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Fifa’s African football pact: Hope all ends well

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IT took six years of South Africa’s transition to democracy – and four years after neighbouring Zimbabwe gave them a harsh reception to international competition with a 4-1 demolition in Harare – for Bafana Bafana to clinch their first Africa Cup of Nations title.

For Orlando Pirates, one of South Africa’s biggest football clubs, transformation had paid off handsomely even earlier when the Soweto giants were crowned champions of African club football in 1995.

Qualifying for the 1998 World Cup finals in France was therefore celebrated gleefully across the Rainbow Nation – an exciting new democracy – as both the culmination of all the good work done since readmission and only the beginning of even better days for South African football.

South Africa though has not been able to maintain that level of early success, apart from Mamelodi Sundowns winning the African Champions League in more recent times, 2016.

One consistent aspect of South African football that the country can however be proud of is its top-flight domestic competition, the Premier Soccer League.

Since the 1990s, the South African Premiership has established itself as the richest league in Africa, recruiting some of the best footballing talent on the continent and, in doing so, greatly transforming the lives of many footballers who never had that chance in their own countries. 

Yet hitherto, despite all the on-field achievements, Africa’s most advanced economy has not had much say insofar as the governance of the game is concerned on the continent.

In a sense, the Fifa-backed ascendancy of South African tycoon Patrice Motsepe (pictured) to the presidency of the Confederation of African Football (Caf) last week was a long overdue realisation that control of the game needed to come down south to strike a balance in a lop-sided hierarchy of football governance on this continent.

And in Motsepe, no one from this part of the continent seems to fit the bill perfectly for that office than the highly successful Mamelodi Sundowns owner. 

Billionaire Motsepe’s track record as a successful entrepreneur gives high hope that his proven leadership will swiftly set up African football for a prosperous future. 

However, at the great risk of sounding pessimistic, there is something though that should concern those amongst us who still care about processes and their potential consequences – and that is the nature of Motsepe’s election.

Clinching the biggest job in African football unchallenged, through an electoral pact, is part of the democratic process to elections. 

But there is a question: what does the future hold in a game full of diverse views, diverse interests and diverse agendas? For how long is the entire continent going to rally behind the Motsepe administration, exhibiting the kind of harmony shown before and during the Caf general assembly in Morocco last Friday?

As for Fifa, while the world football governing body is feeling rather chuffed with itself at the moment for brokering what appears to be a masterstroke deal for African football, the suits in Zurich will know too well how fickle the politics of the game is.

Certainly, by playing a decisive role in the African football elections, the last thing Fifa want is to be accused of, some day, of using the esteemed member nations of Caf as pieces on their chessboard.
This is not something we want to see happen.

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