The real tragedy about FIFA’s Pitso Mosimane snub despite great achievements

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Over the past week, the Africa Cup of Nations has dominated the sporting headlines in South Africa and across the continent. The rivalry between Ghanaian and South African football fans – which was precipitated by the controversy arising from a contentious penalty dubiously awarded to The Black Stars against Bafana Bafana during the FIFA World Cup qualifying match – hit all the social media trends.  

But amid the furore, there is a topic that has been forcing its way into the mix – and that is the issue about the South African-born coach, Pitso Mosimane’s snub at the Best FIFA Football Awards 2021 which took place on Monday. The last few days have seen that conversation steadily gaining momentum despite the goings-on in Cameroon. 

Now, to be able to force your way into the agenda through such football madness – no matter how small – you really have to be special. And that makes Pitso Mosimane special!  

But the obvious is not the focus of this piece, nor is it about trying to find out what could actually be best about these so-called Best Awards. 

There is something fundamentally wrong, and quite honestly tragic, with this whole Pitso Mosimane saga. 

You see, Mosimane is a South African first, and then he is an African – the first non-Egyptian black African to take over arguably the biggest club on the African continent, and against the misgivings, went on to break records and cement himself as arguably the best coach in Africa.  

Now, at the heart of this Mosimane issue is his snub (not that it is surprising) by Europe, despite having achieved even better than the eventual premeditated winner of the award, Thomas Tuchel. 

Now, here is the irony, and this is the focus of this piece and requires all of us in our little corners to really do some introspection and be honest with ourselves when doing so, and decide whether we allow this to go on. Oh, yes, the irony … the irony is that we are having this conversation because it is the New York Times – not the South African media or African media – who made the noise about this injustice. It was not an African journalist but a Rory Smith based in Manchester, England, who brought this affront to the fore and most likely much to the ire of his countrymen.  

Mosimane’s former bosses are quiet about this bias. PSL club bosses are quiet. Can you imagine a world wherein they could be leading this conversation and asking, “What more does one of our own, Pitso Mosimane, need to do to be considered one of the best that he is?” But no! They are quiet and going on with their lives as if nothing happened. We are all quiet!  

Therein lies the problem for African football and that is the focus of this piece. 

The fact that we are not bothered by this is an untold misfortune! It goes right to the heart of who we are, how we see the world and our position in it, in football and all over. And Europe has been the champion of shaping that vantage point for centuries. It goes to the heart of class formations, within which Europe is “best”, superior and everybody else is inferior, with Africa right at the bottom of the pecking order, in football and all other aspects of life. 

Coincidentally, this issue arises at the time the South African politics arena is grappling with a stinging opinion piece by Tourism Minister Lindiwe Sisulu in which she, among other things, raises issues of the legacy of colonialism and its impact on how we see and interpret the world. 

It is a matter of fact in history that colonialism sought to convince Africa that it is not good enough and the manifestations of some of that is what we are today witnessing with a black African coach, who wins two Champions Leagues, and two African Super Cups, and a bronze medal in the FIFA Club World Cup considered not good enough, not even for a mere nomination. This attitude to snub Mosimane merely on the basis that he is black and African is heavily fraught with colonial tendencies, which sought to plant in the mind of an African that African has no history, no culture, no excellence, and no sense of self-understanding. 

German-born philosopher Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel in his thesis on the philosophy of history completely shuns Africa and its own history, arguing, Africa “is no historical part of the World; it has no movement or development to exhibit.” He goes on to write, the continent “is the Unhistorical, Undeveloped Spirit, still involved in the conditions of mere nature.” 

Nigerian philosopher Omotade Adegbindin in his paper, Critical Notes on Hegel’s Treatment of Africa, notes, “While theorizing on the conceptual planes of the dichotomy between East and West, Hegel identifies four historical worlds – Oriental, Greek, Roman and German. In each of these worlds, the progressive series of consciousnesses of spirit has its manifestation while the rest of civilization looks on. For Hegel, therefore, any historical system should treat Africa as a land where consciousness has not yet attained to the realization of any objective existence.” Here, Europe makes the mistake of conflating its own misunderstanding of Africa with a true definition of the continent and its people. 

Hegel’s unfortunate views of the African man are documented as, “The Negro … exhibits the natural man in his completely wild and untamed state. We must lay aside all thought of reverence and morality—all that we call feeling—if we would rightly comprehend him. There is nothing harmonious with humanity to be found in this type of character.” Yes, you read that right! 

