The story of the brains behind the formation of the Sekhukhune United football club is a typical one of humble beginnings.
Siblings Simon (49) and Jonas Malatji (44) are part of a new wave of fresh-faced professional club-owners to have emerged in local football, thanks to the rising trend of club status-buying in the PSL.
Born and raised in the far-flung district of Sekhukhune in Limpopo, where opportunities are few and far between, meant there was no hope post-school for the Malatjis.
What makes their story even more remarkable is the backdrop to their rise.
“There was no hope. All we had was a dream,” says Jonas.
In pursuit of a better future, the two brothers left the province of their birth for North West, while pursuing their tertiary education on the side.
Jonas started off working as a security guard in Tlhabane, Rustenburg, while Simon did odd jobs in Brits to fund his studies.
It was their passion for the security industry that led them to establish Mabotwane Security Services in 1999. It has since grown into one of the biggest black-owned security companies around, providing services across a wide array of industry disciplines.
The brothers’ business portfolio includes Malonjeni Guest Farm, a resort in Midvaal in Gauteng, which hosted the official launch of Sekhukhune United last month.
“We’re not in football for the money. We just want to change the lives of the people of our community, especially youngsters who dream of playing at the highest level one day,” says Simon of the project he and Jonas established with their uncle, Enos Malatji.
The event was attended by traditional leaders from Sekhukhune, including King Thulare Victor Thulare Sekhukhune III of the Bapedi, as well as Limpopo MEC for sport, arts and culture, Thandi Moraka, among other dignitaries.
The Malatjis view this as a sign that their club has been blessed by the right people.
They pride themselves on Sepedi culture and tradition, which they showcased during the launch. Their totem, a porcupine (noko), is prominently displayed on the club’s crest.
The club’s slogan, “Adibahlabe dinoko” (loosely translated as “Stab your opponents with your quills, porcupines”), is inspired by the endangered animal.
Sekhukhune came through as African All Stars in the ABC Motsepe League, but bought the GladAfrica Championship status of Tshakhuma Tsha Madzivhandila (TTM) when a chance presented itself.
TTM had, in turn, bought out Bivdest Wits from the premier division prior to the start of the new campaign.
The TTM offer was R10 million for suitors in the province and R12 million for anyone outside Limpopo, recalled Jonas, who is the group CEO of the Malatjis’ business empire.
“We wanted to plough back to the community and we started with African All Stars two years ago. But we realised within six months into our involvement that running a third-division club was costly – between R300 000 and R350 000. Even more taxing was the politics at that level,” says Jonas, who declines to elaborate on what the politics involved.
The Malatjis are vocal about their passion for the game.
“Our uncle Enos was a star striker in his day, but he didn’t get exposure due to limited opportunities in our area,” said Jonas, who says he himself is “just average” as a player.
Simon, a former Orlando Pirates fan, is the executive chairperson of both the family business and the football club.
He leads the delegation of Sekhukhune United on the PSL board of governors, the league’s highest decision-making body.
“We don’t support any clubs any more because we operate in the same space now,” chuckles Jonas.
While many might be wondering why a Limpopo club is based in Johannesburg, the Malatjis say it is mainly because the facilities at their own grounds in Sekhukhune do not meet the PSL’s requirements.
Plans are in place for the ambitious brothers to build the club’s headquarters and training facilities in their village.
The club uses the Makhulong Stadium in Tembisa, Ekurhuleni, and also shares the Peter Mokaba Stadium with Polokwane City.
Sekhukhune, which has Mamelodi Sundowns legend Alex Bapela as the technical director, have set a three-year target to build a force in the first division.
Should they fall short of winning promotion during that period, Simon says they will consider buying a status in the elite league “if there’s a team willing to sell”.
Sekhukhune have enjoyed an ideal start to their life in the GladAfrica Championship.
This includes qualifying for the Nedbank Cup after defeating Jomo Cosmos in the preliminary play-offs for a spot in the Last 32 of the R7 million competition.
Sekhukhune, like Swallows, have proved to be the real deal in local football so far, based on their level of professionalism and how much they have invested in quality squads comprising experienced and rising players.
Although Swallows gained their place in the elite league via automatic promotion from the GladAfrica Championship, the Birds’ revival can be traced back to their purchasing of the first-division status of Maccabi FC in August last year.
Sekhukhune, coached by the well-travelled Johnny Ferreira, have invested heavily in seasoned campaigners such as former Polokwane City captain Jabulani Maluleke and erstwhile Highlands Park goalkeeper Tapuwa Kapini, as well as former Baroka FC and Ajax Cape Town striker Prince Nxumalo and Yusuf Maart, who was previously with the Orlando Pirates academy.
Dinoko marked their debut with a 4-0 bashing of fellow newcomers Royal AM. Sekhukhune will begin the new year with a Limpopo derby against Polokwane City at Peter Mokaba Stadium on January 2.
Sandile Zungu’s 100% acquisition of AmaZulu from previous owners – the Sokhelas – was not the usual local club status-buying transaction.
The takeover of the DStv Premiership outfit in October did not involve a name change or even Usuthu leaving their geographical location of Durban in KwaZulu-Natal.
Zungu heads the Zungu Investment Company, which has a diverse portfolio in mining, energy, manufacturing and gaming.
Under the ambitious Zungu, AmaZulu have signed a big-name player in Siphiwe Tshabalala and an equally prominent coach in Benni McCarthy.
The GladAfica Championship outfit launched in October after flamboyant KwaZulu-Natal businessperson and reality TV personality Shauwn Mkhize bought Real Kings and renamed it Royal AM.
Her son, Andile Mpisane (19), is the chairperson of the Pietermaritzburg-based club.
Rebirth of Mother City clubs
CAPE TOWN SPURS
Ajax Cape Town ended their 21-year association with Dutch powerhouse Ajax Amsterdam at the end of the 2019/20 season. The move paved the way for the relaunch of Cape Town Spurs in October, with Ari Efstathiou at the helm as the chairperson.
Spurs were originally established in 1970 before their merger with Seven Stars in 1999 to form Ajax Cape Town.
CAPE TOWN ALL STARS
All Stars were founded in 2010, but sold their NFD status to TS Galaxy during the 2017/18 season.
In a twist of events, All Stars bought the GladAfrica Championship status of Galaxy in September.
The status became available as a result of the Galaxy owners buying Premiership side Highlands Park