santos) Chelsea, Poison Arrows, Rangers, Red Bees, Black Marroco Chiefs (BMC), Benfica and African Lions.
The club was founded under the guidance of young men from Otjiwarongo’s Ou Lokasie, with local grocery shopowner and astute businessman Emil Kuhanga leading the pack. He was joined by other talented young footballers, such as Jaez Mbakera, Kei Kazenango, Mboha Nganjone, Gottfried Uapingene, Jonathan Katjatako, Caiphus Mukaru, Tepeho Novengi, Katutuu Katjivikua, as well as goalkeepers Alphons Tjikoriho Njembo and Uiteb.
In the absence of organised league structures, the club would engage in exhibition matches against teams local teams, as well as opponents from Tsumeb, Outjo, Otavi and Grootfontein.
Mentored by the no-nonsense Obed Mavenjono, Okahirona were the official hosts of the popular annual Ovahehrero knockout tourney – strictly reserved for Ovaherero-speaking football teams.
The likes of African Stars and Flames (both from Windhoek), Black Beauty Chiefs (Okahandja), Scorpions (Omaruru), Sunshine (Gobabis), Red Bees (Tsumeb), African Stars (Otavi), Poison Arrows (Grootfontein), Red Fire Walvis Bay) and Okaondeka (Okakarara) would converge on the town to challenge each other for football supremacy.
With the passing of time and with the old guard getting a bit long in the tooth, the inevitable arrival of young blood was to change the fortunes of the club for the better.
New players in the mould of Kaputji Kuhanga, Immanuel ‘Marques’ Kamuserandu, Rikua Kahorongo, Abe Katire, Pottie Mbarandongo, Kanomora ‘Number’ Ngavetene, George Kongunja Kasuto, Tepa, Muriua, Pineas Katjivikua, Apolo Munene, Kaloki Muriua, Skelly Kavetuna, Bongi Muriua, Andreas Aibeb, Lucky Kuhanga, Abethe Mbako and Rudi Tjazerua were roped in to replace the aging squad.
The abovementioned pool of players is generally regarded as the most talented and well-balance squad during the club’s transition from the first generation.
However, as fate would dictate, other clubs took note of the massive talent at Fighters’ disposal and came knocking on the players’ doors to luring them away by dangling a juicy carrot in their face and promising them better employment opportunities.
The dangerous striking pair of Kaputji Kuhanga and Kamuserandu, as well as burly fullback Seadog Kuhanga joined coastal giants Blue Waters, while Rikua Kahorongo and George Kasuto resurfaced in the city of lights of lights after joining forces with African Stars and Flames, respectively.
It was back to the drawing board as the club was now obliged to recruit new players and coincidently, this happened at the time when the versatile former Flames and African Stars defender, Asser Mbai, was posted to Okakarara to manage emerging South West Africa Broadcasting Corporation (SWABC) Otjiherero language radio station.
Mbai played a significant role in rejuvenating his boyhood team from his birthplace, as he brought in a number of highly gifted youngsters to beef up a disjointed squad. It was now up to the new players to hold high the club’s flag and the new arrivals certainly lived up to the challenge.
Despite the change in playing personnel, the team never lost its spark and always stuck to its customary style of play by deploying fast players on the wings, complemented by dynamite in their legs.
Strongly-built centreforward Five Kandingua, midfield ace Percy Tjazerua, speedy winger Nikita Hivei, cool-as-a-cucumber centerback Beau Kake, fullbacks Julius ‘Senzen’ Stephanus, Lefa Kavetuna and robust defender Sipho Kauripeke, as well as slippery midfield general John Kake were to form the backbone of the team.
Life Fighters joined the highly competitive national elite league, the Namibia Soccer Super League (NSSL), in 1987 but the club was relegated to the lower division after two seasons in topflight football.
After a torrid time campaigning in the lower division for five years, Okahirona finaly made their long overdue return to familiar territory in 1994 – precisely four years after Namibia’s democracy.
A commendable second-place finish in the highly competitive Namibia Premier League (NPL) behind champions Black Africa in 1998 was hailed as an unbelievable milestone for a team with such limited resources.
Spearheaded by the midfield genius of mercurial playmaker Barnes Angula, the Otjiwarongo outfit reached the final of the lucrative NFA Tafel Lager Cup in 2001 – setting up an unforgettable clash in the final against old foes Chief Santos on home soil at the Mokati Stadium.
The Gerros Uri-Khob-inspired visitors, however, proved too good for the hosts and won the tightly contested tie 4-2.
Two years later, Fighters reached the NFA Cup final again, but once again fell short as they went down 2-0 against a rampant Black Africa side at the Oshakati Independence Stadium in 2003.
Sadly, the club again suffered relegation the following season and was subsequently relegated to the third division – leaving football pundits started to contemplate writing the club’s obituary.
It took divine intervention and the talents of a brave young man, whose unquenchable thirst for his beloved Life Fighters seems to know no boundaries, one Anton Kake, who took the bull by the horn.
The calculating and soft-spoken ebony-skinned club supporter vowed to restore the lost pride of his boyhood team and spent his hard earned money in an effort to revive the club’s ailing fortunes.
After slightly over a decade in the doldrums, the club made a surprise return to the country’s elite league – winning promotion at the end of the 2015/2016 term with four matches to spare.