Highlanders Football Club was formed in 1926 by the descendants of Mzilikazi who were the grand sons of Lobengula.
Albert and Rhodes Khumalo, born of Njube who was Lobengula’s son were sent to study agriculture at Lovedale Institute in South Africa. While in South Africa the brothers developed the love for the game.
The origins of soccer started sometime in 1890 with its roots with the police in causeway in then Salisbury.
The brothers would return to the country and stay at Lonely Mine where they found life very boring. Their stay in South Africa bad changed their lifestyles and they could not cope up with the slow life back home as their age mates were still glued to traditional games like hunting.
With life boring at Lonely Mine, the two brothers then decided to move to Bulawayo where they bought a house for Pounds at Makokoba. That was the beginning of what has become a landmark feature of Zimbabwean life today.
Among some of the early players were James Chilongotsha, Peter Lufumo, Samule Mlilaya and Dan Gasela.
The team played in a local league that only got more organized in the 1950s. For long during the amateur soccer days the Osborne Trophy was the ultimate motivation for representative side from Gweru, Harare and Mutare.
After debating a number of names in early 1937, the members resolved to change the name to Matabeleland Highlanders Football Club. The club was originally known as Lions Football Club.
The club dropped its regional tag ‘Matabeleland’ in March 1975. There had been a number of running battles in ensuing years involving Highlanders and Mashonaland United. Several people would be left seriously injured as tribal battles emanated in Bulawayo and the late former Vice-President of Zimbabwe Doctor Joshua Nkomo, invited former Bulawayo Town Clerk Mike Ndubiwa and present Highlanders Board Secretary Jimmy S. Ncube and instructed them to drop Matabeleland and he met Mashonaland United leaders and advised them to come up with a name that bore some resemblance of a national character hence the birth of Highlanders and Zimbabwe Saints.
With Albert and Rhodes having gone for too long at some stage in 1937, the club found itself without money to buy uniforms and balls. Nsele then received a letter from the Khumalo brothers instructing him to cycle to Pupu to get some gold pieces from the Khumalo brothers instructing him to cycle to Pupu to get some gold pieces that were to sold to raise money. (Source-interview between Nsele Hlabangana and Lovemore Dube, Chronicle Sports Reporter 18 September 1997 at Montrose, Bulawayo).
Highlanders adopted a cosmopolitan outlook from its early days of inception with membership open to all at that time. Other teams chose to gather players on ethnic lines. There were teams like North Rhodesia, Nyazura, Chibi, Mutambara, Eastern Brothers, Chilimanzi, Melsetter, Gwelo and Umtali to mention just a few. Every major district in the country with a sizeable population found itself with a team in the exception of those citizens drawn from the two Matabeleland Provinces who found themselves adequately represented by Matabeleland Highlanders whose players were drawn from the expatriate labour force from Malawi and Zambia and those from the Shona tribes.
The tradition of hiring players from other places has been maintained to this day that the team remains a truly Zimbabwean representative entity.
Highlanders would play against clubs from within the city, other towns as well, apart from schools like Inyathi and Dombodema Missions.
The team’s progress like all other sport was affected by the Second World War in 1939 – 1945 as natives fought alongside the British troops. (Source: N. Hlabangana 18 September 1997).
Among some of the big tournaments that Highlanders won in the first 30 years include the David Livingstone Memorial in 1955. Three teams which include Highlanders would every year travel to Livingstone, Zambia to take part in the Livingstone Memorial Trophy.
Former player and club official Mackenzie Sibanda said the club won the trophy thrice in 1955, 1961 and 1962. (Interview Lovemore Dube-Chronicle and M. Sibanda 12 April 2006).
The club has had two splits that threatened the existence of the club. The first in 1963 and the second in 1976 showed the resolve of the truly Highlanders at heart as they managed to pick up the pieces and work towards the great organization it is today.
In 1963 at the birth of organized national semi-professional football, some members feeling that the players had come of age and needed to compete with their peers, resolved to team up as the big three to form The Big Three. This team was to compete in the national league with the likes of Salisbury Callies and Dynamos. The Big Three comprised of Matabeleland Highlanders, Mashonaland FC and Northern Rhodesia.
For some time these teams did not exist as players had bought into the idea of playing national football under the Cobras banner. Some players naturally would not fit into the team as it meant only 12 could be chosen at a time when there was another set of 22 who were left out.
Mackenzie Sibanda later backtracked on the idea and went back to link up with the likes of Edward Dlamini now manager of Members male outfitters in Bulawayo and known as Sales House in his playing days. One of the big buys by the club in the 1960s was Andrew ‘Scrupata’ Jele from Wankie FC now Hwange.
