The Sunday News
Simba Jemwa, Sports Correspondent
AT a crucial time for the club, Highlanders will have its next vice chairman elected by its members today at the Highlanders Clubhouse.
This is one of football’s most intriguing processes in the local game.
More so, this year’s race is pitting two candidates who decided to abandon what has become a bit of a norm at the club: mudslinging and factional campaigns. Both campaigned with respect for each other and both preached unity. They called for a return to the era of old when Bosso campaigns were gentlemanly, calm events.
The date may be in doubt, but Highlanders’ status isn’t. An era ended. It was a club in trouble, if not crisis, and it was no longer the unbeatably fluid football machine that beguiled the country starting in the late 1990s and early 2000s. That part is certain.
What’s also certain is that when one era ends, another begins.
And the date that Highlanders’ new era kicks off is well defined. It’s been in print, online and all over the airwaves throughout Bulawayo for weeks. It’s today—the day hundreds of Bosso members go to the polls to elect the vice chairman and new treasurer who will, over their tenure, tackle the club’s problems and set a course toward the future.
Highlanders is at an inflection point. The club is struggling to attract quality players. Questionable, hasty player personnel decisions and the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic have crushed the club’s competitiveness on the field.
And this inspite of the lucrative sponsorship deal with Sakunda Holdings that should have made the club the go-to club in this region in particular.
That makes it increasingly difficult, but not impossible, to keep up with the handful of privately and mine-owned super teams that now compete for national dominance. Highlanders’ club house, once the pride and joy of the club is antiquated and lacks modern amenities. And the club has been tainted by factionalism which was all too evident in last year elections.
Albert and Rhodes Khumalo, the founders, must be turning in their graves at what their beloved club has become. But today’s election is more than a crossroads.
It represents an opportunity, not to mention a window into a century of history and culture and a unique organisation’s deep ties to its unique region.
Highlanders isn’t the only member-owned club in the country. But it is the only still active at the highest level while others have fallen by the wayside due to the same problems that are slowly creeping into Bosso today.
Because of its size, history and status in Bulawayo, however, and because of how active, engaged and powerful its members are — and because of the power of its executive — Highlanders stands alone. It is, as they say, “iteam yezwe lonke,” or “the whole country’s team.”
Today’s vote is a significant event in the sports world, and it comes with all the trappings and coverage of a major political election. Interviews were everywhere.
Debates were webcast. Locals couldn’t escape it if they wanted. Highlanders is the cultural axis around which Bulawayo and the whole southern part of the country revolves – a place where language, culture and identity were preserved.
Now, Bosso is the region’s most famous export and reaches all corners of the country.
CANDIDATES . . .
BABONGILE SIKHONJWA – Very popular in his own right, he has had to fight against the odds to convince the Bosso faithful that he is indeed a viable candidate for this high office.
Questions have been raised about his inexperience as a football administrator, but Ndumiso Gumede was inexperienced when he began what was to become a very distinguished career as was every other administrator who was elected into the club’s executive for the first time.
And many of the club’s most successful leaders were elected into office at Bosso at relatively young ages!
FISO SIZIBA – A gentle giant most of the time and a firm hand when need arises, is the other aspirant. Respectful, knowledgeable, experienced and more than anything: a sober thinker! His opponents will point to all things not unrelated to football, but when the dust settles, many will see the football administrator that he has grown to be.
He has been around the mill and understands the politics, the needs and the dynamics of football in a set up like Highlanders. He values youth development, champions unity above all else.
XOLISANI MOYO – Employed as a commercial executive at blue chip company, United Refineries Limited, Moyo wants to bring his corporate skills to the football pitch.
He is an accomplished business manager with a track record that includes spells with Zimplow where he was a general manager at its Zambia concern and locally as the company’s commercial manager.
Given Highlanders’ partnership with Sakunda Holdings, Moyo has just the right set of skills to make himself useful at the club.
BUSANI MTHOMBENI – he is a businessman of repute and has been a Bosso benefactor for years from his base in South Africa. An ordained pastor, Mthombeni runs a family farming business in Insiza and also leads a financial services consultancy firm in South Africa.
It is his ties with South Africa that have led to questions about his capacity to hold office.
Many feel it is not practical to have a treasurer who lives and works in South Africa, but he has committed to moving to Zimbabwe permanently should he be elected into office.
His experience in the financial sector in south Africa could be of use to Bosso.