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Home / Remembering football-playing freedom fighter Nikolaus Onverwag ‘Niko’ Bessinger 1948-2008

Remembering football-playing freedom fighter Nikolaus Onverwag ‘Niko’ Bessinger 1948-2008

2023-02-17  Carlos Kambaekwa

Remembering football-playing freedom fighter Nikolaus Onverwag ‘Niko’ Bessinger 1948-2008

To many, he was just known as the easy-going bearded socialite and resolute freedom fighter but in real life, Niko Bessinger was a Jack of all trades. 

He also played competitive football, manning the goalposts for the now-defunct exciting Khomasdal outfit Marists United Football Club, alongside greats that included the free-scoring Ellen van Harte, Louis Moller, Bobby Sissing, and his brother Jan Bessinger.

In addition to his dozens of talents, the much adored shot stopper cum-politician was equally at home on the dance floor. An elegant dancer, Niko was a marvel to watch, swinging his hips like a salted ballet dancer, turning and tossing around “birds” with relative ease via his trademark peacock shuffling moves, reminiscent of the iconic John Travolta.

In today’s edition of your favourite weekly sport feature Tales of the Legends, New Era Sport posthumously pays a dignified tribute to one of the most adorable sons of the soil Niko Onverwag Bessinger.



Arguably the most complete known male dancer of all time, as a former professional muso, the author is confidently well placed to narrate Niko’s hypnotising dance moves in full detail, having enjoyed the distinct privilege of freely rubbing shoulders with the departed fearless political activist during the extremely freezing Wednesday nights live music gigs at the roofless Bier Tuin (Beer Garden) at Star Hotel many, many moons ago. 

The popular come-together watering hole, often doubling as the ideal hunting spot (uile skiet) for generous beautiful light-skinned lasses, was mounted right in the heart of the Khomasdal township, a residential area specifically tailored for supposedly “civilized” blacks during the dark era of the notorious South African apartheid regime.

With no proper recreational facilities available for the indigenous inhabitants of the country, many black people were obligated to while away time by playing football, frequenting dance halls or live music gigs, or to a lesser extent, chasing the oval ball game (rugby). The latter was a pastime unofficially strictly reserved for the minority white khaki-clad Afrikaners. 

An academic par excellence and a fully-fledged qualified architect, the bearded freedom fighter and resolute community activist was a versatile goalkeeper who often played outfield for Khomasdal outfit Marists United. Bessinger cunningly used the beautiful game of football to secretly spread the political gospel.  Back in the day, football teams from the slightly more advanced coloured and baster communities were prohibited by authorities from competing against, let alone mingling with, bantus (blacks), a race considered to be very dangerous and a serious threat to the wellbeing of the minority whites; all in a desperate effort to fasten their divide and rule dirty tactics.  However, thanks to the timely intervention of hardcore activists, gallantly marshaled by the fearless Bessinger in the good company of the uncompromising ever-present hippy-look-alike Uncle Bobby Sissing, this puke-inducing directive was aggressively challenged with the utmost rejection and discarded with all might, obviously with catastrophic consequences of possible long jail terms.   Historical oral accounts have it that Marists Football Club, started their journey in the tiny southern town of Karasburg, sandwiched in the semi-desert //Kharas region before the institution was resurrected in Windhoek in later years. 

This happened after a significant chunk of the team’s leading playing personnel packed their bags and trekked northwards en masse to the city of bright lights (Windhoek) in search of greener pastures. 

The new kid on the block became a major force to be reckoned with in the hotly-contested domestic knockout cup competitions, threatening to bring down the long-held dominance of old-time campaigners, Thistles. 

Khomasdal had very strong competitive football teams that always made their mark in the popular knockout cup tournaments, staged across the length and breadth of the country. In between his busy schedule, Bessinger managed to juggle his precious time between sports and politics. 

The wide-awake political activist carved himself a way across the Orange River en route to the mother city (Cape Town, South Africa), where he successfully read towards an honours degree in architecture at the revered University of Cape Town (UCT). 

An intellectual par excellence and well-read vibrant young political activist joined the country’s leading liberation movement Swapo at a fairly young age and as they say, the rest is history. The tireless freedom fighter was very much involved in student politics.

The militant Bessinger was amongst few young men of unbelievable courage and steel who always put their tiny bodies on the line, mobilising the marginalised to challenge the white minority rule. 

The ultimate aim was to overthrow the illegal system of racial discrimination and segregation that saw black communities confined to separate tribal habitation, indeed a failed act systematically tailored to minimise their resilience and fight for equal rights and opportunities, so to speak.           

On the field of play, Bessinger was a very competitive net guard, bravely stopping marauding strikers right in their tracks with breathtaking saves. 

Nevertheless, a true gentleman of the game, the thick-bearded agile shot-stopper always demonstrated amazing leadership qualities, second to none. He made it his sole beat to regularly show respect towards his teammates, opponents and match officials alike in that sequence.  He was born on 12 June 1948 to Damaran parents at the harbour town of Walvis Bay, right on the banks of the Atlantic Ocean, to the Goreseb clan - descendants from the Goreseb Royal House. Bessinger was the first democratically-appointed Minister of Wildlife, Conservation and Tourism, between 1990 and 1996, until his resignation from Cabinet to pursue other avenues in the private sector. 

Shortly afterward, the well-respected retired member of the National Assembly wasted little time and proudly teamed up with his equally-qualified architect son Ziggy Schimming-Bessinger to open their own business empire - Niko Bessinger Architects Inc.  

Admittedly, having bravely battled ill health over a marathon stretch, the much-adored freedom fighter succumbed to a catastrophic heart attack on 25 March 2008 at his residence in Khomasdal.  Nonetheless, Niko Onverwag Bessinger certainly ran a good race and was able to witness his motherland wiggle herself out of the dirty shackles of the South African illegal occupation of his beloved native land. May his gentle soul continue to rest in power.    

2023-02-17  Carlos Kambaekwa

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