Pressing Issues: Johann Rupert joins SA’s football elite

S'Busiso Mseleku
S'Busiso Mseleku

The promotion of Stellenbosch FC – that is if the PSL, which seems to be appealing against everything these days, does not appeal the promotion – to the Absa Premiership means that another mogul has become a new member of South African football elite. This time, it’s Johann Rupert.

For many years – since the days of organisations such as the Johannesburg Bantu Football Association and the once mighty Durban & District Football Association – football was regarded as a black business, just like the taxi industry.

This was confirmed in 1976 when the whites-only National Football League (NFL) folded and threw in its lot with the then National Professional Soccer League (NPSL), which had consisted of black clubs only since its formation in 1970.

The NFL had been forced to close shop because of the dwindling crowds, while the NPSL was thriving in that sphere, which also resulted in more sponsors supporting it.

Read: Glory and pain: Sundowns claim ninth league title

South African football from the black side was also emerging from the era of the “Preza” – a subject I have written ad nauseam about.

However, for the uninitiated, the Preza – township parlance for president – was the be-all and end-all. He was usually a prominent businessman in his area who would form a club and run it with an iron fist.

The club’s kit would be kept at his place, be washed by either his wife, daughter(s) or servants. Sometimes he would have a truck to transport players.

This character would be seen running up and down the touchline issuing endless instructions to the players whenever his club played, and he was sometimes oblivious to the presence of a coach.

When asked why they did this, they had a standard answer: “Iclub yami le naye uholelwa yimina [This is my club and even his salary comes from my pocket].”

The birth of the NPSL brought to prominence colourful characters such as Ewert “The Lip” Nene (Kaizer Chiefs), Washington “DC” Mposula (Orlando Pirates), Jack “Big Daddy” Sello (Moroka Swallows) and Bethuel Masondo (AmaZulu), to mention just a few.

It was from these gentleman that aboKaizer “Chincha Guluva” Motaung and Irvin “The Iron Duke” Khoza, who were later joined by Jomo “Troublemaker” Sono, took over.

However, the days of the Preza and football clubs being run as Spaza shops are long gone.

Strewn across the scrap heap of South African football history are clubs such as Bush Bucks, African Wanderers, Moroka Swallows, Pimville United Brothers, Mangaung United, Pretoria Bantu Callies and Witbank Black Aces.

These clubs were sent the way of the dodo mostly because their owners failed to fully grasp and come to terms with the fact that the landscape of the game was changing dramatically.

Unless some shrewd investor comes in, another giant – Bloemfontein Celtic – seems to be headed in that direction as current owner Max Tshabalala has virtually declared bankruptcy.

Petrus “White Head” Molemela must be spinning in his grave.

Enter Patrice Motsepe, Brian Joffe and now Rupert. The three moguls are emerging as the new faces that will take the game to another level.

Prior to this, the entry of companies such as SuperSport and different universities into club ownership were early signs that our football was taking a new direction.

With deep pockets, the likes of Motsepe, Joffe and Rupert are not highly dependent on sponsorship or even the R1.5 million PSL monthly grants.

With their own money, they can afford to sign big-name players, as well as pay decent salaries and even bloated and not market-related packages.

This has been received with consternation in some quarters, but methinks it’s a steam train that no one can stop. This new breed of club owners might just be what the doctor ordered to free South African football from the “capture” that has been reported, though many tend to turn a blind eye to it.

Our football needs people who will run it without fear or favour; people who do not expect to be done favours or receive some crumbs as the biblical parable of Lazarus who lived on whatever fell off the rich man’s table.

With Remgro as the 100% owner of Stellenbosch, Rupert is able to appoint well-qualified people such as chief executive officer Rob Benardi and Edries Burton as the chief operating officer.

Call it “white monopoly capital” if you would, but service providers, advisers and marketers of South African football are already showing a different picture. Trying to find a black company operating in this space will be tantamount to searching for a needle in a haystack.

If what Burton said on the day the club was promoted is anything to go by, Rupert might have cracked the code that community-based clubs tend to thrive.

“The name ‘Stellenbosch FC’ shows our intention of creating a club that symbolises the Cape winelands community,” he said.

“We are on a pathway of building something special‚ and we want to take this community with us.”

This statement is also backed by the fact that the club’s crest features a bunch of grapes as the club is based within the Cape winelands district municipality and so has an affinity with the community.

With these latest developments, South African professional football club structures are more and more looking like a cappuccino.

. Follow me on Twitter @Sbu_Mseleku

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August 2020

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