Category: South Africa

South African Premier Soccer League strugglers Chippa United this week confirmed the signing of ex-Manchester City striker Benjani Mwaruwari as the top flight’s bottom club attempt to avoid relegation back to the second tier.  Benjani had been without a club since being released by debt-ridden Portsmouth at the end of the 2011-12 season.

The move represents Benjani’s return to Africa at club level, having left the continent in 2001 to join Swiss side Grasshoppers on loan from his first senior club, Jomo Cosmos. The Zimbabwean almost made the switch back to the PSL earlier this season when he agreed to join SuperSport United in October 2012 following a successful trial, but the deal bizarrely broke down three weeks later; Benjani denied that his reported £60,000-a-week wages had been a stumbling block (as SuperSport manager Gavin Hunt had suggested) but instead mysteriously revealed, “Maybe I didn’t sign for a reason I don’t know.”

Benjani in action for his previous club, Portsmouth

However, having stated his desire “end my career on a high in South Africa”, Benjani continued to search for a move to the PSL, and earlier this month he began training with Chippa’s fellow strugglers Ajax Cape Town, even playing for the club in a friendly two days before Chippa swooped. Ajax may come to rue their hesitation: they sit just one point above the automatic relegation slot – currently occupied by Chippa – and need all the help they can get to pull clear.

Chippa’s decision to offer Benjani one last payday appears to be borne out of desperation to survive in their first-ever season in the South African top flight. The Chilli Boyz were only founded in July 2010, and an immediate return to the second division could see them struggle to re-gain promotion with bigger clubs such as Jomo Cosmos, Vasco Da Gama, Thanda Royal Zulu and Santos all currently battling in the second tier.

Having scored just 17 goals from their 19 league games this season, Chippa assistant manager Humphrey Sithole admitted the decision to sign Benjani was made in order to boost their firepower: “Benjani is a highly experienced striker; we have no doubt that he will help us a great deal in scoring goals, which is one department where we are still lacking.” The Zimbabwe international will provide much-needed competition among Chippa’s mis-firing strikers. The club have veteran Welcome Qalanto to thank for 7 of their goals, and their second-highest scorer is Petrus Ngebo, who has found the net just twice. Chippa had previously been reserving a foreign space in their squad for Niger captain Moussa Maazou, but abandoned all hopes of that transfer and chose Benjani instead when Maazou became embroiled in contract disputes with his current club Etoile du Sahel.

Benjani becomes the second former Premier League star to move to the PSL this season following ex-Blackburn defender Aaron Mokoena’s switch to Bidvest Wits, while one-time Portsmouth targetman Collins Mbesuma’s transferred to Mamelodi Sundowns in 2008, and Benni McCarthy, formerly of West Ham United, joined the Pirates in 2011.

The new Premier Soccer League season may be underway, but South Africa’s elite clubs are still chopping and changing their squads in a late attempt to improve their chances of success in 2012-13. Recent weeks have seen imports from other African leagues, potential exports to Europe and a number of notable transfers between rival PSL clubs.

Perhaps this week’s most surprising story is SuperSport left-back Innocent Mdledle’s pending transfer to Wits University – just one month after signing a two-year deal at SuperSport. The defender only left previous club Mamelodi Sundowns in July but appears to be heading to his third club in two months after realising playing time at SuperSport may be limited. Not-so-innocent Mdledle was shown the door by Mamelodi after being arrested for drink driving.

Mbesuma has admitted he “couldn’t wait to join Pirates” after hearing of the champions’ interest

Another former SuperSport player looking for increased first-team opportunites is 21-year-old Orlando Pirates midfielder Mduduzi Nyanda, who is currently training with Bloemfontein Celtic. Unable to break into Pirates’ starting XI, Nyanda was loaned to both SuperSport and Platinum Stars last term, and has decided that his future lies away from the Orlando Stadium.

Platinum Stars have themselves completed the signing of Botswana no.1 Kabelo Dembe from Township Rollers in the goalkeeper’s homeland. Already his country’s first-choice custodian at the tender age of 22, Dembe impressed several PSL clubs after shining in Botswana’s 1-1 draw with the South African national team in June.

