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Ephraim Matsilele “Jomo” Sono

The Order of Ikhamanga in

Ephraim Matsilele “Jomo” Sono Awarded for:
His commitment and dedication as a footballer. His excellent contribution to the development of football and young talent is commendable.
Profile of Ephraim Matsilele “Jomo” Sono

Ephraim Matsilele “Jomo” Sono is the proverbial son of the soil whose work ethic lifted him from poverty to an astute businessman. Sono was born in Orlando East, Soweto on 17 July 1955. His grandparents raised him. When he was eight-years-old his father Eric “Scara” Bhamuza Sono, who was a midfielder for the Orlando Pirates football team in the early 1960s, died in a car crash. Poverty pushed him to be innovative and to work from a young age to help support the family. He began selling apples and peanuts at soccer games and train stations. His soccer career began almost by accident when he filled out for an absent player at an Orlando Pirates game. He proved to be so skilled that they decided to keep him. He soon gained fame for his all-round ability of dribbling and accurate passing skills.

One of the Orlando Pirates fans gave him the name Jomo, after Jomo Kenyatta (former President of Kenya) and it stuck. The name means, “spear” in Kikuyu, one of the indigenous languages in Kenya. Sono’s career eventually took him to the United States of America (USA) where he played for New York Cosmos. One of his teammates was the legendary Brazilian player Pelé. In 1978, he moved to the Colorado Caribous.

At the end of the season, the Caribous moved to become the Atlanta Chiefs where Sono played with another South African soccer star of the time, Kaizer Motaung. Sono completed his stint in the USA playing for the Toronto Blizzards, for three summers, from 1980 to 1982. He also taught and gave demonstrations at Clemson University Soccer Camp for youths before returning to South Africa. He bought the soccer team Highlands Park and renamed it Jomo Cosmos after his former team.

The team has done relatively well over the years. Under his ownership, the club went on to achieve several successes: it won the National Soccer League in 1987, the Bobsave Super Bowl in 1990, the Coca Cola Cup in 2002 and the Super Eight in 2003. Jomo Cosmos has also consistently finished among the top teams in the South African Premier Soccer League (PSL). Sono was a technical adviser during the 1996 African Cup of Nations (Afcon) when Bafana Bafana won the Afcon 1996 and he also contributed to the development of soccer in the South Africa.

Sono has also taken a leading role in discovering and developing new football talent, especially from rural areas. Some of the players whom Sono recruited, and who went on to play for the South African national teams and European clubs, include Philemon Masinga, Helman Mkhalele, Sizwe Motaung and Mark Fish. Many of his recruits formed the core of the South African squad that won the 1996 Afcon. Sono was also a technical advisor to the team’s head coach Clive Barker during the tournament.

Sono is the longest-serving coach in the PSL and also sits on its board. In addition to making a substantial profit by developing players for European teams, he also owns a number of businesses and is chairperson of many companies.