Players from Botswana are few and far between in the PSL, so it takes a special kind of player to secure a transfer to a club in South Africa.
Thatayaone Ditlhokwe is one such player. The Botswana international joined SuperSport United from Township Rollers and, since his arrival early last year, the 22-year-old has cemented his place in the club’s defence.
Players from Botswana have struggled to secure moves to the PSL in recent years and when they have secured transfers to South African clubs, most have struggled to cope with the level of football.
A few seasons ago, Chippa United signed Kabelo Seakanyeng and Thatayaone Kgamanyane. However, their stints didn’t last long and they were soon back home.
And Ditlhokwe acknowledges that playing in South Africa is not easy.
“Yes, it’s true that not too many players from my country have been able to sign with clubs in the PSL. Of course, it is the desire of most players back home to come to South Africa to play professional football,” Ditlhokwe told City Press.
“I can’t speak for other players because I do not know their challenges, but what I can say is that it is not easy to be in a foreign country and perform [well].
“As a player, you do need time to settle and acclimatise to the standard of football in the PSL. The difference between the league at home and the PSL is that there are [better] facilities here and clubs have financial muscle. I also think that the football here is much more competitive, which raises the standard. Football here is played at a high pace.”
About a decade ago, Botswana had several of its top players plying their trade in the PSL.
Dipsey Selolwane, Mogogi Gabonamong, Joel Mogorosi and Phenyo Mongala were star performers in the local game.
Currently, the only Botswana players in the PSL are Ditlhokwe and Mogakolodi Ngele, who plays for Tshakhuma Tsha Madzivhandila.
Ditlhokwe has been a pillar in the United defence with 20 league appearances this season. Whether he is played in central defence or as a left-back, Ditlhokwe has turned into a valuable utility player for coach Kaitano Tembo.
The Zebras national team captain has praised his employers for allowing him to only worry about playing football.
“I am fortunate to have joined a professional club such as SuperSport. They have done everything to make me feel welcome. I have been able to focus on performing and playing football because the club has made it easy for me. A lot of credit must go to the club.”
Ditlhokwe secured a move to United just before football in his homeland was suspended due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
Football in Botswana has been brought to its knees, with games suspended for more than a year. The league has been inactive since March last year, when Covid-19 was declared a global health crisis.
Games were scheduled to resume early this year, but a spike in infections led to further restrictions.
Ditlhokwe admitted that he was fortunate to have secured a move to South Africa just before the pandemic hit. I signed my contract in December 2019, so it was just before the virus struck.
“It is not easy for players back home because football has been suspended for a long time. Players have had to take pay cuts and others are not getting paid at all.
“Clubs in Botswana are not well resourced like clubs here in the PSL. So you can imagine it has not been easy on anyone,” said Ditlhokwe.
Matsatsantsa are mid-table with 37 points after 25 games. With five games to go, United are chasing a top-eight finish.