Recalling the makings of a local Bonnie and Clyde

Former Mamelodi Sundowns boss Zola Mahobe in deep thought during an interview were he spoke about the glory days of the team when he was still in charge Picture: Masi Losi

Former Mamelodi Sundowns boss Zola Mahobe in deep thought during an interview were he spoke about the glory days of the team when he was still in charge Picture: Masi Losi

Published Oct 29, 2022


Johannesburg - In the mid-1980s, a hurricane swept through South African football with the emergence from nowhere of a man with deep pockets, a fan of the game who had initially harboured ideas about buying Orlando Pirates.

Kaizer Motaung was already ensconced at the summit of the bigwigs of the game, with Jomo Sono, who had just bought the status of Dion Highlands Park, which he in time renamed Jomo Cosmos, following close behind. Irvin Khoza was working behind the scenes to register the People’s Club, the Buccaneers, as a company, to whose chairmanship he would duly rise.

An unknown quantity at the time he exploded on to the local professional soccer scene, Zola Daniel Mahobe – born in Sophiatown and raised in Meadowlands – was just another face in the crowd, a regular Joe Soap. Not even the fact that he supported Pirates distinguished him from other township fellas crazy over the black religion called football.

What did set him apart, though, was that he came loaded with oodles of cash. He reportedly also drove around with hard cash in the boot of his car, always invariably a flashy new German model. No one outside his close circle of friends knew who he was.

But soon his generosity and nouveau riche tendencies of conspicuous consumption made sure he was noticed. He looked set to upset the status quo, knocking Motaung off the top of the table as the flamboyant soccer boss. When his efforts to buy Pirates were foiled by the club’s legion of supporters, he looked north – to Pretoria, where the doctors, Dr Motisri Itsweng and Dr Boony Sebotsane, along with their partner, Fish Kekana, were battling to keep Mamelodi Sundowns afloat at R30 000 per month from their combined purse.

Mahobe took over, throwing money around. Former Sundowns player Mike Ntombela recalls asking for R30 000 a month at a time when fellow team-mate Mike Mangena had moved to Durban Bush Bucks for R27 000. Mahobe upped the ante and offered Nanana Ntombela a hefty R35 000!

Former Mamelodi sundowns boss Zola Mahobe talks about the glory days of the team when he was still in charge. Picture: Masi Losi

Mahobe, known as Mauser to his hordes of hangers-on, brought some novelty to player pay packets in the paid league.

Coach Stanley Screamer Tshabalala was lured from Giant Blackpool at a salary of R50 000, a figure previously unheard of in the game.

Not even glamour club Kaizer Chiefs was paying anything close to this for their star players. Sundowns became the dream destination of many players plying their trade in the pro ranks at the time.

Mahobe, who was quickly a media darling, became the magnet that drew all to him – players, coaches, celebrities, politicians, friends, foes, leeches, girlfriends… the list is endless. Everyone wanted to be around him. He threw lavish parties, dressed the part and, love him or loathe him, you just couldn’t ignore him.

In 1986, he took the whole Sundowns squad to the FA Cup Final in London on an all-expenses-paid trip, wives and girlfriends in tow before the acronym WAGS was even on the radar of lexicographers. This had never happened in the history of SA soccer.

Soon questions about the source of his wealth surfaced. It turned out he wasn’t as squeaky-clean as his public persona suggested. A computer boffin, he soon moved to Standard Bank, whose information systems ran on IBM technology that Mahobe had studied – unbeknownst to his employers.

He then got his girlfriend, Tebello Snowy Moshoeshoe, to ditch her nursing career for a job at Standard Bank. Working from the inside, Moshoeshoe would then start funnelling money into Mahobe’s accounts in clandestine transactions he promised her the bank wouldn’t pick up.

Thus was the South African Bonnie and Clyde born!

They took Standard bank to the cleaners. They lived large, Mahobe buying a racehorse at a time when the only other black man to have done so was Richard Maponya, whose immense wealth was common knowledge.

Not happy with his 500 SL Mercedes-Benz, a convertible, Mahobe flew to Germany to try to import the larger 500 SEL saloon.

That was a reckless move. Standard Bank took notice. They were also eyeing their employee, Moshoeshoe, who they were certain was living beyond her means. The pair were arrested and each served a prison term. Seen as criminals in the eyes of the authorities, they were elevated to the status of Robin Hood by the black communities that benefited from their largesse.

Moshoeshoe died of cancer aged 51 in 2010, her passing overshadowed by the Fifa World Cup.

Mahobe died in 2013, buried two days later in keeping with Muslim rites, a religion to which he had converted while incarcerated at Barberton prison.

This is a beautiful, easy read about a couple that history should not forget.

- The Legend of Zola Mahobe and the Mamelodi Sundowns Story by Don Lepati and Nikolaos Kirkinis is published by Tafelberg and retails for R320