Mamelodi Sundowns coach Johan Neeskens seems to have closed the door on young defender Siyanda Xulu’s move to Russian outfit FC Rostov by telling reporters there would be no more transfers at the Pretorian club: “I am happy with the players who are here now, so I don’t need any more players and nobody has to go.”

Russian Premier League side Rostov had seen their initial bid of R5 million turned down by Sundowns, much to Xulu’s chagrin: the 20-year-old took to his Facebook page to slate his current employers, sighing “What about my dream; what about my career [?] It is always about money.” Keen to move abroad, Xulu has already enjoyed trials at European giants Barcelona and Arsenal, but looks set to remain in South Africa this season after Neeskens said “He can go if [Rostov] come in with a better offer”, and told the defender’s potential suitors that unless the transfer is completed by the end of the week, the deal is off.

Elsewhere in the league, defending champions Orlando Pirates added Zambian international Collins Mbesuma to a fearsome forward line that already includes ex-Blackburn forward Benni McCarthy – South Africa’s all-time top-scorer – as well as another new signing, Takesure Chinyama, who enjoyed a prolific spell in the Polish top flight, and promising youngster Bongani Ndulula, who is nicknamed “Drogba” by team-mates and coaches alike.

Portly striker Mbesuma, 28, joins on a 3-year deal from Golden Arrows, and Pirates coach Augusto Palacios has confirmed that the transfer marks the end of the club’s summer dealings, calling Mbesuma “the last player [who is] coming to Orlando Pirates to reinforce the squad for the PSL”.



This season’s Premier Soccer League could see the tightest title race in years, with multiple clubs suitably equipped to challenge at the right end of the table. As PSL chairman Irvin Khoza grins: “There is no doubt that the Premiership has become a competitive league that is guaranteed to go to a photo finish season after season. In fact, in the last five years the Premiership was decided in the final matches played simultaneously under circumstances where duplicate trophies and helicopters were held on ‘stand by’.” With 10 million rand at stake for the winners this time around, that will not change in 2012-13.

Having won every PSL title between 2007-08 and 2009-10, SuperSport United dramatically fell from grace in 2010-11, finishing in seventh place – twenty points adrift of the top two. They recovered last season, however, finishing third, and have improved a solid squad that contains Zambian African Cup of Nations-winning pair Davies Nkausu and Clifford Mulenga – as well as former Wolfsburg forward Mame Niang – with the acquisitions of South Africa international George Maluleka and experienced midfielder Mark Haskins.

Last season’s champions Orlando Pirates, one of the country’s traditional “big two” along with Johannesburg rivals Kaizer Chiefs, will be hoping to make it three in a row, having also won the 2010-11 PSL.  A quiet transfer window has seen Pirates replace 36-cap South Africa international Benson Mhlongo with the younger Mpho Makola. Peruvian coach Augusto Palacios’ lack of signings suggests the club are confident of retaining their title.

Returning home… South Africa’s most-capped player, Aaron Mokoena

Despite having failed to win the league since 2004-05, slipping to fifth last season, Kaizer Chiefs seem more eager to offload players than bring new faces to Soccer City. The country’s most popular club have allowed Zimbabwe defender Thomas Sweswe to join Bidvest Wits and sold his compatriot Abbas Amidu to join relegation-battlers Black Leopards. Defender Eric Mathoho, purchased from Bloemfontein Celtic for a sizeable fee, represents Chiefs’ only major signing. The Glamour Boys have also replaced caretaker coach Ace Khuse with Scotsman and former Finland, South Africa and England under-19 boss Stuart Baxter. Despite his vast experience – with over 25 years in management – Baxter will find winning the PSL this season one of the hardest tasks he has faced.

Having narrowly avoided relegation the previous season, few expected Moroka Swallows to challenge for the title in 2011-12. However, led by the experienced Gordon Igesund, the Soweto-based side stormed to second place, finishing just two points shy of champions Orlando Pirates. With Igesund lured away by the South African national team, and five senior players leaving the club, Swallows will struggle to emulate last season’s performance in 2012-13. The Birds have brought in two new faces, however, namely Mamelodi defender James Mayinga and Pirates midfielder Bennet Chenene, and they retain last season’s top-scorer Siyabonga Nomvethe.

