Free State Drama: Bloemfontein’s Death and Renaissance in One Week

In one week, Premier Soccer League (PSL) side Bloemfontein Celtic have died and risen, but how long they are going to stay alive is a question of seasons and human actions. 

Bloemfontein – South Africa’s judicial capital – is  also the capital city of the nation’s Free State Province. It is also the seventh largest city in the country. Like every city in a football-loving nation like the rainbow nation, Bloemfontein has a club close to its locals’ hearts. They dream and live the club, and when the news of Phunya Sele Sele’s liquidation broke, it was a tough moment for Celtic faithfuls.

Club owner, Max Tshabalala had announced that the club didn’t have enough money to pay players and the club’s coaches. It was a difficult journey that could only lead to one place – selling the club. Millionaire, Lebo Mokoena stepped in quickly to save the situation. Mokoena was born in Free State but conducts his business in Pietermaritzburg. 

When asked if he was interested in buying the team, he said; “Yes it’s true, we are still busy with that. We are hoping to achieve that soon,” 

“Obviously we want to save the economy of Free State. They’ve invested a lot in this team and stadium. The people of Bloemfontein can’t lose this club.”

That statement woke the dead in Bloemfontein. It was a call for hope and perhaps what the fans wanted to hear but it wasn’t to become as Tshabalala chose to sell the team to businesswoman, Shauwn Mkhize who wasted no time in changing the name of the team to Royal AM F.C and also relocating them to Kwa-Zulu Natal. 

The final sale of Celtic was the death of many faithfuls, especially those who had keenly followed the team in its 51-year existence. They never saw the day coming, even when lightning showed before the thunderstorm. The situation wasn’t saved and they were left desolate, distraught and in shock. 

A man tagged the number 1 fan of the club, Botha Msila said he was literally killed when the team ceased to exist. A lifelong fan who has hardly missed a Celtic game since he began supporting them, Msila said he felt like a “fish taken out of water”.

“I have supported the club my whole life. When I was a young boy I supported the team.”pjlo

“Personally, it’s like you took a fish out of water, and then expect the fish to stay alive. It will die. It means they killed me because this was my life.

“I chose not to work. I compromised and made sacrifices for the team. I was doing everything without a salary, without anything.

“I was not paid for this. I was doing it for free. If I was working for a company I would be saying, ‘I’ve worked for more than 40 years’.

“What are the benefits of being a Celtic fan for 40 years? It’s nothing.”

A pained Msila further expressed his displeasure with the way everything went in Bloemfontein including the denial of Mokoena and Sinki Leshabane, both sons of the soil. 

“To tell you the truth, we were shocked and puzzled . We were dead, and then we were vandalised,” he said. 

“The problem is, first, we don’t understand what made Ma Mkhize able to convince our chairman, Max Tshabalala, to sell the club to her. We have reliable people who were able to buy the club, and the club stays in Bloemfontein.

Msila, who showed great knowledge of the club added that the economy of the city would be in ruins without the club. That sounded an alarm and it was the call to action that birthed the Renaissance of Celtic after just a week outside Bloemfontein.

“He should consider that when you sell the club to someone outside Bloemfontein, you are going to kill the economy of the city. You are going to destroy the love of football in our province, you are going to increase unemployment and you are going to increase the rate of nyaope and drugs because our kids won’t have access to development of football,” Msila said after the club’s sale.

Mokoena: Saving the Day, Saving a City 

On Saturday, news filtered in from Bloemfontein that Mokoena had purchased Maritzburg United, a move which will see Celtic take the Kwa-Zulu Natal team’s place in the PSL. It was shocking, albeit pleasantly to Bloemfontein locals.

Mokoena had used his strong business links in Kwa-Zulu Natal to save his local team in Free State. With the decision, he’s brought smiles back to many faces and has revived the economy of an entire Province. It was a move many didn’t see coming but one that may be warped in politics and provincial power-play. 

Between Kwa-Zulu Natal and Free State 

Kwa-Zulu Natal, home to South Africa’s biggest ethnic group, the Zulu, is the country’s second-biggest province. Its capital Pietermaritzburg also has a team, Maritzburg United.

With Royal A.M, owned by Mkhize buying Celtic’s place in the league, and Celtic coming back to take Maritzburg United’s place, it all looks like a tit-for-tat dramatic, business-power game between South African businessmen, vying to take up the economy of their favourite cities, through the people’s favourite clubs. 

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