After a tumultuous, interrupted and problem-riddled season as a result of the coronavirus pandemic, the new PSL season is poised to get underway with the sale of three Premiership clubs – but with AmaZulu shaming Wits and Highlands Park in the process.
Wits will be replaced in the Premiership by Tshakhuma Tsha Madzivhandila (TMM) and sellers Highlands’ position goes to TS Galaxy after both newcomers failed to assume their elevated status through the vastly more acceptable and agreeable mode of promotion from the league’s lower division and used their cheque books instead.
A proud AmaZulu, thankfully, adopted the worldwide trend when a prominent soccer club is sold by maintaining its name, tradition and heritage, with only the ownership altered in a deal that maintained Usuthu’s 88 years of existence in an appropriate manner.
“I believe the new owners will continue to grow the club in both status and stature, as I have always endeavoured to do,” said Dr Patrick Sokhela, who had been at the helm of AmaZulu for the past 16 years and has now handed over the reins to the Zungu Investment Corporation under Sandile Zungu.
No doubt, financial difficulties were significant factors in the sale of AmaZulu, Wits and Highlands Park, but Dr Sokhela has made it clear he would have battled on had a new buyer not been found to maintain what AmaZulu stood for to their supporters, more than anyone, while the Wits and Highlands hierarchy buckled and threw in the towel.
“It’s time to step down,” said Dr Sokhela, “but I do so without a heavy heart and any recriminations” – something Highlands officials and Wits might not be able to echo.
In the case of Wits, the officials at the helm of the club 16 years ago, which had come into existence at Johannesburg’s Wits University an ironic 99 years ago – thus making it the oldest soccer club in the country – made the regrettable miscalculation of handing an 80% controlling interest to their sponsors, the Bidvest business conglomerate.
And it was Bidvest who brought down the axe and made the decision to sell Wits’ PSL franchise at a time when the club was at the pinnacle of its long and proud history.
In the case of Highlands, billed as “The Lions of the North” at a time when it dominated the old NFL with an imperious brand of soccer in the 1960s and 1970s, it has been a second such abdication blow for their supporters – having sold the NPSL franchise to Jomo Cosmos in 1982 and only returning to the professional soccer firmament some six years ago.
Now it is back to the amateur ranks for both Highlands Park and Wits University, with officials wistfully proclaiming a return to South African soccer’s premier division in the not too-distant future.
But in a stark financial climate this could well prove easier said than done.