Orlando Pirates: The Southern Africa’s Flag Bearer in CAF Cup


The “Ghost” has done it again. Orlando Pirates Football Club has made history by reaching the finals of the Confederation of African Football (CAF) Champions League Cup final for the second time in their illustrious history.

The club based in Soweto, Johannesburg, won the CAF Club Champions title in 1995 against a plucky Cote d’Ivoire side, Africa Sports. No other club in Southern Africa has won this prestigious trophy.

 Although prize monies and other benefits of the CAF Champions League Cup pale into insignificance when compared to equivalent competitions in Europe, Asia and South America, the tournament remains a very important tool for the development and promotion of the game in Africa. Orlando Pirates’ trials and tribulations against TP Mazembe and other opponents en route to the final have been well documented. 

It is a fact that travelling throughout the African country for competitive football tournaments either at national team or club level is not for the faint-hearted. 

All tricks in the book and more are employed to frustrate the visiting teams in order to gain unfair advantages.  The decisions of match officials have also led to suspicions that a good number of CAF referees and their assistants are indeed corrupt. As the wise often say, “There is no smoke without fire”.

Although credit is due to CAF for the continued success of the Champions League tournament, there are, obviously, a good number of areas that need serious improvement. 

The officiating at these matches is certainly one of them.  Hotel accommodation and availability of suitable training venues for visiting clubs are other issues that CAF needs to get participating clubs to adhere to set standards. 

Without serious monitoring and enforcement, visiting clubs can be subjected to horrendous acts and machinations just to frustrate them before the match in order to defeat them. 

This is the opposite of the FIFA Fair Play ethics, which require teams to respect opponents and make all necessary arrangements for their well-being before the match.

Orlando Pirates have literally “gone to hell and back” in their bid to reach the finals for the second time.

Dynamos FC of Zimbabwe have also made gallant efforts were not so lucky in their previous quests for glory in the same competition. They were defeated by ASEC Mimosa in Abidjan in 1998. They are the only other Southern African club side that has managed to cause waves in this tournament. 

This shows that the Council of Southern African Football Associations (COSAFA) have their work cut out if they  are to seriously compete with other regional football associations on the continent. The region with all its resources cannot continue to play second or third fiddle to the rest of Africa. 

There is need for technical as well as strategic planning and evaluation workshops for clubs and their mother football sssociations (FAs) in order improve the performance of clubs from the region in African continental club competitions.

Orlando Pirates certainly deserve to be congratulated for being Southern Africa’s standard flag bearer in the Africa Champions League tournament. Obviously, they also have lots of ground to cover before they can catch up with Zamalek FC and Al Ahly of Egypt as well as Esperance of Tunisia who have all won this championship more than once.

Other Southern African clubs must emulate the good example set by Orlando Pirates to improve their performances in CAF competitions. Obviously, availability of funds to compete effectively is very important. However, setting high standards is not expensive. 

Wallowing in self-pity and accepting mediocrity is actually more expensive in the long run. Setting high standards and working tenaciously to achieve them can only be good for Southern African Football.  Unfortunately, in the dog-eat-dog world of football competition, opponents actually celebrate when you roll over and play dead. It shows that you have capitulated and accept your inferior position. As Southern African sports lovers and leaders, we should never settle for second best in any endeavour but should continue to strive for excellence.

Even when it comes to national team football, Southern Africa is lagging behind, not because of lack resources but because of lack of ambition. Good examples of ambitious FAs and teams are Cape Verde and Ethiopia. Cape Verde were only denied bytemporary lapses of concentration and administrative shoddiness which allowed Tunisia to come back into World Cup qualification contention through the back door. 

Ethiopia managed to survive the deduction of points to head their group and still manage to advance to the two –legged knock out phase of qualification for the 2014 World Cup. Having lost 1-2 at home already, Ethiopia faces a monumental challenge against the Super Eagles of Nigeria. Whether they go through or not remains to be seen. However, what is not in dispute is the fast, attractive, free-flowing attacking football that Ethiopia is currently playing. When one compares Cape Verde and Ethiopia in terms of economic development with most of the Southern African countries, the two countries are not even a match. There is big gulf and yet when one compares the standard of football currently being played, Southern Africa is miles behind.

Without pursuit of excellence at club level, it will be difficult to see how Southern African football can emerge from the doldrums. Development takes place at club level, which is why the gallant efforts of Orlando Pirates need to be applauded.

 It would also be very good for Southern African football if clubs started competing in CAF competitions with much more seriousness and energy than before. It is indeed a pity that one of South Africa’s club powerhouses, Kaiser Chiefshave in the past demonstrated an appalling lack of respect for CAF Competitions. 

No matter how imperfect the CAF system is, it can never be improved from outside but from within by taking part in the competitions and engaging the relevant authorities to ensure that improvements are made where necessary.  Kaiser Chiefs FC is a big brand, which could benefit from regular exposure to continental competition in Africa.

The short-sightedness of some club bosses and FAs will, unfortunately, continue to hamper football development in the region, threatening the huge potential that is in abundance in terms of talent. 

However, in the meantime, Orlando Pirates, affectionately known as the Buccaneers or   “Amabhakabhaka” are currently giving South Africans and indeed the entire region reason to celebrate. 

The rest of the clubs must watch and LEARN! Credit also goes to Chairman Irvin Khoza who continues to ensure that the Orlando is one of the most professionally administered club sides in Southern Africa. The Southern Times Forum definitely wishes Orlando Pirates FC all the very best of luck and success in the tussle for the African Club crown with Al Ahly of Egypt. Halala Amabhakabhaka Halala!

October 2013
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