Bidvest turned down request from university that could have saved Wits FC – sources

JOHANNESBURG, SOUTH AFRICA - FEBRUARY 09: Bidvest Wits players during the Nedbank Cup, Last 32 match between Orlando Pirates and Bidvest Wits at Orlando Stadium on February 09, 2020 in Johannesburg, South Africa. (Photo by Lefty Shivambu/Gallo Images)

Bidvest Wits allegedly turned down a request from Wits University that would have prevented the 99-year-old tradition-steeped football club from being renamed and relocated from Gauteng to Limpopo.

TimesLIVE has been reliably informed that Bidvest Wits hastily approached its shareholder Wits University two weeks ago with its intention to sell to Limpopo businessman‚ and owner of GladAfrica Championship (first division) Tshakhuma Tsha Madzivhandila FC (TTM) Masala Mulaudzi.

Wits University‚ who insiders say held a shareholding at Bidvest Wits and is represented by vice-chancellor Adam Habib on the board as a director‚ apparently opposed the proposed sale but were outvoted as a minority shareholder.

Sensing that the football club was exposed to having its place in history erased and its heritage eroded the university then asked Bidvest for some time to look for a partner that would take over the majority shareholding in the football club‚ and which could preserve the professional team in name and location.

“Bidvest were in such a hurry to sell they didn’t give the university time for an opportunity to look for a majority shareholder‚” said an insider with the knowledge of the dealings.

Bidvest Wits chairman Alan Fainman would not to confirm or deny whether the university asked for more time from Bidvest to look for a partner.

“I’ve referred your questions to the media people at Bidvest‚” Fainman told TimesLIVE in an emailed response on Thursday.

“The answers your questions and anything related to the university I ask you to please ask them.”

Wits University released a statement on Wednesday and said the institution had nothing to do with the sale of the club.

“Wits sold its shares in the football club to Bidvest‚ our partner of close to 15 years‚” the university said and referred all enquiries to Bidvest Wits.

Asked for further details‚ university spokesperson Shirona Patel said that “the university will not comment beyond the statement” that they had released.

The university was distraught when Bidvest informed them of their intentions to sell‚ insiders said.

“Wits the football club is celebrating its centenary next year and Wits the university is celebrating their 100 years of existence in 2022‚” one of the insiders told TimesLIVE.

“So the university was looking forward to joint celebrations but most importantly‚ the university deeply values its partnership with Bidvest over the years.”

Another insider said that‚ having failed to convince Bidvest to secure a partner who could continue the club as Wits‚ the university wanted nothing to do with whoever was going to replace Bidvest as majority owners and were left with no option but to relinquish their shareholding.

The university did not say when the transfer of shares happened but TimesLIVE is informed that the transfer of deal was signed and sealed after Mulaudzi publicly pronounced his takeover.

“The deal was signed on Youth Day on Tuesday [this week]‚” said an insider.

That puts the transfer of the university’s shares at a day before they released their statement on Wednesday.

Fainman suggested in an earlier Bidvest Wits club statement that Mulaudzi had jumped the gun when he made the announcement of the sale to the media.

“With regards to the sale of the club and the manner in which it was announced to the public‚ I would like to reiterate that at the time of the announcement‚ the deal had not yet been signed. Pen has now been put to paper between the new purchaser and Bidvest‚” Fainman was quoted as saying in the Bidvest Wits statement released on Thursday.