Sikhumbuzo Moyo, Analysis
HIGHLANDERS, according to those who identify with the 1926 established institution, is more than a football club. It is known by many monikers, all carefully thought out and meant to praise its stature.
For some, Bosso is a movement while others take it as a religion they are even prepared to die for as they defend it.
It is the only club in Zimbabwe whose executive is elected by card carrying members once every three years and to ensure continuity, the terms are held differently with members electing the club chair, secretary and committee at one go while the vice chair and treasurer are also elected separately.
Farmer and businessman, Mr Johnfat Sibanda won the last elections for club chairman, beating another business tycoon, Retired Colonel Kenneth Mhlophe, in one of the most toxic elections in Highlanders history although there were no violent skirmishes compared to the 2006 elections when Ernest Maphepha Sibanda, now late, defeated Kennedy Ndebele to the chairmanship.
Bosso has another leadership structure, although this one is unelected; the board of directors whose chairman is Mr Luke Mnkandla.
Club patron is Mr Jimmy Ncube and there is currently a vacancy for club president following the sad passing on of Ndumiso Gumede in December 2021.
On the field of play, Highlanders has seven league titles since winning its inaugural title in 1990. It has over 30 cups.
However, what its supporters and indeed neutrals are wondering about is why this giant has not been able to win the league title since its last in 2006 under Methembe Ndlovu as coach and Maphepha as chairman.
In 2007, arch rivals Dynamos lifted the title, and in the three years that followed, the now defunct sides Monomotapa, Gunners and Motor Action walked to the podium to lift the league trophy.
Dynamos then took over the show from 2011 to 2014 before Chicken Inn dislodged them in 2015 to finally bring the trophy to Bulawayo.
However, it only stayed for a year as Caps United went on to win the league in 2016 and since then it has been an FC Platinum affair.
The Bulawayo giants have changed coaches and brought in new players since then but the season has always been ending in tears for them.
Some have blamed the many supporters’ chapters that have been sprouting throughout the country and even across borders.
Others believe the club’s membership joining criteria has led to it being infiltrated by agents of destruction who are enjoying seeing the club perish.
Another school of thought is that the board is the club’s Achilles heel. It’s believed that the board ought to remain in their territory.
“Previously, we had abadala be-board but now we have board members acting as the executive and some of them are even seen rallying behind certain candidates during elections, something unheard of back in the day when Bosso was still Bosso,” said a card carrying life member now resident in Europe.
Corporate governance and sports management practitioner Mr Nqobile Ngulube also believes there is a need for unity of purpose between the board and the executive if the club is to extricate itself from the mess it is in at the moment.
“Self-aggrandisement is one of the factors that threatens to tear the club apart. There should be a unity of purpose between the board, which plays an oversight role and the executive, who have the responsibility of keeping the club’s wheels in motion as well as effectively supervising and supporting the secretariat. Members and fans are always willing to support the club fully if the leadership is united. Bosso should always retain its title of being a leader in sports corporate governance in the land,” said Mr Ngulube.
Some analysts believe the club must adopt the Barcelona system of membership enrolment in order to guard against infiltration.
Barcelona has a similar setup with Highlanders. It runs on a membership structure but theirs does not just allow anyone to become a member on the basis of him or her having paid the membership fee.
Before one becomes a Barcelona member, the club does a background check.
They must be from a family which has members of the club and if not, a fellow card carrying member who has been card carrying for a number of years must vouch for the aspiring member.
South Africa-based Highlanders life member, Mr Faith Silandulo Dube blames wayward structures. Mr Dube says the many club structures pose an existential threat to Highlanders.
“The legendary Ernest ‘Maphepha’ Sibanda had a famous slogan, ‘At Highlanders we are one’. True indeed, the strength of Highlanders is premised on the unity of its supporters — it has been the case since time immemorial. However, these factions famously garbed as chapters are posing an existential threat to our club. What we are witnessing in institutions like BCC (Bulawayo City Council), which is now a pale shadow of its former self will revisit Highlanders soon if these factions are not well managed.
“Outside the chapters, which have created small demi-gods, Highlanders members tend to entertain divisions based on petty matters like election outcomes. Either we need to align the terms of office for our elected officers or give them longer terms for a cool off period. We can’t always be in election mode,” said Mr Dube.
Mr Dube is one of those members who are convinced that the club has been infiltrated by agents bent on seeing its eventual demise.
“One of the concerning aspects within our club is infiltration. The club’s open membership system, while good, comes with
challenges we are currently witnessing. The identity, culture and traditions of Highlanders are perpetually threatened,” he said.
Sports commentator and blogger Ms Buhle Ncube put Highlanders’ unfortunate state of affairs squarely on the table of the club’s numerous chapters.
Some of them spend the entire candidate’s term on a trail to discredit him simply because he won against their preferred candidate and in the event that their candidate would have won, they will choose to hear no evil and see no evil even when “their” candidate would not be performing.
“Chapters are the ones that have created division at Highlanders. They now have this alien culture where they will say we want one of our own in the executive and come election day, they will not vote according to the capabilities of the candidates and principles but they will vote for the person that belongs to their chapter. Even when later on their candidate exhibits and shows signs of inability, they will defend them because they are one of them,” she said.
Highlanders, from the generality of members, need to reform or be prepared to perish. Chapters are a critical arm of any football club but there is a strong belief that this arm has been abused by certain characters who are self-serving.
Aspiring candidates have gone on whirlwind campaign trails, visiting various chapters, some said to be key in deciding who lands the post and if their candidate fails to win, those chapter members go on a warpath for the entire term of the winning candidate.
“Unless this alien culture ends, Highlanders will continue changing coaches and players to no avail. Our board also needs to go back to factory settings and be team leaders, not the reason behind its demise by taking sides during these routine elections,” said Ms Lucia Dube, a hardcore Highlanders follower.
At its formation by two of King Lobengula’s grandsons, Albert and Rhodes, who were sons of Njube, the club was known as Lions Football Club and was composed mainly of boys born in Makokoba.
The two brothers returned from South Africa, where Albert had completed studies in agriculture at Tsolo Agricultural School while Rhodes had completed studies in book-keeping at Lovedale Institute.
Both had taken to football as extramural activities. Rhodes continued playing soccer and formed Lions Football Club.
In 1936, the players changed the name to Matabeleland Highlanders Football Club.
The later Father Zimbabwe, Vice President Joshua Mqabuko Nkomo in 1975 ordered the club to drop Matabeleland from its name and thus the club became known as Highlanders.
The club’s moniker names include Bosso, Tshilamoya, Amahlolanyama, and Siyinqaba.
Bosso is said to be Setswana slang which means “The Boss”.
Tshilamoya can be loosely interpreted to mean “demoralisers” a term coined in apparent reference to the team’s nemesis.
Siyinqaba means we are a fortress, immovable.
Amahlolanyama, according to research, is taken from the Grey-Crested Helmet-shrike, a bird found mostly in Southern parts of Zimbabwe whose black and white colours resemble those of the team’s.
EzikaMagebhula, a nickname for Orlando Pirates FC, can also be used in reference to Highlanders FC, possibly because of the similarity of the clubs’ colours.
Bosso uses Barbourfields Stadium as its home ground.