Of course, over time as Europe got to be educated more and more about Africa and what it had to be exploited for, such drastic views of Africa might have evolved and seemed to soften somewhat, but these are the foundational views of Europe about Africa and whatever understanding Europe may have of Africa today cannot be completely divorced from the original views that shaped them.   

What can be seen all over the world as the universalisation of western liberal democracies, is not only limited to governments, but transcends all spheres of life, with football being one of them. To this day, Africa has no coach education that is African in nature, seeking to maximise the unique traits of African players. In fact, what you get is a concoction of contrasting coaching philosophies which are cut and paste from various European football federations, are European in nature and even more detrimental to the development of the game in Africa, completely un-African.   

Laments Mosimane. 

But the Hegelian view is not the tragedy here. The true tragedy here is, when we as Africans adopt the Hegelian view of ourselves. The true tragedy is the day we keep quiet when Europe seeks to tell us Pitso Mosimane is not good enough, not even for a mere nomination and we are not offended.  

The true tragedy is the penchant to continue to hire foreign coaches at the expense of local coaches who have lived experiences of their native football conditions. 

As we rave about the Afcon, the very same tournament European clubs would not release African players for because it is not serious enough, we think it’s an improvement that only 15 of the 24 coaches are African coaches. But how many African coaches were at the Euros? Not asking these questions is accepting the position Europe has defined for us as Africans in the world. They defined it and we are perpetually rubberstamping it in our everyday lives. 

The tragedy is when we watch Arthur Zwane lead Kaizer Chiefs to the CAF Champions League final only to be told “now step aside and let Stuart Baxter come in to oversee the failure to win the final.” And this mentality is rife where African coaches all over the continent hold caretaker roles while the search for the next European ensues. That is the tragedy! 

Despite his achievements, Pitso Mosimane is not good enough and yet, African football federations and club bosses are happy to bring any European to their national teams and clubs as long as they can just say they can coach, without any credible coaching track record. We have adopted the Hegelian view of ourselves and that is the tragedy! 

The tragedy is when we see the young Nkosingiphile Ngcobo flourish under Zwane, right in front of our eyes and Baxter, merely because he is European, sidelines him because the boy does not fit. Actually, who needs to fit in here? The South Africa in South Africa or the European in South Africa? Not asking these questions is accepting the position we have been confined to in the world. 

The tragedy is when a lot of European coaches like Serbian-born Milovan Rajevac of Ghana, after overseeing one of The Black Stars worst showing at the Afcon, will be fired, while soccer bosses ponder and search for another European to … fail too.   

The tragedy is when we are told our football is a circus, and despite evidence that this so-called circus football won us the Afcon in 1996 and reached the finals of the same tournament in 1998 we still believe it because it is Europe saying so. And yet today, we can’t even qualify for the Afcon playing the sort of football we were told is more progressive and in line with the evolution of football.  

In fact, is it the evolution of football or the Europeanisation of football when Africa has lost its flair and Brazil has lost its Samba all under the guise of this pseudo-evolution? Is it evolution or Europeanisation when right in front of our eyes Europe has the most slots in the World Cup? Is it evolution or Europeanisation when the World Cup in its latter stages resembles the Euros because all other continents have been knocked out, having failed to beat Europe playing the European way? Who’s fooling who? 

It is a tragedy that despite the evidence that exists right before us that the football of Teenage Dladla, Ace Ntsoelengoe, Jomo Sono, Doctor Khumalo, Jabu Pule (Now Mahlangu), Steve Lekoelea, Jay Jay Okocha, Al Hadji Diouf, Abedi Pele, Roger Milla, George Weah and so on, used to fill stadium to the rafters but today with the football Europe imposed on us the stadiums were empty as if to anticipate the looming pandemic? Despite all of that we still believe Europe is right about what type of football South Africa and Africa should play. 

It is an African who today will shout, “It’s all about results?” “Dribble for what?” “Tsamaya for what?” “Move with the times?” “Don’t tell me about Dan Malesela!” “Football has changed.” And they don’t ask actually who changed this football that they say has changed and why did they change it? 

It is a tragedy that when Dan ‘Dance’ Malesela, whom we know what he is capable of, is attacked from all sectors for playing “beautiful football without results” after not winning a few matches and call for him to get fired. Yet, we have the patience and understanding to allow Ernst Middendorp and company to play their ugly football and be allowed to fail from one club to another and nobody complains while Dan Dance remains jobless. That is the tragedy!  

