Obituary: Zola Mahobe - Soccer boss who lived large on loot

22 December 2013 - 02:03 By Mark Gleeson
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ILLICIT GAINS: Zola Mahobe propelled Sundowns to fame
ILLICIT GAINS: Zola Mahobe propelled Sundowns to fame


ZOLA Mahobe made philanthropy in soccer popular long before the current era of billionaire owners and their soccer playthings. But he lasted less than two years in the spotlight before being exposed as a crook.

He arrived on the South African soccer scene as a brazen unknown, flashing a fat chequebook and ushering in the era of soccer sugar daddies.

Except, with Mahobe, the money was not his own.

It had been pilfered from Standard Bank by his mistress, Tebello "Snowy" Moshoeshoe, a teller who worked the system well enough to deposit a total of some R10-million in various fictitious accounts.

She was able to keep this up for just more than three years, providing Mahobe with unimagined riches. He lived a life of champagne-filled luxury with all the accoutrements - coiffured hair, sharp suits, overseas travel, cars, a race horse and a football team.

He bought businesses too, including butcheries and a travel agency, and ran them from offices in Eloff Street, Johannesburg.

Mamelodi Sundowns are a major brand these days because of Mahobe and the stolen millions.

The team, originally from the "coloured" area of Marabastad in Pretoria, were given a shot in the arm in the 1980s under the ownership of two doctors, Motsiri Itsweng and Bonnie Sebotshane, and moved to Mamelodi.

They won promotion to the top flight in 1983, but struggled to survive until Mahobe came on board as director, later buying the franchise for about R100000.

He quickly set about creating a superclub - a record R40000 transfer fee brought striker Mike Mangena from champions Bush Bucks at the start of 1986, followed closely by Mike Ntombela from Wits.

Within weeks the soccer community was buzzing as Mark Anderson, Pitso Mosimane and William Zondi also joined. And, before mid-season, Mahobe paid another R40000 for "Big John" Salter from neighbours Arcadia.

When Mahobe tired of Mangena a few months later, he swapped him to get back Andries Chitja from Moroka Swallows. He also gave Salter back to Arcs after just two months in exchange for flying fullback Trevor Klein.

It seemed that not a week went by without the excitement of yet another Mahobe purchase. The team colours were changed to those of Brazil to reflect the kind of soccer Mahobe wanted his side to play.

He took the entire team - and their partners - to London to watch the 1986 FA Cup final. The men from Mamelodi were unlikely participants in a Merseyside invasion of Wembley, but they were on the wrong side of the stadium as Ian Rush scored twice to win it for Liverpool over Everton.

Two days later, they played a clandestine friendly against Crystal Palace, who used one of their own coaches as the referee and replaced the goal posts with dustbins to avoid being accused of breaking the UN sports boycott. That the 2-2 draw received fulsome coverage back home the next day seemed beside the point.

Mahobe's benevolence extended to the team he supported as a boy, Orlando Pirates, who were struggling near the foot of the table.

Mahobe, who was born in Sophiatown and went to school in Meadowlands, loaned them Hamilton Mahlangu, Trott Moloto, Mike Ndada and Basil Steenkamp, saying he wanted to help the Buccaneers in their fight against relegation - and the influx of talent did the trick.

As 1986 unfolded, and with charismatic Stanley "Screamer" Tshabalala as the new coach, Sundowns won their first trophy - the Mainstay Cup.

Mahobe promised the players another trip, this time to Brazil. But all the publicity had forewarned the Brazilian embassy in Pretoria, which refused the visa applications because of the ban on sporting contact with South Africa.

Sundowns carried on winning into the start of 1987, but it all fell apart within months after Mahobe was arrested and the fraud uncovered.

His downfall, according to Rob Marsh's Famous South African Crimes, was sparked by his "insatiable" desire to own a Mercedes-Benz 500SEL - few of which, if any, were to be found in South Africa.

The status symbol had to be imported and, to facilitate the deal, a credit check was done.

Usually this would have been done through Moshoeshoe, but she was on leave at the time and the true state of Mahobe's accounts emerged.

"For five years, Miss Moshoeshoe had been fraudulently passing credit transfer forms without substantiating cheques and depositing them into Mahobe's accounts," Marsh wrote.

"In this way, she falsely created credit balances, which were offset by a debit through interbank transactions. Snowy Moshoeshoe aided and abetted her lover to squander over R10-million."

Mahobe, later given the nickname "Mauser", was on the run for nine months before being extradited from Botswana. He was handed an effective 16-year sentence in 1989, and Moshoeshoe received 10 years. She died from cancer in mid-2010.

Mahobe was rarely fêted by soccer once released from prison, but he made the occasional appearance at games and functions.

It took several days for his death at the age of 59 last weekend to be reported.

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