Why Motsepe may lose CAF Presidency bid

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South African businessman and Mamelodi Sundowns Football Club owner, Patrice Motsepe’s bid for the Confederation of African Football (CAF) Presidency has received some interesting reviews all over the continent. With the recent announcement of support from Cosafa, Motsepe’s campaign received a somewhat timely and required boost. This, adding to his main backers, the South African Football Association (SAFA) trying to pull all stops to secure support for Motsepe ahead of CAF’s elective meeting on 12 March 2021.

However, indications emanating from research in the sporting fraternity, coupled with lessons from historical events, are that Motsepe may not win the Presidency of CAF, at least not this time around.

This is not a sports analysis, but scrutiny grounded on the politics influencing sports, particularly soccer, in Africa.

Motsepe’s business skills and generosity successes are well documented. His fortunes have transformed Sundowns into a continental football powerhouse. It is not in doubt that Motsepe has thus far succeeded in all his endeavors.

A Motsepe-led CAF would undoubtedly be enterprising. There is no doubt that, with his global business connections, he could improve the image of the continental football body which in its history, has never been led by a Southern African national. His achievements notwithstanding, by bidding for CAF Presidency, Motsepe has thrown his name into a terrain that requires certain attributes strange to him.

Based on examination of recent events surrounding his bid, some bloopers have been noted. The first biggest blunder is for Motsepe not to formally secure political support from his country’s government as opposed to some of his contenders.

Whereas South African Sports Minister Nathi Mthethwa may have given a message of support for Motsepe’s announcement to contest, there is no formal government support for this candidacy. The Department of International Relations and Cooperation (DIRCO) was supposed to be the one leading his lobby on the continent, yet nothing of the sort has been registered. This then raises questions whether the South African government recognizes this bid as part of its broader Sports Diplomacy agenda in Africa and globally.

Whereas it may possibly also have some technical entanglements given their family ties, neither has President Cyril Ramaphosa voiced his support, although as outgoing African Union (AU) Chairperson he wields immense continental influence in all spheres.

In essence, Motsepe’s bid has no political backing and is, therefore, not necessarily a South Africa-backed bid. It is somehow a matter of “black man, you are on your own.”

In its place, it is led by liberation struggle veteran Danny Jordaan whose influence in soccer circles has tremendously dwindled over the years. By his own admission, Jordaan has contested countless CAF positions and lost, having in some instances previously lost to a candidate from Madagascar, a country not regarded as a dynamo in African football circles. As current SAFA President, Jordaan may himself later be accused by his detractors of conflict of interest. Perhaps it may be considered unethical for Motsepe to receive backing from President Ramaphosa, however, a politically astute campaign would have been more ideal to enhance his chances of success.

To make matters worse, the South African Premier Soccer League (PSL) through its Chairman, Dr Irvin Khoza has not said a word on record about this campaign. This raises eyebrows and doubts if this candidacy was well-conceived.

It is critical to note that Motsepe faces not just four other contenders for the position who as a matter of fact are seasoned campaigners with years of experience under their belts. He is up against a historical and political African encounter. It is a fact that Africa is still politically divided into Francophone, Anglophone, Arabophone and Lusophone. Whereas these may look and sound like linguistic divisions, they are essentially not. Instead, they are pragmatically political predispositions that represent neo-colonial prejudices that continue to haunt contemporary African development and determine African agenda in all domains including football.

On continental affairs, contemporary research reveals that Africans still vote in line with these neo-colonial prescripts as witnessed in various multilateral bodies. Against this background, despite him ticking all the right boxes, Motsepe should be made aware that he is facing a gargantuan battle that requires some African football political tactics. Some of these tactics are not taught in boardroom meetings but can only be shared by experienced practitioners. It may be good corporate practices to be concealed in business, however, that is suicidal in sports and politics. As a matter of caution, politicians don’t pose for pictures and kiss babies or attend funerals of people they don’t know during elections out of greater love for the people. They do it for the purposes of being seen as accessible and caring.

Our research has revealed that some of the most grounded African football influencers believe in Motsepe, yet they have not pronounced in his support nor lifted a finger to motivate in his favor. In fact, Motsepe is a lovable and likeable candidate, but that is not enough to win CAF elections.

There are certain things that money cannot buy, and one of them is political tactics. You need to know the ground and be willing to get your hands dirty in order to win an election campaign. Therefore, South Africa’s candidate does not have some guaranteed special place given the aforementioned dynamics of the Anglo and Francophone partialities. These divisions are very deep and malignant in African football affairs.

It will be a sad day and a dent to his image if Motsepe was to continue approaching March 12 in a blind technique, only to be humiliated at the elections.

Canvassing for football admin votes in Africa requires an in-depth comprehension of continental football dynamics. Anything to the contrary or an application of other strategies will only serve to demean Motsepe.

It is, however, not too late for Motsepe to adjust strategies and tactics in order to secure victory at the ballot box. While others pursue #MotsepeMustWithdraw, we outrightly reject the call as sinister, unwarranted and ill-conceived. Meanwhile, we will continue to monitor and review all the campaigns of the five candidates leading to CAF 12 March elections.

By Mpho Tsedu
CEO: Institute of Foreign Affairs

The Institute of Foreign Affairs invited Motsepe to respond to the article above to no avail.