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MBABANE – Match officials used to pride themselves in officiating big games like the derby fixture between Mbabane Swallows and Mbabane Highlanders, but safety has become an issue.

These two teams have both been fined E70 000 each, played games in empty stadiums after their supporters attacked match officials in two separate incidents, including in the first round derby clash at Mavuso Sports Centre. As the second round fixture is underway this Sunday at the same arena, fans have an interest on who the main referee will be, while the referees are concerned about safety. The fans took to social media platforms, especially Facebook, to pick their own referees and it turned out seasoned referee Thulani Sibandze was their favourite.

At least in two separate posts, Sibandze dominated, while other big names like Thembinkosi Dlamini and Celucolo Siphepho came up more than once but did not beat Sibandze, who appeared at least nine times. Also in the thick of things is Letticia Viana but most fans felt it was too big a match for her and preferred Sibandze or Dlamini. “Thulani Sibandze must take it,” wrote one Facebooker. Another wrote: “They are all the same in the end.”
As the debate went on with some of the names, it appeared that Sibandze was the preferred choice. “But you guys then beat up the officials after you lose,” another supporter wrote on Facebook under one of the posts over the referee to officiate this match on Sunday.

The last time things did not go well as the officials in charge had to run for their lives from angry Swallows supporters. This was after the supporters felt that the first assistant referee was wrong to deny their headed goal by man of the moment Felix Badenhorst. The goal would have meant a share of the spoils but Highlanders won 2-1 after also having their own third goal denied for offside soon after Badenhorst’s disallowed goal.


“We’re sure the Refs Committee has sorted the security and safety issues for match officials going to this match. The fact that the RC chairman said they were meeting to finalise logistics meant something was being done,” Referees Association (RA) Secretary Mbongeni Shongwe said when questioned if they were ready and if their safety was guaranteed. Referees Committee (RC) Chairman Sipho Kunene asked not to comment at the time he was called. “We’re going to a meeting as we speak so, nothing to say at the moment,” he said. The issues of safety for the match officials were raised with him but he insisted on not saying anything at that moment.