Wits Pull Out Of South African Football After 99 Years
Bidvest Wits, formed in 1921 and the oldest club in the South African Premiership this season, have been sold just one year before they would have celebrated their centenary.
The Johannesburg side, whose 5,000-seat stadium lies in the campus of the University of the Witwatersrand, have been bought by a businessman from the northern Limpopo province.
Sponsors Bidvest, a South African services, trading and distribution company with more than 120,000 employees, gave no official reason for the sale.
New owner Masala Mulaudzi reportedly paid between 35 and 40 million rand ($2-2.3m/1.8-2m euros) after selling a second-tier club he owned.
He plans to relocate Wits to Makhado, a town 435 kilometres (270 miles) north of Johannesburg and build a complex including training facilities, offices and accommodation for players.
But none of the current Wits squad nor highly successful coach Gavin Hunt will be moving as Mulaudzi has admitted he does not have the financial resources to pay their salaries.
Hunt, the best modern-era South African coach not to have handled the national team, reportedly earns about 600,000 rand a month.
It is widely believed that the former defender is the second highest paid Premiership coach after Pitso Mosimane of Mamelodi Sundowns, whose salary is believed to top one million rand.
Under Hunt, Wits won the league title for the first time in 2017, ending a 97-year wait to grasp the most prized domestic football trophy.
Wits have been the epitome of consistency since Hunt joined them after leading Pretoria outfit SuperSport United to three consecutive league titles.
Popularly known as the ‘Clever Boys’, they finished third, third, second, first, 13th and third under his guardianship.
– Narrow losses –
In two CAF Champions League appearances, Wits made qualifying phase exits after narrow losses to record eight-time winners Al Ahly of Egypt and Primeiro Agosto of Angola.
Hunt also won two domestic knockout competitions for Wits, a club who for decades had been a mid-table side.
News of the sale sparked a frenzy of transfer activity even though the Premiership has been in lockdown since mid-March because of the coronavirus pandemic.
Amid a flurry of transfer rumours, Wits and South Africa captain and centre-back Thulani Hlatshwayo has confirmed he will join Orlando Pirates after the 2019/2020 season.
The government gave the green light this week for the Premiership to resume with all the matches in one province and clubs have between six and nine league fixtures remaining.
Wits lie sixth, but could rise to at least third place as they have matches in hand on the clubs occupying positions three to five.
They could also play a key role in the destiny of the title as they must face leaders Kaizer Chiefs twice at neutral venues to be announced.
Wits have also reached the Nedbank (FA) Cup semi-finals where they will face Sundowns, who are second in the league, four points behind Chiefs with a match in hand.
Hunt hopes his squad will be motivated and not be distracted by transfer activity when the season restarts, probably in mid July.
“It is important for us as professionals to do a proper job. Let us treat the game with respect before Wits bid farewell,” he stressed.