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Williams Okpara

Williams Okpara helped Orlando Pirates win the African Champions League. Now, he is helping others do the same.

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For a goalkeeper to be the number one choice for more than 12 years at one of Africa’s biggest football teams is something special. Williams Okpara achieved this remarkable milestone at Orlando Pirates and his consistent performances helped the ‘Buccaneers’ win a number of major trophies, including the coveted African Champions League title in 1995.

Okpara’s dedication and defensive organization stood out when he wore the famous black and white jersey.

“When I came to join Orlando Pirates in South Africa from Nigeria I was very determined to succeed in my football career. During the years I spent with Pirates as a goalkeeper, I played under many good coaches and I was also privileged to team up with quality players,” says Okpara.

18 January 2003, PSL season 2002/03, SuperSport United v Pirates, Royal Bafokeng Stadium, Rustenburg, Johannesburg, South Africa.
Williams Okpara in action.
Photo Credit: © Duif du Toit/Gallo Images

“Our team had a very good defense. Papi Khomane, Edward Motale, Mark Fish and Willem Jackson were brilliant. I had a very good understanding with my fellow defenders; I used to tell them who to pick up during the game and they responded well. They used to position themselves in good areas, for instance, when I was away from the goal line one of the defenders would come and clear the ball from danger. We played very well together and that is why some teams found it very tough whenever they played against us.”

Okpara won numerous man-of-the-match awards while playing in the South African league—the Premier Soccer League (PSL)—after frustrating strikers with his wonderful saves. He was outstanding between the poles and many of his fellow goalkeepers looked up to him as a role model because of his composure in highly competitive games. Whether Pirates were playing against a small team or their biggest rivals, such as Kaizer Chiefs or Mamelodi Sundowns, he always gave his best. He regards his self-motivation as the main reason he was able to stand out.

“My fitness level was very important. Every game that I played for Pirates, I gave my best, no matter who we were playing against and where we were playing. Even when I knew that we were going to play against a top team, I was always confident because I prepared myself well for every match. As a goalkeeper and the last man of the defense, I was aware of what was going on around the field of play,” he says.

“It felt good making those saves and it is was very encouraging for me when my game was improving. There were goalkeepers that I used to admire from other teams like Andre Arendse and Mark Anderson. There are certain things I benefited from by watching other good goalkeepers.”

Okpara is a true ambassador of African football when considering his achievements. He was a Nigerian international and the big role he played when Pirates won the biggest cup competition on the continent.

Pirates faced Ivorian club ASEC Mimosas in the final and an inspired Okpara was in the thick of the action. The goalkeeper managed to keep a clean sheet despite his opponents’ 27 attempts at goal.

Okpara is still involved with Orlando Pirates. He is the team manager at the club and his burning passion ensures that Pirates continue to be competitive in South Africa and on the continent.

“At the moment, I am the team manager at Orlando Pirates. You will still find me on the pitch when the team is training. Also when we are playing our games, I am always around, very close to the team,” he says.

“I am very committed to my duties as a team manager. I have a good working relationship with the entire technical team as well as the management of the club. I also communicate well with the players and we talk about important things in football.”

The current squad made South Africa proud when they reached to the finals of the Caf Champions League late last year. They lost to Al Ahly of Egypt 3-1 on aggregate. Already this season, the Buccaneers have impressed in cup competitions but were unfortunate to lose to Platinum Stars in the final of both the MTN8 and the Telkom Knockout tournaments.

However, so far this season, Pirates have been inconsistent in the PSL and have dropped unnecessary points against the so-called league minnows. Their 1-0 loss against AmaZulu at FNB stadium early in the season and their 2-1 defeat to SuperSport United at home in Orlando Stadium took many fans by surprise. However, Okpara feels that there is no need to panic as they are working hard to improve their position on the log. He also feels it is important for Pirates to do well in the only remaining cup competition, the Nedbank Cup.

Okpara is confident that the current players have a bright future and through his contribution as a team manager there is a lot that they can achieve in the coming seasons.

“I was very happy with the good run that our current Orlando Pirates team had in the Champions League, reaching the final of the competition. It was good for our players to go as far as they did because they gained experience of playing in tough conditions in Africa which is important.”

“We have quality players at Pirates at the moment and I feel we have what it takes to do well in our remaining games in the league,” he says.

Okpara is impressed with the standard of football in the PSL and feels that the league is getting stronger because of the number of top-quality players that the other teams are signing.