“We ignore our coaches, and bring these palookas from Europe, instead of giving our own brothers and sisters a chance, to achieve. How many African coaches are there in Cameroon, out of 24 nations? How many of the European coaches there have even been selected for any FIFA Awards? So, where are we rating ourselves? Here is Europe that says an African with two Champions League trophies is not good enough. Now, what questions do we ask when we bring them here? What would they have won? I am no politician at all, but I would never accept that when we look down on our own and it is okay and when the same is done by others, then we raise our voices. Where are these voices when the PSL and NFD Clubs do the same and undermine South African Talent,” asks SA football development guru and coach, Zipho Dlangalala. 

It is a tragedy that we were told our football is not about results and we needed to change to play European way, which is about goals and yet we are enduring one of the lowest-scoring Afcon tournaments in Afcon history and we are okay with that. That is a tragedy. Yet, a whopping 191 players taking part in Cameroon were born in Europe and when Europe saw no need to neutralise them for their own national teams, they were given back to Africa. Yes, maybe Afcon is not such a serious tournament after all. 

So, it doesn’t help to try and rebuke FIFA for snubbing Pitso Mosimane, but our own being, and how we carry ourselves is Eurocentric, and how we see the world is through the lens of the Europeans. In other words, we want to disagree with FIFA but in action, we toe the line willingly, no longer chained and whipped with sjamboks to do so. This is the very same coach most of Africans criticised for encouraging idle Percy Tau to move from Europe to come play football in Africa. We look down on ourselves and chastise others for doing the same.

“Case studies prove that countries, who achieve success internationally, all have a National Playing Philosophy that’s specific and relevant to their football culture and environment. This philosophy will then define how one designs a coherent technical policy that provides a framework, guidance on how a national association should structure, organise and operate on all technical matters, like how national coaches are selected; the immediate, medium and long-term vision and performance objectives of the association; the criteria to select players for the various national teams, etc,” says South African football development guru, Sudesh Singh. 

“The absence of that unitary coaching philosophy for specific football federations in Africa will always hold back the progress of African football. We are so obsessed with copying everything that is European and we forget that the success of those European is founded in those countries having national playing philosophies, long-term technical vision and so on – all of which a missing in African football and we try to do the same we try to import their own traditions and cultures. As John Hendrick Clarke once said, ‘There is no European solution for African solutions.’ African football bosses need to wake up,” Singh warns. 

But contrary to what Europe through FIFA would like us to believe, we do have excellence. Pitso is the pride of Africa and a great example that a black pigmentation is not a disability. We hosted one of the most successful FIFA World Cup in 2010. We have excellence! 

We do have history. We won the 1996 Afcon, four years into readmission into international football and reached the finals of the same tournament again two years later. The only unintended consequence of that is that we exposed ourselves to the world and since then European ideas of football flooded our football and we started labelling ourselves circus. And today we can’t even recognise our own football and we can’t achieve anything. It is not our football. It’s Europe’s. 

We do have culture. Ever heard of Steve ‘Kalamazoo’ Mokone, Jomo ‘Troublemaker’ Sono, Kaizer ‘Chincha Guluva’ Motaung, Percy ‘Chippa’ Moloi, and his son Teboho ‘Tebza Ngwana’ Moloi, Pule ‘Ace’ Ntsoelengoe, Nelson ‘Teenage’ Dladla, Doctor ‘16V’ Khumalo, Lesiba ‘Shoes’ Mosheou, Lucas ‘Rhoo’ Radebe, Isaac ‘Shakes’ Kungoane, Sibusiso ‘Rhee’ Zuma, to name but a few?  

Having tried to convince us we have no past, now they are also denying us our present – things we can all see with our eyes. They seek to convince us that they don’t exist, right in front of our eyes and we choose to remain quiet, at times tragically supporting them, and it is such that should make us shudder to think what kind of generation will follow – a completely brainwashed generation.  

“The most potent weapon in the hands of the oppressor is the mind of the oppressed,” said Steve Biko.

Our collective silence on this FIFA’s Pitso Mosimane snub is a shame and our anger is a pure act of hypocrisy of the highest order when it is merely in word and not at all in deed.

By Sipho ‘King K’ Kekana @KingKAzania