Category: Zimbabwe

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.

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 –