He still keeps up to date on the latest happenings in international football and is proud of the success the Nigerian national team achieved when they won the African Cup of Nations in South Africa. The Super Eagles squad then went all the way to represent Africa in the Fifa Confederation Cup as the current soccer champions in the continent.

The current number one goalkeeper at Pirates, Senzo Meyiwa, has praised Okpara for helping him improve as a player. Meyiwa, who is also in the South African national team, acknowledges that Okpara’s mentorship has contributed to his achievements so far in his career.

Okpara has been a fan of Manchester United since he was young and avidly keeps an eye on the progress of African players in the leagues around the world. He is most impressed with the displays of Yaya Touré, the Ivory Coast and Manchester City midfielder, and feels there are more African players that can make a big impact in global football.

“There is a lot of talent in Africa. We have many gifted and skillful players who are capable of achieving a lot in football,” he says.

“Just look at Yaya Touré from Ivory Coast, who is playing in the English Premier League. He is a very intelligent player. He is a creative midfielder that can produce good passes and is also capable of scoring goals.”

You need a big heart and strong character to face all the challenges and emerge victorious at a big club like Pirates. Okpara has showed these traits throughout his career and is justifiably regarded as one of the greats.

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30 under 30

Applications Open for FORBES AFRICA 30 Under 30 class of 2020

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FORBES AFRICA is on the hunt for Africans under the age of 30, who are building brands, creating jobs and transforming the continent, to join our Under 30 community for 2020.


JOHANNESBURG, 07 January 2020: Attention entrepreneurs, creatives, sport stars and technology geeks — the 2020 FORBES AFRICA Under 30 nominations are now officially open.

The FORBES AFRICA 30 Under 30 list is the most-anticipated list of game-changers on the continent and this year, we are on the hunt for 30 of Africa’s brightest achievers under the age of 30 spanning these categories: Business, Technology, Creatives and Sport.

Each year, FORBES AFRICA looks for resilient self-starters, innovators, entrepreneurs and disruptors who have the acumen to stay the course in their chosen field, come what may.

Past honorees include Sho Madjozi, Bruce Diale, Karabo Poppy, Kwesta, Nomzamo Mbatha, Burna Boy, Nthabiseng Mosia, Busi Mkhumbuzi Pooe, Henrich Akomolafe, Davido, Yemi Alade, Vere Shaba, Nasty C and WizKid.

What’s different this year is that we have whittled down the list to just 30 finalists, making the competition stiff and the vetting process even more rigorous. 

Says FORBES AFRICA’s Managing Editor, Renuka Methil: “The start of a new decade means the unraveling of fresh talent on the African continent. I can’t wait to see the potential billionaires who will land up on our desks. Our coveted sixth annual Under 30 list will herald some of the decade’s biggest names in business and life.”

If you think you have what it takes to be on this year’s list or know an entrepreneur, creative, technology entrepreneur or sports star under 30 with a proven track-record on the continent – introduce them to FORBES AFRICA by applying or submitting your nomination.

NOMINATIONS AND APPLICATIONS CRITERIA:

Business and Technology categories

  1. Must be an entrepreneur/founder aged 29 or younger on 31 March 2020
  2. Should have a legitimate REGISTERED business on the continent
  3. Business/businesses should be two years or older
  4. Nominees must have risked own money and have a social impact
  5. Must be profit generating
  6. Must employ people in Africa
  7. All applications must be in English
  8. Should be available and prepared to participate in the Under 30 Meet-Up

Sports category

  1. Must be a sports person aged 29 or younger on 31 March 2020
  2. Must be representing an African team
  3. Should have a proven track record of no less than two years
  4. Should be making significant earnings
  5. Should have some endorsement deals
  6. Entrepreneurship and social impact is a plus
  7. All applications must be in English
  8. Should be available and prepared to participate in the Under 30 Meet-Up

Creatives category

  1. Must be a creative aged 29 or younger on 31 March 2020
  2. Must be from or based in Africa
  3. Should be making significant earnings
  4. Should have a proven creative record of no less than two years
  5. Must have social influence
  6. Entrepreneurship and social impact is a plus
  7. All applications must be in English
  8. Should be available and prepared to participate in the Under 30 Meet-Up

Your entry should include:

  • Country
  • Full Names
  • Company name/Team you are applying with
  • A short motivation on why you should be on the list
  • A short profile on self and company
  • Links to published material / news clippings about nominee
  • All social media handles
  • Contact information
  • High-res images of yourself

Applications and nominations must be sent via email to FORBES AFRICA journalist and curator of the list, Karen Mwendera, on [email protected]

Nominations close on 3 February 2020.