He went on to be a useful player for the club on its rebuilding process and in its campaign in national football years later. With most senior players sticking out with Cobras, the re-assembled and building Highlanders went on to recruit schoolboys who included Lawrence Phiri, Barry Daka and billy Sibanda. The birth of the Highlanders junior policy came on board in 1965 and has come in handy providing the club with stars year in and year out. This had saved the club from spending a fortune in buying players from other clubs and all successful Highlanders teams have been powered by the club’s own products from the junior policy. (Source Mackenzie Sibanda, Hoseah Khumalo, Edward Dlamini).
The second split was in 1976 when some players did not go along with the administration’s idea of launching the Southern Region Division One Soccer League. This was after the club had been cheated of the 1976 league title. Rains had pounded Bulawayo all week and Highlanders in consultation with Bulawayo City Council the owners of Barbourfields Stadium had notified the national league management that because of poor drainage the venue was not playable.
This gave birth to Olympics who had the audacity even to use the black and white colours to fool supporters after taking virtually the entire first team. The players who remained as Olympics in the national league were given big sums of money to quit Highlanders.
The likes of Billy Sibanda, Lawrence Phiri, Majuta Mpofu, Douglas Mloyi, Tennyson Mloyi were among the heroes to stick to the club and face the ignonimity of First Division football far from the glitz and glamour associated with the then Premier League.
Highlanders Football Club has a rich history that is unparalleled in local football and cannot be divorced from Ndebele royalty hence the huge and loyal following from one particular part of Zimbabwe.
The club’s colours which are black and white have its origins from one of the King’s regiments, ‘Amawaba’ (Black and White) hence uphengula wa mawaba. The colours have lived on for years and they still remain so even in this day.
Matabeleland Highlanders remained in the lower rungs of football until 1968 when it was resolved to quit the Bulawayo African Football Association now the Bulawayo Amateur Football Association better known as BAFA. Some members did not like the idea and instead remained in the amateur ranks and today Matabeleland High City still campaigns in BAFA.
The team played in the Second Division for two years 1968 to 1969 getting promotion to play in the national league in 1970. The club was relegated in 19 71 and it is the only time that it has been relegated in its history.
The club had a good outing in the Second Division winning the promotion to the top league just after one attempt. It was a remarkable year in which the team also reached the semi-finals of the Chibuku Trophy losing to Mangula 2-0 at Ross Camp. It was the team’s biggest showing in a national competition.
The arrival of Silas Ndlovu to replace Chris Mhlanga who was caretaker coach and manager 1972, saw the birth of a totally new club which was change the soccer scene which had been dominated by Dynamos, Sables, St Pauls, Chibuku Shumba, Rufaro and Mangula.
Highlanders’ first big achievement was winning the Chibuku Trophy in 1973 beating Mangula 3-0 in one of the most emotional cup finals ever where over 20 buses and private cars ferried fans to Harare for the team’s debut final. The train was not sparred any room as hundreds flocked to the capital.
The team won the regional league that year and went on to collect more silverware in the following two years. In 1974 the team won its first national crown and came second best to Salisbury Callies in 1975 having won the regional title.
1976 would have been a bonus season for them as they were just a point from winning their first ever national title. The 1974 triumph was a play off between the Northern Region and Southern Region champions. But the John Madzima administration had decided to have a national league involving the best clubs from both regions.
The club has been associated with several ‘firsts’ which include:
- first club to win the Chibuku Trophy from the Southern Region
- First club from the Southern Region to win the league title
- First team to win the Chibuku Trophy in independent Zimbabwe
- First club to win the first Heroes Trophy (1980)
- First club to win the Independence Trophy
- First club to win the new Castle Cup in 1986
- Blue Ribbon League title in 1993
- First club to win the league title four times in a row in the modern day Premiership
- First Zimbabwean team to play in Europe, Germany tour 1987
- Most successful club in the history of the PSL with five titles in 12years.
During the years the club has transformed from just a social organization to become a commercial entity that has a sellable brand. It boasts of membership above two thousand who are based all over the world.
The club has an average attendance of between 8 000 and 26 000 depending on the opposition.
Among some of the greatest developments at the club was acquiring properties which include a clubhouse, a camping house and an office in Bulawayo’s Central Business District. It became the first to buy a clubhouse in 1986.
The club’s administrative structure is governed by a constitution. The constitution spells out the objectives of the club as well as the governance structure which is composed of Members of the Club (Life and Ordinary), Trustees, Board of Directors, Executive Committee, Chief Executive Officer and employees.