Allan Foti, Sunday News Correspondent
MORE than a year ago, the Zimbabwe Football Association suspended Highlanders chairman, Peter Dube from all football matters leaving a power vacuum that to many of the club’s faithfuls precipitated the crises currently bedevilling the 90-year-old institution.
Dube’s suspension resulted in the elevation of vice-chairman Modern Ngwenya in an acting capacity, but many have alleged that he has failed to stamp his authority at the club. With elections for the chairman’s position due next year and the eligibility of the respected Dube hanging in the balance, the rumour mill is in full swing with several names being touted as possible candidates. Murmurings about suitable candidates have been swirling in the shadows and four are quietly becoming subject of louder corridor chatter.
Sunday News Sport takes a look at these “candidates in the shadows” in the first part of a two part series.
Lawrence “Lofty” Phiri
Lofty is perhaps the most interesting “horse” being touted for the chairmanship of the country’s oldest indigenous football club. The tall, commanding Lofty is a legend at Highlanders having played for, coached and managed Amahlolanyama during a football career spanning more than 52 years that started at Matabeleland High City in the Bulawayo Amateur Football Association league.
Lofty’s name is being touted by former players who, for years, have been looking for a suitable candidate with playing and/or coaching pedigree at the club, a son of the club so to speak. Previously, Zenzo Moyo and Amin Soma-Phiri have been mentioned, but not much has come in the way of a sustained campaign or a nomination.
Lofty left Highlanders in 1992, but has always maintained that he would return and work at the club in whatever capacity members and fans feel he would be most valued. Following a move to Botswana in 1993, he worked in various capacities one of that country’s top sides, Notwane Football Club which is part of Notwane Sports Club.
The Bosso legend has worked as head coach, team manager, and was instrumental in introducing what has become a successful youth development programme at the club. As part of the secretariat, he helped re-draft a then one-paged Notwane Constitution to what it is today: a document very similar to the Highlanders Constitution.
After success at the football club, he inevitably moved to Notwane Sports Club where he worked as general-secretary, vice-chairperson as well as facilities manager at various periods of his stay with the organisation.
Mhlophe is a businessman with a proven track record as both a fan and a benefactor. Neutrals at the club are considering him as a viable option for the job of Highlanders chairman citing his involvement with the club over the years. He has often provided financial support to the club and his company has sponsored the Zifa Southern Region Division One league in recent years.
An unassuming man by nature, Mhlophe lost last year’s election for the vice-chairmanship to incumbent and acting chairman, Ngwenya, but has reportedly been supportive of the current executive’s efforts at the club. Although he has never openly stated a desire to ascend to the apex of what is traditionally a difficult club to run, Mhlophe has backers from among the members who would love to see him in office and replicate the success of his business at the club.
The Norkel Security Company supremo is a fan of youth development and his backers are convinced that his presence in the executive will spur the club’s junior policy and place the giants back where they belong: at the top of the pecking order in local football.
Earnest “Maphepha” Sibanda
Seven years ago the Highlanders board suspended one of their own citing financial irregularities during his reign as chairman stemming from the transfer of striker Obadiah Tarumbwa to Cercle Brugge in Belgium.
Sibanda got a taste of life on the outside looking in when he was expelled from the club. Maphepha was suspended from the club’s membership for three years, but sought leniency and was readmitted to the club as an ordinary member after paying back the money in 2012.
Sibanda was also caught up in the infamous Asiagate scandal that broke in 2011, but he managed to escape sanction. Since then he has made several efforts to return to club administration at the club, but the leadership has consistently rebuffed him. In 2015, Sibanda sought to challenge Peter Dube, but he was disqualified by the electoral court.
But last month, Highlanders board chairman Mgcini Nkolomi gave Sibanda a glimmer of hope ahead of next year’s elections when he advised him to seek audience “with the club’s leadership over his eligibility to contest at the forthcoming Bosso executive committee elections”.
Popular at the club as a player, Maphepha won the championship as manager under the chairmanships of Roger Muhlwa and the late James Mangwana-Tshuma.
He was elected chairman in 2006 and went on to win the championship when the Bulawayo giants were coached by Methembe Ndlovu. Sibanda was to quit as chairman and did not seek re-election suggesting he had played his part as a player, manager and chairman and was passing on the baton to the next crop of Bosso leaders. He also had a successful stint as manager of the senior national team.
Elected to the vice-chairmanship in 2016, Ngwenya has been acting chairman at the club for over a year following the suspension of Dube by the Zifa board. However, his reign has been littered with problems both on and off the field.
His tenure as acting chairman has seen Highlanders struggle for form on the field and vicious fights within the technical team that led to the resignation of Amin Soma-Phiri and the demotion of Cosmas “Tsano” Zulu from the bench. The pair reportedly had several “running battles” leading to their removal.
Interesting times lie ahead with elections due in February next year and these four names being bandied in the annals of the Bosso institution. Self-appointed “kingmakers” have already begun covertly pitching for their preferred candidate and the non-voting multitudes of Amahlolanyama now wait with baited breath to see outcome of these nefarious dealings behind the scenes. — @AllanFoti