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Wits prepares for a future certain of continuity after Bidvest

- Tshepiso Mametela

“From a Wits Sport’s side we were extremely sad to see the end of Bidvest Wits FC. It was totally unexpected and came as a big shock!”

These were the sombre words which understandably clutched at the chest of Wits Sport head, Michael Dick, who leads the high performance sports wing of the University of the Witwatersrand, and like with many at the institution, was taken aback following widespread reports that Bidvest Wits had been sold.

But the reality was not left to the marauding passages of the media reports which surfaced in the wake of this. The reality was and remains just as big as the two institutions at the centre of it – one academic and the other a player in the corporate space. The sale of the club to National First Division (NFD) outfit Tshakhuma Tsha Madzhivhandila signalled the end of an almost 15-year-long partnership between Wits University and the Bidvest Group.

The trading and distribution company’s CEO and chairman, Alan Fainman, confirmed the sale of the senior men’s professional football club, in which Wits previously held a 40 per cent stake while Bidvest owned the lion’s share of 60 per cent. Wits had already sold its share to Bidvest prior to the new takeover and merely looked on as the Premier Soccer League club was put on the block.

Now, with the sale done and dusted and the pleasantries exchanged, does it mean the eradication of the near 100-year dynasty of the University’s footballing heritage? It means anything but as loyalists, and those closest to the University, are assured there will be life after Bidvest for Wits FC and the institution’s ever-growing football programme, all be it in the murky era of uncertainty presented by Covid-19.

“The University’s football club has been doing great on the male and the female side of things. Wits FC started in 1921 and has never stopped existing or operating even when the Bidvest partnership happened,” said Dick, assuring the wider Wits community and the students and athletes who will make the institution home in the future.

 “This iconic club will celebrate its centenary this year and it is untrue that 99 years of history has been wiped out by the sale of Bidvest Wits FC. It is just one chapter that is closing,” added Dick. “The club has been part of the DNA of the University, and Wits Sport has been integral in its formation and over the years. The University was part of the many successes and shared in the difficult times.”

On the University club side, there has certainly been a good run of success enjoyed over the last while, which included making the 2017 World Student Games in Chinese Taipei before the Wits FC men’s team stormed to their first-ever Varsity Football final in 2018.

Bidvest Wits, meanwhile, had found the recipe of champions as they captured the 2016/17 Absa Premiership title after downing four-time winners of the country’s top-flight in the Absa (then title sponsors) era, Kaizer Chiefs 1-0 at the FNB Stadium in Soweto on May 27, 2017.

The University’s ladies football team qualified for the 2018/19 Sasol Women’s League in the same year as the Wits FC men made the Varsity Football final, with the Wits men returning to compete in the subsequent World Elite University Football Tournament held in China in 2019. Here, Wits FC became the first-ever African team to compete at the event ahead of making passage to the final, where the side lost out to University of Tübingen from Germany.

Again in 2019, two of Wits FC’s most promising men’s footballers in Kurt Pienaar and Saluleko Mathonsi, donned national kit colours en route to running out for South Africa at the World Student Games in Italy, while the South Africa Under-20 women’s team was bolstered with the sprouting talents of Wits’ Shakeerah Jacobs, Lebogang Ntabeni, Ayanda Ncube, Siphesihle Dlamini and Robyn Coetzee at the year’s COSAFA Women’s Under-20 Championship held in Port Elizabeth.

These successes, along with many others left to the annals of months or years past, will only continue from this point on. But this will require the same combination of ingredients which have made Wits, as a whole, one of the most competitive institutions of higher education and learning on the African continent. Wits Sports’ head believes that a new and more exciting chapter waits on the other side of the bitter and mostly shocking disappointment of seeing Bidvest Wits being let go.

“Many people have contributed to, and sacrificed for the club over the years and because of this, we unreservedly understand the disappointment, and in many cases shock from students, alumni, staff, former players and former staff members. We want to assure all those people, however, that Wits FC is in good hands and will continue to play a big role in the South African football story,” Dick added.

The Wits FC Men’s Team is set to compete in the 2020/2021 ABC Motsepe League Season. However, The South African Football Association has suspended all amateur football due to the rise of COVID-19 infections. The Association will make further assessments on Sunday, 31 January 2021.

Wits University Football Club: Photo Credit - Cody Van Wyk