With three top-four finishes in as many seasons, Mamelodi Sundowns will be aiming to finally retake the league title that has evaded them  since 2006-07. With former Dutch midfielder Johan Neeskens – a veteran of two World Cup finals during his playing days – at the helm, Mamelodi will be in with a shot this term. Neeskens has shored up the defence by buying compatriot Alje Schut from Utrecht, and has also signed players from the Greek and Brazilian leagues.

A host of clubs –  including Free State Stars, Bloemfontein Celtic, Platinum Stars, Ajax Cape Town and AmaZulu – will battle to occupy the remaining top-half places, while last season’s strugglers Bidvest Wits could also compete after signing former Portsmouth and South Africa captain Aaron Mokoena, who returns home after 13 years abroad.

Survival will be the name of the game for Maritzburg United, Black Leopards, Golden Arrows and promoted sides Tuks FC and Chippa United – both of whom are in the top-flight for the first time. Chippa’s case has not been helped by an enforced move to a new stadium (their ground of choice was deemed not up to PSL standards) and a change of coaches – promotion-winning boss Roger Sikhakane replaced by former schoolteacher Manqoba Mngqithi.



Zimbabwe defender Thomas Sweswe has controversially performed a last-minute u-turn to join South African side Bidvest Wits, despite being thought to be on the verge of signing for fellow Premier Soccer League outfit Black Leopards.

Sweswe, who had played for South African giants Kaizer Chiefs since 2009, was recently deemed surplus to requirements after the club signed fellow defenders Siboniso Gaxa and Morgan Gould. A move to PSL strugglers Black Leopards appeared to be on the cards – with South African press claiming the deal was “90 percent done” – but a late collapse meant Sweswe instead joined the 12th-placed Wits.

The centre-back has never been far from controversy – in February Sweswe was one of 80 players banned from playing for the Zimbabwe national team after being suspected of match-fixing during a tour of Asia, dubbed “Asiagate” by the country’s football association.

Sweswe is happy to have joined Bidvest Wits after losing his first-team place at Kaizer Chiefs

And, earlier this month, Sweswe was one of four players caught dining with former ZIFA chief Henrietta Rushwaya – a man recently arrested for match-fixing and corruption.

This transfer may not be on the same scale, but aggrieved Black Leopards fans will be annoyed that their team are missing out on the 30-year-old defender’s experience. Since beginning his career with Zimbabwean side CAPS United in 2001, Sweswe has competed in the CAF Champions League, played 28 of Kaizer Chief’s 30 PSL fixtures in 2009-10, and won 13 caps for his country (although that figure is unlikely to increase in the near future!)

By joining Bidvest, nicknamed The Clever Boys, Sweswe will play in front of compatriot goalkeeper Energy Murambadoro, and alongside former Kaizer Chiefs team-mate Tinashe Nengomasha, who has also recently joined Bidvest. Says Sweswe: “It’s a two-year deal and I am happy that I have signed with a Johannesburg club. I am at home here in Johannesburg and I aim to continue working hard, as I have always done, to help my new club win trophies. It also feels good that I will be playing with Tinashe. We come a long way together from the juniors up to the senior national team. We were also played together at Chiefs and I believe we make a good team.”

Sweswe could possibly partner Aaron Mokoena in central defence if the Portsmouth man’s transfer comes through. Mokoena is demanding £600,000 from the Fratton Park side in unpaid wages, but Pompey administrator Trevor Birch has claimed the  club could face liquidation by handing over the payments, also demanded by Mokoena’s team-mates Kanu and Tal Ben Haim. The 31-year-old’s experience and versatility – he is also able to play in midfield – would greatly benefit Bidvest Wits, but the transfer appears to have hit a snag and there is a good chance it will now not come off.

Sweswe’s new side are also targeting ex-Manchester City striker Benjani Mwaruwari, also currently at Portsmouth. Benjani won almost 50 caps for Zimbabwe during a 11-year international career, scoring 29 times.

Image: Sweswe –