Executive Chairman, Dr Kaizer Motaung, joined the South African football community in mourning the passing of one of the country’s all-time great players, Bernard ‘Dancing Shoes’ Hartze, at the age of 73, on Tuesday.
Perhaps more than most, the news affected the Chairman in a profound way, given his personal experience of a partially shared history with Bernard during the formative days of South African professional football.
Born in Marabastad in 1950, Bernard was blessed with natural footballing gifts that brought him to prominence at an early age. His exploits as a schoolboy led to him signing his first professional contract, with Sundowns FC from Marabastad at the age of 15 and two years later, in 1967, he went on trial to English club, Leeds United. Due to administrative complications, and a bout of homesickness, the 17-year-old returned home after two months and was persuaded to sign for the Kaizer Motaung-led Orlando Pirates, where he spent three seasons before moving south to play for Cape Town Spurs. He later spent time in the USA, playing both indoor and outdoor soccer for, most notably, Tampa Bay Rowdies
The Chairman recalled, “I came to know him when he played for the Sundowns from Marabastad. I was playing for Orlando Pirates at the time, and we recruited him, where we became teammates. We played together at Pirates until he went to play for Cape Town Spurs.”
Possessed of natural footballing gifts, Bernard’s dribbling ability thrilled fans and instilled fear among opponents in equal measure. His impeccable close control meant he hardly ever lost the ball, and his special awareness and touch allowed him to recognise and execute plays that other players couldn’t even see. And, never one to take his talent for granted, he maintained high standards of discipline when it came to training, which gave him the stamina to perform the role of what today is referred to as a box-to-box midfielder with distinction.
As the Chairman elaborates, “Bernard played as a number 8, in midfield; he was a top, top player, very good on the ball. The reason they called him was ‘Dancing Shoes’ because he was nimble-footed and extremely skilful in possession. He could score and he could win the ball; a complete midfielder cum striker.”
On a personal note, the Chairman reflects on his memories of knowing Bernard the man, as well as ‘Dancing Shoes’, the supremely gifted footballer. Having been born of mixed racial heritage at a time when South Africa’s most oppressive apartheid laws were being implemented, Bernard endured a difficult time growing up. Yet, he carried himself with dignity throughout his life. He was universally liked and respected by all who encountered him, the Chairman included: “And what a gentleman he was, a good guy. As a person, my opinion of him is very high and I am deeply saddened to learn of his passing. My thoughts and prayers are with his family and loved ones. I wish them strength and comfort.
“May his soul rest in eternal peace.”