By Stanford Chiwanga
Highlanders are more than a football club. They are the oldest football club in Zimbabwe, which makes them the granddad of local football.
They are a football behemoth. Highlanders are an important part of the region’s history, if not the country’s past.
On match days, you can feel it in your bones that Bosso are more than a football club. You don’t have to be a football fan to be electrified by the tension in the air on Bosso match days.
The whole city of Bulawayo, which houses Barbourfields Stadium, turns into a sea of black and white, with flags flying on residential rooftops in the western suburbs and from vehicles, especially kombis.
Businesses, formal and informal, make profits on match days.
Church buildings are emptied as congregants, including committed ones, choose Highlanders on match day. Friends and relatives abscond weddings and funerals of their loved ones for 90 minutes of football. Even lovers are temporarily abandoned for Bosso. Traffic on the highways increases as people drive from other cities and towns to sit on the concrete terraces of Barbourfields Stadium just to watch Highlanders playing.
They call Highlanders “i-team yezwe lonke” for a reason. Sadly, this passion is not matched in the boardroom. Lately it’s been crisis after crisis at Highlanders.
The disarray has been reflected in underwhelming and occasionally catastrophic performances in the media by those elected to lead this phenomenon institution. Few people envy the man elected to lead Highlanders in these trying times. He promised to rescue Highlanders from capture, but now he has been captured by the inhouse chaos.
Things are falling apart and the centre is no longer holding at Highlanders.
There is anarchy and the culture of professionalism, stability and sanity the club is renowned for has been eroded.
It’s been a rollercoaster ride for chairman Johnfat Sibanda since he took over the reins in March. Confusion has somehow found root at Bosso since the pharmacist took over and this has sharply divided the fanbase like never before. Sibanda has faced obstacles in every step he takes and unfortunately, he seems to have countless bullets to shoot himself in the foot on most occasions.
The decision to apologise for declaring that Highlanders were captured was unwise. The players’ unrest has only served to increase tensions between Sibanda and the Highlanders’ elders, which has already been stretched to breaking point after he aimed a thinly veiled dig at the board during the election period.
But is Sibanda such a weak chairperson or is he being sabotaged from within and without? There is talk of an invisible hand, a third force behind the scenes.
This hand, it is said, is determined to make Sibanda’s job impossible. It is prepared to push Highlanders to the edge of the precipice by throwing spanners in the works and will not stop until Sibanda walks away.
Unbelievable as it sounds, this may actually be true. Sibanda won by five votes, the narrowest of victories, meaning the losing camp still retains a good measure of influence. It may actually be more powerful than the Sibanda camp and is now flexing its muscles, making
Highlanders ungovernable for kicks and laughs. The hidden hand is enjoying the mayhem. Instead of uniting with the winners and working for the good of Highlanders, the third force would rather witness the ship sinking with its captain at the wheel.
Sibanda apologised, called for peace and unity but his plea for harmony seems to have fallen on deaf ears.
People fanning the flames of division at Highlanders know themselves and have no shame. Sibanda is no saint and he is not blameless either but he won the election and it’s about time people accept it and help him rebuild Bosso.
He cannot do it alone. Come to think of it, where are the other elected members?
Why are they so quiet; why are they letting Sibanda hang himself to dry while they hide in the shadows?
Why is he facing the music alone? Where is Modern Ngwenya, the vice-chairperson; what is the treasurer Donald Ndebele doing when the club is too broke to pay staff?
Morgan Dube, Mr Secretary where are you? Mgcini Mafu, the committee member needs to show himself. The club needs them.
Before Sibanda, there was Kenneth Mhlophe and his executive scored some important victories; the highlight being acquiring the gold mine.
He must take pride that he started the journey that might see Highlanders become self-sustaining.
No doubt, he did all this because he loves Highlanders, but his silence since Sibanda took over is unsettling, if not deafening. He has stood by as Highlanders implodes. He has watched as Sibanda missteps.
Has he turned his back on Highlanders?
Although Mhlophe was shamed and attacked before and during the elections, he must now rise above the noise, rally the Highlanders’ family, especially the money men, who helped him run the club, and help steady the ship.
Choosing to sit on the fence is not an option; it makes him look bad, if not culpable. Highlanders is not Sibanda’s property but belongs to the fans.
This is the time to unite and work together for the good of Highlanders. The time of politicking must come to an end, and the sooner the better.
In this Covid-19 era, stability and unity will do a world of good for the Highlanders’ executive to go about its business without being molested.
The club is desperately in search of a new direction and sponsors, but none will come forward amid this chaos.
Only the fans, who have started a crowd fundraising drive, have not divorced themselves from Bosso.
Every single Highlanders’ fan is pained by the situation at the club they love and have come dangerously close to taking matters into their hands.
Come to think of it, they have; the fundraising drive is them telling the club’s leadership that the club belongs to them and not the old men blinded by big egos. What once seemed unfathomable is now a reality.
This could, or could not be the season when the fans wrestle the club from a select few so-called life members. It is a monstrous task, but it can and will be done someday if not now. The Chronicle