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ALLY GETS HIS WISH!

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My dearest readers ...

Founded in 1952 by a group of students at the then Swaziland College of Technology (SCOT) during the annual party called ‘Nkunzemnyama’, Mbabane Highlanders Football Club is undeniable the country’s football aristocrats. Love or loathe them, no history of the country’s football would be complete without mentioning this great institution which, over the years, has produced an array of outstanding footballers and soccer administrators alike with great aplomb. Thirteen league titles and a plethora of cups including being the first team to reach the quarter-finals of the Cup Winners Cup (today known as CAF Confederation Cup) in 1986, Highlanders has no equals in the pantheon of greats in this tiny Kingdom. The ‘Black Bull’ luminous spokesperson Dumsani ‘DU’ Sibandze, who could speak the sun to sleep when he spoke about his beloved Highlanders, rightly christened them the ‘barometer’ of local football when they were at their dazzling best.

It’s a club whose rich heritage is steeped in the very being of the country’s political system and set up that most of the detractors even mooted they were a ‘government’ team. Nothing could be further from the truth. Inflexible. Uncompromising. Ruthless on and off-the-field, Highlanders dominance of local football inspite of practically the ignominy of being relegated twice, is well documented.

interesting

That’s why it was very interesting from the onset when the requirements of the CAF Club Licensing Programme indicated teams had to be registered as companies for a clear picture on the chains of command and belonging. I have always quietly wondered what would happen to the complex intricacy that is Mbabane Highlanders in particular with the assemblage of the dyed-in-the-wool traditionalists who strongly believe they have a stake in the club even if they contribute zilch to its upkeep. As the registration of the team as a company took weeks after flamboyant South African businessman Ally Kgomongwe made it succinctly clear that he was ready to step down if this important hurdle was not overcome, I held my breath wondering what will happen next.

It must have felt like giving birth to the Highlanders stalwarts as they toyed around the whole idea in particular with Kgomongwe being a foreigner. As early as May Kgomongwe had told Yours Truly, in an exclusive interview that he was ready to step down because of business commitments and most importantly that he did not have full authority at the club despite being the sole financier. He felt the five-year contract was not worth the paper it’s written on if he can’t even get sponsors as he is not in full authority. Something had to give in. Having already spent as much as over E3 million in the past season, the Highlanders stalwarts had to give in to the demands of the Pretoria-based businessman as it would be practically impossible for them to run the club with the huge resources needed. The deadly COVID-19 pandemic has made it humanly impossible to spend money on projects that do not make any business sense by its intent or design like our football is.

wish

So, finally Kgomongwe got his wish. The Highlanders stalwarts gave the man who took over at Highlanders on 20 May 2019 carte blanche to run the club and have it registered as a company. There are many legal structures which clubs can take which include Unincorporated Association (which most of our clubs are), private company limited by guarantee, private company limited with shares (which is what Kgomongwe wanted), community interests company and registered society. Besides the sense of belonging and protecting his huge investment, registering the team as a company will allow Kgomongwe to solicit sponsors in his native South African land where the captains of the industry understand corporate social responsibility more. He obviously wants a return on his investment.

But kudos to him for changing the embedded culture of entitlement among the Highlanders stalwarts who still do not understand that football is evolving and clubs are no longer seen as temples of belonging but making money from football is a major factor for any sane businessman worth the tag. That it took someone from outside the country to bring sanity to our teams, one of the oldest teams in the country says a lot about our football. The crisis a team like Manzini Wanderers, founded in 1957 has gone through, season in and season out is solely because of the ownership elephant in the room. It is not clear who owns the club yet it is registered as a company. Our teams need to resolve such issues and the chains of command must be clear.

pay

Kgomongwe, for instance, has made it clear that whosoever wants to join him in the Highlanders Board of Directors has to pay a handsome E4 million. The message is loud and clear – NO CHANCERS. Mbabane Highlanders (PTY) Ltd will be the owners of the players and will be in charge of the affairs of Mbabane Highlanders Football Club. This needs to be unpacked further so that even the – as Dr. Irvin ‘Iron Duke’ Khoza calls the Orlando Pirates fans – the spiritual owners of the club can fully understand the whole transactions. It would help our football a lot especially with the willingness of the three investors, Bishop Bheki Lukhele at Mbabane Swallows, Cedric Mthata at Manzini Wanderers (thank God we finally saw him!) and Ally Kgomongwe at Highlanders to lead from the front for our football to finally reach its full potential.

If we can get the Big Three clubs and the three security forces teams in a proper semi-professional status then our football would have taken the right path towards the Promised Land of honey and milk. But first things first – the ownership hurdle has to be overcome. Thanks to Ally Kgomongwe for sticking to his guns and help turn things around not only for Highlanders but the right direction our football should take as a whole. That to me is leadership in the truest sense!

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