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Sport

The Springboks And The Cup Of Good Hope

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After their epic win beating England at the 2019 Rugby World Cup in Japan on November 2, the Springboks returned home to South Africa, undertaking a nation-wide tour, in an open-top bus, holding high the Webb Ellis Cup. In this image, in the township of Soweto, they pass the iconic Vilakazi Street with throngs of screaming, cheering residents and Springbok fans lining the street. The sport united the racially-divided country. For the third time in history, the South African national rugby team was crowned world champions.

Image by Motlabana Monnakgotla

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Déjà vu: South Africa Back to Winning

Our Publisher reflects on the recent Springbok victory in Yokohoma, Japan

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Rugby World Cup 2019, Final: England v South Africa Mtach viewing at Nelson Mandela Square

By Rakesh Wahi, Publisher
FORBES AFRICA

Rugby is as foreign to me as cricket is to the average American. However, having lived in South Africa for 15 years, there is no way to avoid being pulled into the sport. November 2, 2019, is therefore a date that will be celebrated in South Africa’s sporting posterity. In many ways, it’s déjà vu for South Africans; at a pivotal time in history, on June 24, 1995, the Springboks beat the All Blacks (the national rugby team of New Zealand) in the final of the World Cup. The game united a racially-divided country coming out of apartheid and at the forefront of this victory was none other than President Nelson Mandela or our beloved Madiba. In a very symbolic coincidence, 24 years later, history repeated itself.

South Africans watched with pride as Siya Kolisi lifted the gold trophy in Yokohama, Japan, as had Francois Pienaar done so 24 years ago in Johannesburg. My mind immediately reflected on this extremely opportune event in South Africa’s history.

The last decade has not been easy; the country has slipped into economic doldrums from which there seems to be no clear path ahead. The political transition from the previously corrupt regime has not been easy and it has been disheartening to see a rapid deterioration in the economic condition of the country. The sad reality is that there literally seems to be no apparent light at the end of the tunnel; with blackouts and load-shedding, a currency that is amongst the most volatile in the world, rising unemployment and rising crime amongst many other issues facing the country.

Rakesh Wahi, Publisher Forbes Africa

Something needed to change. There was a need for an event to change this despondent state of mind and the South African rugby team seems to have given a glimmer of hope that could not have come at a more opportune time. As South African flags were flying all over the world on November 2, something clicked to say that there is hope ahead and if people come together under a common mission, they can be the change that they want to see.

Isn’t life all about hope? Nothing defies gravity and just goes up; Newton taught us that everything that goes up will come down. Vicissitudes are a part of life and the true character of people, society or a nation is tested on how they navigate past these curve balls that make us despair. As we head into 2020, it is my sincere prayer that we see a new dawn and a better future in South Africa with renewed vigor and vitality.

Talking about sports and sportsmen, there is another important lesson that we need to take away. Having been a sportsman all my life, I have had a belief that people who have played team sports like cricket, rugby, soccer, hockey etc make great team players and leaders. However, other sports like golf, diving and squash teach you focus. In all cases, the greatest attribute of all is how to reset your mind after adversity. While most of us moved on after amateur sports to find our place in the world, the real sportspeople to watch and learn from are professionals. It is their grit and determination.

My own belief is that one must learn how to detach from a rear view mirror. You cannot ignore what is behind you because that is your history; you must learn from it. Our experiences are unique and so is our history. It must be our greatest teacher. However, that’s where it must end. As humans, we must learn to break the proverbial rear view mirror and stop worrying about the past. You cannot change what is behind you but you can influence and change what is yet to come.

I had the good fortune of playing golf with Chester Williams (former rugby player who was the first person of color to play for the Springboks in the historic win in 1995 and sadly passed away in September 2019) more than once at the SuperSport Celebrity Golf Shootout.

Chester played his golf fearlessly; perhaps the way he led his life. He would drive the ball 300 meters and on occasion went into the woods or in deep rough. Psychologically, as golfers know, this sets you back just looking at a bad lie, an embedded or unplayable ball or a dropped shot in a hazard. For a seasoned golfer, it is not the shot that you have hit but the one that you are about to hit. Chester has a repertoire of recovery shots and always seemed to be in the game even after some wayward moments. There is a profound lesson in all of this. You have to blank your mind from the negativity or sometimes helplessness and bring a can do and positive frame of reference back into your game (and life). Hit that recovery shot well and get back in the game; that’s what champions do.

We need to now focus our attention on the next shot and try and change the future than stay in the past.

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