Although he is just 31, Wame Mokoke is quickly carving out a name for himself as one of the top football coaches in the country.
After a fleeting playing career as a right winger, Mokoke is flying on the sidelines.
Currently in charge of Extension Gunners, the young coach, who goes by the nickname Pepe Zino in soccer circles, is working miracles as he attempts to bring the glory days back to Lobatse. Currently 9th in the log, Gunners have their sights set on a Top 8 finish for the first time in years.
The son of footballing legend, Philemon Makhwengwe, Mokoke has a long way to go to match his famous father’s achievements in the beautiful game…he’s off to an excellent start though!
Tell us about yourself?
I’m born Wame Lesley Mokoke, my father named me King Pepw’e after the Zaire King of Rhumba, Pepe Kale. I was born in Ramotswa and completed my BGCSE at Kagiso Senior Secondary School.
Take us through your coaching career?
It started in the year 2010. I was supposed to join Mahalapye Hotspurs, unfortunately it didn’t materialize because my team, Mokgosi Young Fighters refused to release my registration book – they were not ready to release me. The Tlhaselo brothers (Victor and Goodwill) regarded me highly as an asset to the club since I was a promising player. I was stressed and frustrated so I decided to start drilling young players and I never looked back.
Have you always loved football?
I grew up in a football family, my father [Philemon Makhwengwe] is a soccer coach and back then he was coaching United Mahalapye Hotspurs. So I developed the love of football from him because he is a super coach. He took me to games and bought me soccer boots and balls.
And was it always your aim to follow in your dad’s footsteps? When did your interest in coaching start?
I’m a coach from birth! I knew I wanted to be a coach but the calling came earlier than I expected. I used to say to my primary school teachers that when I grow up I want to be a soccer coach. I want to be like my father.
What coaching certificates do you hold?
My highest is the CAF B Licence attained in Zambia in 2016. My father sponsored everything then. I remember he was broke but did everything to raise the money so I could study football further.
Before embarking on a coaching career, did you play much?
I played football, I’m a product of the BFA development programmes, was part of the BNSC/BFA School of Excellence for years at Artesia Centre of Excellence. Boniface Lekaba took me to Mokgosi when I was 16 years old and he coached me. Then Thapelo Mothusi, the current manager of Gaborone United, saw me in a coaching course and recruited me to Barclays Eagles, where we were coached by Nelson Olebile. I was a qualified coach though I was capable of playing, so I played while Mothusi took care of me and paid me.
When did you start taking coaching seriously?
In 2010 but my first coaching course was in 2011. I have been to most courses which my father used to instruct when he worked as Technical Officer at BFA. I attended as a demonstrator and participant, so I learned a lot from him. I have coached the now defunct Mmopane XI, Sweet XI, De Atletico Mokgosi, and Donald Mopako’s Surprise XI in the regional leagues. I also coached in the AT &T Monnakgotla Women Super League alongside Justin Mmereki at Mogoditshane Fighters. I had two spells with United Mahalapye Hotspurs in the First Division and later Enos Mmesi recruited me to Molepolole City in the Premier League before I joined Gunners.
What has been the highlight of you career to date?
It was in 2016 when Hotspurs got promoted to the premier league. Hotspurs have been in the lower league for 20 years, so seeing my childhood team winning the league after so many failed attempts was my highlight. Unfortunately management felt I was young to coach in the premier league so I was fired and left to join Tlokweng United.
Wow, must have been a bittersweet moment! However, your work with Gunners proves that the young can indeed excel in management in the top flight. How do you handle the pressure of coaching one of the biggest clubs in the land?
Gunners are a pressure club, full of challenges which I have accepted. So I try by all means to do my job and prepare the players to do better, enjoy themselves and appreciate the platform given. We are one big family; we do our best though it’s tough. We strive to make our supporters happy and that’s what we live for. The pressure will deal with itself, I absorb it like a man; I’m not a young boy like people always say. I have the heart and I’m brave.
In the past, Gunners have been infamous for its financial struggles. How have you managed to remain focused on your mission and motivate players to do well?
It’s true Gunners struggle financially but I give players hope. I’m very clear with them: don’t sign with Gunners if you don’t love it. I don’t want boycotts or strikes, just come and make your mark and enjoy the platform then leave to find a better paying club. Gunners is a brand where people will notice you.
Earlier in the season, it was reported you had left for Jwaneng Galaxy but quickly retraced your steps back to Gunners, what really happened?
(Chuckles) Gunners bewitched me! Yes I did sign a two-year contract with Galaxy as I was recruited by Morena Ramoreboli [Galaxy Coach]. It was going to change my life financially and Morena as my mentor wanted to mould me to become a better coach. He liked me and admired how my team play and believed we could be a great pair. He told me to utilize him while he was still at Galaxy. The club gave me a good deal and wanted to empower me but one man at Gunners stood up and said I will beat that offer.
My father advised me, both as a son and colleague. He told me to not go back to Gunners but also told me it’s good to stay and get used to coaching a big team. Going to Galaxy was a good move but after the friendly with Sundowns in Rustenburg I came back to Gunners. I can only say more about this at the end of the season.
Interesting! So what are your future ambitions for coaching?
Coaching abroad is my dream. Major David Bright, when he recruited me to Holy Ghost, told me that he wants to see me coaching in professional league. I would also like to get better qualifications in coaching, get in the national structures and do well in the domestic league.
Who do you look up to?
My father, his passion and work ethic makes me admire him. He is smart and intelligent and did a lot for Botswana football. I’m a man now, so I can’t say I want to be like him but I want to be better!
Away from your hectic football schedule, how do you spend your free time?
I spend time with my captain, Desire Bafana drinking Zion Christian Church (ZCC) coffees. But I prefer to read since Ketlhalefile Motshegwa bought me some books on leadership.
Do you have time for a love life?
(Laughs) I have a girlfriend. We met last year at the National Stadium at a match between Notwane and Gaborone United. The following day I was playing Morupule Wanderers so the girl came by and said ‘nfana you can’t beat Chico Nare’. We decided to bet and I won then we started dating. But she knew me before I knew her. She is a very good football analyst and she supports Tafic. Unfortunately I can’t share her name!
Talking of names, how did you get the nickname, Pepe Zino?
I got it from Letumile Molebatsi of Police XI. He gave me the name when we were in national under 17 camps. Pepe is my name but Zino I got it from him.
Thank God It’s Friday, what are your plans for the weekend?
I will be playing Kgabosetso Southern Callies in the Orange FA Cup on Saturday. On Sunday I will be in Mmopane to watch Holy Ghost against Orapa United. I heard Prophet Jackson Kgopole is looking for me, so I’m going to take blessings (laughs).