The Sunday News
Mehluli Sibanda, Senior Sports Reporter
HIGHLANDERS Football Club have entered into a $3,6 million partnership with Utande, which will see the internet service provider pay salaries for Bosso’s first team players for six months.
Utande will pay salaries for Highlanders from September to February next year. The partnership comes as a relief for the Johnfat Sibanda-led Highlanders executive committee which has been battling to pay salaries for players for the past few months. Bosso’s 27 first team contracted players last got their salaries in May, which means they have gone for three full months without getting their dues.
All they got early this month were some top ups to their salaries, which came from donations raised by members, supporters and well-wishers. The players had become restless with some of them threatening to quit the 95-year old institution.
Captain Ariel Sibanda wrote on Facebook that he was quitting Highlanders but up to now he never officially communicated that decision to his employers. It was only vice-captain Nqobizitha Masuku who communicated his desire to walk out but is said to have delivered an unsigned letter.
Despite securing the partnership, Highlanders still have to find other means to settle the three months backlog since Utande are only covering salaries from next month. Utande chief executive officer, Never Ncube, in announcing the deal at the company’s Bulawayo offices yesterday hinted at the possibility of extending the partnership when it comes to an end.
“This partnership that we are launching will see Utande paying salaries for the first team players for the next six months and we are doing that to the tune of ZWL$3,6 million. We are also going to provide connectivity to the Highlanders offices. This is a start of the relationship, we will review after six months and see what else we should be doing together with Highlanders. I know what good can come up if two big brands come together and this is just but a start for us as we increase our services within Bulawayo,’’ Ncube announced.
On what they seek to get out of the partnership with Highlanders, Ncube, who was at the signing ceremony with Utande’s regional manager Odiel Nkomo said it was part of their plan to have their brand visible. Part of the deal will see the Utande logo appearing on the Highlanders first team shirt.
“We want our brand to be out there and be visible. You will see a lot of co-branding between ourselves and Highlanders to include some branding on the first team jersey, to include branding at the offices. We are more than excited about this partnership with Highlanders, we believe that a lot more is going to come out of it,’’ he said.
Utande are looking to increase their presence in Bulawayo and for Ncube who grew up in the country’s second largest city, partnering with Highlanders is part of the company’s strategy to expand their business.
“We have always admired what Highlanders can do and what a better way for us because we want to extend our presence in Bulawayo to get a partnership with a team of the stature and the size of Highlanders.
“It’s a brand that speaks for itself and we believe in the next five years you will see that Utande is going to aggressively expand its presence within this space. We believe in the rebound of the City of Kings and we want to be part of that story and what a better way to be part of that story when you are walking shoulder to shoulder with a brand like Highlanders,’’ Ncube said.
Highlanders chairman, Johnfat Sibanda was excited that the club had found a partner like Utande who understand the difficulties the club is going through.
“Like any other partnership, this partnership comes with a lot of responsibility on our part. Our immediate challenge as a club to is make sure that we guard this partnership jealously by contributing towards its growth. We must by all means be worthy ambassadors of our partner brand, consume their services, products with religious ferocity and make our fans their clients so that the relationship positively affects their bottom line, expands their business and thus multiplies and is fruitful for them, ultimately our club and its ecosystem,’’ Sibanda said.
The partnership signing ceremony was also attended by Highlanders treasurer Donald Ndebele, committee member Mgcini Mafu and chief executive officer Nhlanhla Dube.