If facts from off-field happenings provided by the last two pre-seasons and the lengthy football hiatus induced by the global ravaging novel Coronavirus pandemic are anything to go by, obsession has been central to rivalry providing some degree of fascination between these top two coloured Eswatini football ensembles.
The two giants have dominated the off-season drama through players crossing the Rubicon from either end, starting with the duo of Vusumuzi Zungu and Thabiso Monkekoane to the Birds’ Nest at the offset of the 2019/20 season to Sabelo Sikhali Ndzinisa, pictured below, Sibonginkosi ‘Gudas’ Dlamini and Colani Sikhondze to Bulls’ Kraal last year.
Even trainer Siyabonga Bhembe could not resist the obsession, dumping Swallows for Highlanders.
Add to that, a few months ago, two Mercedes Benz CDL buses added to the hullabaloo of Eswatini soccer.
It’s undoubtedly Eswatini football’s biggest fixture in any soccer calendar, which on a good day provides the thrills, spills and everything in between.
But, in the absence of the action on the field of play due to the deep snore caused by the novel coronavirus pandemic, it seems Eswatini’s derby between sworn arch rivals most decorated Mbabane Highlanders and Mbabane Swallows their maids, will still add flavour to the game in one of the smallest countries in Africa.
When football authorities and the central government were negotiating the meanders of the pandemic dangers to find a safe way for football to resume since December when two rounds of league matches kicked ball, it was indisputably confirmed on the soccer scene Mbabane is bitterly divided.
Two Mercedes Benz CDL Sprinters took centre stage such that one can’t be mistaken to think they would take to the green rectangular turf.
What began as a simple auction of 2017 model of the super branded make once the pride of Mbabane Swallows by an auctioneer at the instruction of a local bank after payment default saw Mbabane Highlanders South Africa boss Chief Ally Kgomongwe successfully landing the wheels at 355,000 Emalangeni [R 354,525] for his club stalking a fierce emotional derby war.
Simply put, Kgomongwe added paraffin to a fire that seemed to have died out in the absence of football as rival fans haggled each other over the sprinter coup which sadly left Swallows heavily exposed and their dirty linen pegged on the drying line, denting the proud brand the late Victor Gamedze had landed on the continental Africa Soccer Safari.
“I’m not proving a point. I saw the story that the bus was being auctioned off and one of the club officials called me and I know Victor Gamedze [May his soul rest in peace] had a taste for nice things. Then I was told it was a Mercedes Benz, had clocked 51 000 kilometres, I knew it was quality. I had the money to buy it, I didn’t care whether it was branded Pirates, Peacemakers or Swallows.
“If I were at Swallows, I would have protected Victor’s legacy by buying the bus even if I had another. The very same bus ferried them around when they won lots of trophies. If you see a beautiful woman and she is not wearing a ring, you will propose. There were lots of men who were looking for this beautiful woman (the sprinter) and she chose this Pretoria boy. I was handsome enough to win her!” a local daily quoted Kgomongwe.
And when quizzed that if he loved Victor Gamedze, pictured above, as he claimed, why didn’t he buy the bus then give it back to Swallows?
“No, I would buy the bus if it was with Swallows, give it to them but it belonged to the bank. If they had asked me to help with the E16 000 monthly instalments I would have helped them. I helped Wanderers and didn’t ask the money I gave them to pay salaries. I would have paid it for them,” responded Kgomongwe.
In response Bheki Lukhele wiped the Swallows tears with a insulanyembeti token taking delivery of a beautifully branded 2020 model of the same make for close to a million Emalangeni [R998662] adding more flames to the ongoing fire and saw the turn of the tables to the haggling – ti printer titawudlala i-derby [the sprinters will play the derby].
Safe to say neighbourly love has been lost between the rivalry camps where ego takes supreme reign shadowing mere reasoning on the ugly risks being tormented on probably next if not all future derbies – a clear but denied obsession between the two entities and Kgomongwe’s statement: “I promised before that as long as I am the MD, Swallows [Mbabane] will not beat me and have lived up to those words” is squarely central to this derby mess.
On the red, blue and white Swallows divide, at the beginning of 2019/20 season, they stalked emotions when they raided the kraal and snatched away prized assets in the South Africa duo of Vusimuzi Zungu and Thabiso Mokenkoane and if anyone chooses not to call it the beginning obsession against Highlanders then the word itself deserves to be redefined.
“I can’t run Swallows but football is football, you never say never. I am not obsessed with Swallows, I don’t have that energy. We need to compete as rivals so that we can all achieve success.
“When Swallows took Vusimuzi Zungu and Thabiso Mokenkoane I didn’t go to the media to say Swallows are obsessed with Highlanders. It’s football. We should compete in the football of play and then co-operate off the field of play. You cannot create enemies in football, my brother,” Kgomongwe was quoted by the local media.
This act could have probably sparked the above declaration from Kgomongwe who in his obsession raided the nest and got away with trainer Siyabonga Bhembe who had been unveiled at Swallows, pinned the former Birds players midfielder Sibonginkosi ‘Gudas’ Dlamini, Colani Sikhondze and Sabelo Sikhali Ndzinisa – a reversed taste of own medicine to the rivals.
Coincidentally, the two teams’ kits run on a similar design made in different teams colours – a copied concept and surely is it not another obsession from both camps?
And just when all seemed peaceful under the serene of the COVID-19 induced football hiatus, the Sprinter auction drama opened the latest phase between the country’s two most successful giants.
Based on trophy statistics, it is an indisputable and indispensable fact that Mbabane Highlanders top the table, but the last decade’s trophy drought eventually broken in August 2019 with the season opening Eswatini Post and Telecommunications Corporation Charity seemed to have awakened the giants. But during the barren phase their bitter neighbours, Mbabane Swallows had significantly narrowed the gap.
Mbabane Highlanders hold 13 league titles but have not kissed one since they last won at the dawn of the millennium in 2000/01 with Swallows on seven – six of those recorded during their rivals’ bitter and sad barren spell in which they also lost their premiership status twice though pardoned on one of those by an expansion of the league.
The arrival of Kgomongwe at the Black Bull Kraal in May 2019 opened a new leaf, breathing a fresh lease of hope at Highlanders and he declared his commitment to help the team and take it to greater heights.
“I would like to thank the Almighty God for granting me the opportunity to lead a team with great history like Highlanders. I will definitely work with all stakeholders in reviving the brand and take it to greater heights.”
This was almost 17 months after the Eswatini football ship rocking 14 January 2018 murder of maverick Swallows’ boss Gamedze, at a time The Beautiful Birds’ success fortunes had taken a downward turn.
Barely two months at the helm, precisely on the 11th of August 2019, Kgomongwe celebrated his first trophy the Eswatini Post and Telecommunications.
Let obsession be settled on the field of play and one of these giants claim the Bragging Rights of Mbabane to a literal lifelong pride after Saturday.
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By Noel Munzabwa