Johannesburg - Built out of love for the small community of Ga-Mphahlele, Baroka FC have grown to become the pride of Limpopo.
In 2007 Khurishi Mphahlele, at the time the owner of the extremely successful softball club Seteteng Giant Killers, bought Flying Bees Football Club, who were playing in the fourth tier of South African football, the SAB League.
“When we bought the club, we set ourselves a target of getting it into the Premier League within 10 years,” reminisced Mphahlele in an interview with City Press recently at his offices in Joburg recently.
Mphahlele managed to achieve that goal in eight years. And although it took the Limpopo side less than 10 years to achieve their goal, the rocky road culminated in their promotion to the Absa Premiership last season.
“We easily got the club promoted from the SAB League to the then Vodacom [now called ABC Motsepe] League the following season ,” he said.
The club then changed its name to Baroka, Mphahlele’s clan name.
“My father used to tell us that the Mphahleles were Pedi warriors,” he said.
“When I was a young man, each time I cried he would say: ‘A Moroka doesn’t weep.’ So I grew up knowing we are the Baroka and that we are not supposed to cry. Most people from our clan still call themselves Baroka.”
The club’s upward trajectory was stunted in the Vodacom League.
“We finished fourth in the provincial league in our first year, thus missing out on the national play-offs,” Mphahlele said.
“We came second the following season and eventually won our stream in 2011, which qualified us for the national play-offs.”
Baroka finished second, thus missing out on promotion. They had to do it all over again in the Vodacom League, winning their stream, and going to the play-offs, which were hosted in their province. They fell short once more.
In 2013, they eventually cracked the code, passing with flying colours and winning all their matches at the national play-offs in Gauteng.
“We won all matches, scoring 14 in five and conceding only one goal,” he said.
“Our prominent players were Thabiso Kutumela and Gift Motupa, who shone at that tournament. They were aged 19 and 20, respectively, then.
“We did not change our squad when we were promoted to the [National First Division] and missed out on the play-offs spot on goal difference.”
The club, at the time known as the Giant Killers due to the impressive cup runs that had seen them brush off Kaizer Chiefs in the Nedbank Cup, parted ways with Sello “The Gloved One” Chokoe towards the end of the 2014 season with four (three away and one home) games left.
“We then roped in Kgoloko Thobejane as coach. He had been serving the club as technical director because we could not rope him in as a full-time coach. He was employed as a teacher [elsewhere].”
Thobejane guided the club to four wins away from home and drew their last game at home.
“He promised me that he would win the league the following season, hence we are in the Premier League now.
“He delivered on his promise and I still expect more from him. He is still the right man for the job.”
Mphahlele outlined his current vision for the club: “The first thing would be to win a trophy in the PSL and thus become the first club to bring a PSL cup to Limpopo province.”
After that, they would “gun” for the league. The club is still in the running for the Telkom Knockout Cup after easily eliminating Platinum Stars 3-1 at the weekend. They face Polokwane City in a derby at the New Peter Mokaba Stadium at 3.30pm today before travelling to Moses Mabhida Stadium for an encounter with Kaizer Chiefs on Wednesday evening.
But who exactly is Khurishi Mphahlele?
Without going into too much detail, it would be safe to say that he is a self-made businessman; that he was born in Ga-Mphahlele in 1963, the third born in a family of four boys and two girls; that he has two wives, Julia and Beauty Mphahlele, with whom he has 14 children – eight sons and six daughters, aged between five and 32.
He started his schooling in the village and, on realising there were no funds for him to go to high school, he trekked to Alexandra, north-east of Joburg, where “my uncles and brothers lived”.
After scrabbling some money together, he enrolled at Fourways High School to study what is know as Grade 8 today.
After finishing matric, which he had done part time, Mphahlele studied and earned a diploma in business administration from the then Rand Afrikaans University (now known as the University of Johannesburg) in 1988.
He worked for the Sandton town council as a meter reader, “where I did everything from meter reading, billing and credit control”, after which he resigned and started his own company, African Meter Reading.
The company, which has secured 11 contracts with several municipalities in different provinces, recently scored another contract with Eskom to electrify new houses.
The business, which started out as a one-man show and ended up employing two staff members within two months, now has a staff complement of 3 000 at its Bramley offices.
Would he consider owning another softball team as part of growing his business empire?
“No ways,” he says, emphatically.
“I am focusing on football, which is a bigger sport.
“Nothing can stop Baroka from growing to be as big as the Barcelonas of this world.
“Sundowns have just shown us that the sky is, indeed, the limit.”