In this week’s review, we have a club that could quite possibly hold the title as thee journey club of South African football, Richards Bay Football Club. The story of Richards Bay FC begins in Cape Town in 1958 when a couple of friends, Nick Augustidies, Tony Riera, and Milton Caldis started an amateur team called Hellenic Football Club.
By the 1970s they were one of the most attractive teams in the county, attracting a number of German internationals and the late great, Budgie Byrne. The club won the league in 1971 and were runners up in 72 and 75 but by the turn of the millennium in 2000, things began to go awry.
The Hellenic Football Club
On the verge of relegation, the owners put the club up for sale in 2003 and it was snapped up by Dumisani Ndlovu who promptly moved the club to Benoni and renamed it Benoni Premier United. Despite the new owners coming in, Premier United was relegated at the end of the 2003/2004 season. They fought to get back to the Premier League and were on the verge of achieving that when a consortium consisting of Swedish businessmen Johan Olof Markus Glennmo, Pierre Delvaux and former England coach, Sven-Goran Eriksson came knocking and bought the team.
The team was relocated again, this time to Richards Bay and in 2008, the name officially changed to Thanda Royal Zulu.
Sven-Goran Eriksson
What transpired next was nothing short of bizarre and highlighted just how nonsensical allowing teams to sell their status can be. The time was 2017 and Thanda had won the National First Division (NFD) and with it, promotion to the Premier Soccer League. The trouble was, there was another giant in the NFD who had finished fifth that year and was desperate to get back to the big leagues. That giant was AmaZulu.
A deal was quickly struck which would see AmaZulu buying the PSL status of the NFD Champions, Thanda Royal Zulu, thereby making a mockery of the promotion and relegation structure. Thanda on the other hand would stay in the NFD but they were also up for sale as the Swede’s had found the financial strain of running a football club too much to bare and put the club on the market. The club was sold to the current owner, Brian Sifiso Biyela and renamed Richards Bay FC.
Richards Bay FC Registration
Richards Bay FC is owned by Brian Sifiso Biyela who hails from Ngwelezane, a township on the outskirts of Empangeni in KwaZulu-Natal. Little has been published about his early life and education but he is believed to have been a lifelong sports and fanatic fanatic in particular. He spent most of his working career in government working for the KZN Department of Sport and Recreation in Umhlathuze, focusing on school sports.
As far back as 2004, he was a central part of The United School Sports Association of South Africa (USSASA), a non-governmental, voluntary organisation that had coordinated school sports in South Africa since 1994. In 2009 he helped spearhead the The South African Schools’ Football World Cup, a nationwide competition organized for under-14 to under-18 boys and girls ahead of the 2010 FIFA World Cup
Jomo Biyela
One of his major projects while at the department of sport was a program to help training coaches so that the coaches in his district can get certificates. One of the coaches who benefited greatly from the program was the late great, Roger Sikhakhane. A friendship developed between the two and Biyela eventually hired as coach of Thanda Royal Zulu in 2016 before Sikhakhane succumbed to illness in 2018.
Jomo Biyela, Mhlathuze Mayor, Mduduzi Mhlongo and Roger Sikhakhane
In addition to his role in public office, Jomo Biyela has also been heavily involved in politics and In 2015 he was appointed as an office bearer of the ANC’s uMhlathuze Sub-Regional Committee, serving as treasurer. It was during his time in political office and on the ground in ANC structures that he identified the massive water supply constraints in various municipalities and started a business to take advantage of the gap in the market.
He registered Khabeni Project Enterprise on the 20th of June 2016 and just three months later, some big tenders started rolling in.
ANC’s uMhlathuze Sub-Regional Committee
Details of the uMhlathuze Municipality orders above R100,000 show that Khabeni Project Enterprise began supplying the municipality with water tankers in September of 2016 with just four of the orders costing the municipality just over R2 million. At the time, the city of uMhlathuze, which serves Richards Bay and Empangeni, had an estimated 334‚460 residents with no water due to severe droughts in the region with the Goedetrouw Dam dropping to 24.2%.
The company is a member of the Institute of Waste Management of South Africa however I am unaware of what other prior work they had done in the field of bulk water supply.
In April 2020, the water supply tenders continued when Khabeni was awarded a two year contract for the for the delivery of portable water within Zululand District Municipality area using water tankers. The largest approved bid on that tender was for R12,386,888.00 but it is not clear what number the Khabeni bid came in at. The following month, Khabeni received another large tender from the Amajuba District Municipality for the construction of 70 kilometers of pipelines for the Hilltop Settlements water supply scheme.
It seems that water is not their only specialty. The company which specializes in heavy plant, civil contracting, building contracting, fencing and electrical services, got a tender of a different kind. Khabeni, along with five other companies, was appointed by the KZN Provincial Legislature as service a provider to render events management services for a period of 36 months beginning in 2019.
KZN Legislature Awarded Tenders 2020/21
Jomo Biyela has clearly done quite well for himself in private enterprise. While he is registered as a director of four other companies namely Hyacinth Finance Solutions, Lamosmart, Umhlathuze Housing Association and JSB Plant Hire, Khabeni is by far the most successful.
Ever a servant to his community, Jomo Biyela and his teams have often gone to great lengths to give back to needy families. In 2019, the Mthethwa family of Mthunzini were given a new home after having lived in a dilapidated structure that was barely habitable.
Mthethwa Family home handover
The club have really hit the headlines lately with their performances on the pitch. They are a young team with an exciting brand of football who have really mixed things up in KwaZulu Natal. While their owners journey to the top in the boardroom may have been helped by his prior life in public office, the club has done it all on their own on the pitch.
I wish the club all the best going forward and hope we one day see them achieve their goal of getting into the top flight.