Before Patrice Motsepe came along to inject hundreds of millions of Rands into Mamelodi Sundowns, the club had another generous benefactor who loved to splash the cash. The difference? The money was not his …
Zola Mahobe was a flamboyant character born in Sophiatown who grew up supporting Orlando Pirates and would become one of the most well-known black businessmen in the country; in part after he purchased Sundowns in 1985 for a reported R100 000.
It was the start of a boom period for the club as Mahobe bought the best talent he could lure to the team and in just a few years was rewarded with the 1988 National Soccer League title, even though he was no longer involved to enjoy it.
The team also won the 1986 Mainstay Cup, the reward for which was a proposed trip to Rio de Janeiro for the players, though this was stymied by the Brazilian government who refused to grant visas due to South Africa’s Apartheid regime.
But Mahobe had earlier taken the players and their partners on an all-expenses paid trip to the FA Cup final in England that year, carrying through on his promise to do so.
While there, they played to a 2-2 draw in a clandestine match against Crystal Palace reserves in bitterly cold conditions in south London, using dustbins as goal-posts to avoid it being deemed an official match and a breach of the sports boycott on South Africa.
He was known for his huge generosity, whether it be in business or around family and friends.He even helped Pirates avoid relegation in that same 1986 season when he loaned the ailing Buccaneers Hamilton Mahlangu, Trott Moloto, Mike Ndada and Basil Steenkamp with the specific aim of making sure they avoided the drop.
But there were also some clashes with fans. He threatened to move the team from Mamelodi to Tembisa and reportedly put the club up for sale for R300 000 after fans criticised him for retaining coach Stanley ‘Screamer’ Tshabalala.
And then came the bombshell. Working with his alleged mistress Snowy Moshoeshoe, a clerk at Standard Bank, he was found to have fraudulently spent R10-million of the bank’s money to fund his lifestyle … and his football team. Moshoeshoe had used her position to cook the books and simply kept adding money to Mahobe’s account in the form of credits, which went on for five years.
The ruse was uncovered when a credit check was done on his account as he tried to purchase a Mercedes Benz in Germany. With Moshoeshoe on leave, the job was passed on to a colleague, who discovered the fraud. Standard Bank went after everything they could to recoup the money, including Sundowns which they valued at between R400 000 and R500 000 in 1988.
On this day in 1989, Mahobe was found guilty on five counts of fraud and sentenced to an effective 16 years in prison.
Sundowns faced liquidation but was bought by a partnership between Abe Krok and Angelo and Natasha Tsichlas, who would maintain control until Motsepe made his move in 2004.
Mahobe faded from the soccer scene after his release from prison, though he would occasionally be seen at matches. He died at the age of 59 in 2013. ©Mtnfc