Southern Africa now has the two most powerful men in African football
By Robson Sharuko
HARARE – For exactly 60 years, Southern Africa was the only bloc which had never provided the Confederation of African Football (CAF) with a leader, while the baton of power was swinging around the northern, eastern and western parts of the continent.
But, in the last five months, dramatic changes have occurred in the corridors of African football with a hurricane, which started as a tropical storm off the Indian Ocean coast, gaining ferocity as it powered across the mainland and toppled a football monarchy that was in power for 29 years.
Now, Southern Africa – the forgotten part of the continent when it comes to African football power – has now thrust itself into the driving seat with the bloc providing the continent with two of its most powerful administrators.
Ahmad, from Madagascar, rode on the wave of a popular rebellion sparked by Southern African football chiefs in Johannesburg to crush long-serving Cameroonian strongman Issa Hayatou and end his lengthy rein as the king of the game on the continent.
Hayatou, in power since March 10, 1988, was deposed in a revolution, supported by a number of eastern, western and northern African states during the CAF elections in Addis Ababa on March 16 this year.
He had been the longest-serving boss of African football, even challenging for the FIFA presidency and losing the battle to Sepp Blatter in 2002, before being handed caretaker leadership of world football in the wake of the corruption scandals which toppled the majority of the game’s leaders.
Ahmad’s rise to power, which surprised many neutrals, was spearheaded by his election campaign manager, ZIFA president Philip Chiyangwa, who had also brewed a shocker earlier by wrestling the COSAFA leadership from Suketu Patel.
The flamboyant Harare tycoon was backed by his COSAFA colleagues to fight in Ahmad’s corner even though it came with a number of threats with the Hayatou regime even dragging him before a disciplinary committee for daring to challenge the establishment.
Never one to shy away from a fight, Chi
threatened the CAF leaders with litigation should they go ahead and discipline him for championing the cause of someone he believed would provide better leadership for the game on the continent.
It’s very likely that it would all have ended very messy had Hayatou retained the CAF leadership but with the Cameroonian being booted out by a continent that felt his time was up, and Ahmad and his group winning comfortably, the flimsy charges against Chiyangwa were thrown out.
Now, Chiyangwa, who was on the verge of being thrown out of African football administration for his support of Ahmad – although he insists he would have won the battle to try and ban him – has been named the leader of a powerful bloc comprising the Southern, Eastern and Northern African countries.
The Harare businessman assumed that post during the CAF general assembly meeting in morocco last month and with 31 countries under his direct supervision, he is the second most powerful man in African football.
Analysts say that Chiyangwa is now the chief whip of African football, holding the keys to who remains in power and who should be booted out, and playing a very leading role in shaping the future of the game on the continent.
Already, the CAF leaders have switched the Nations Cup finals from its traditional January-February dates to the June-July dates when European football would be off-season to ensure that the brutal battles between countries, and clubs who want to hang on to their players, are avoided.
The flagship tournament has also been increased from 16 to 24 teams.
Chiyangwa is also the vice-president of the Africa Cup of Nations Committee, a very powerful organ that has the power to withdraw the hosting rights for the CAF tournaments like the AFCON finals.
He has his government’s support in that adventure,
“The Ministry of Sport and Recreation is delighted to join the nation in congratulating Dr Philip Chiyangwa on his recent appointment as vice president for the Africa Cup of Nations Committee,’’ Zimbabwe’s Sports Minister, Makhosini Hlongwane, said in a statement.
“The soccer administration assignment conferred to Dr Chiyangwa unequivocally illustrates Zimbabwe’s sport administration gravitas which continues to impact regional, continental and international spheres of influence.
“To this effect, the sky is the limit for Dr Phiip Chiyangwa and other sport administrators in Zimbabwe.’’
How things change.
For until March this year, Southern Africa was the forgotten bloc of African football, the part of the continent that never got the chance to provide Africa with a leader in the game for more than half a century.
During that time, Abdel Aziz Abdallah Salem, an Egyptian, had ruled African football for one year, from 1957-1958 before his countryman Abdel Aziz Moustafa ruled the game for 10 years from 1958 to 1968.
East Africa’s chance to rule the game came in 1968 when Sudan’s Abdel Halim Muhammad took over in 1968 until 1972 when another member of that bloc, Ethiopia’s Yidnekatchew Tessema ruled for 15 years 22 days from 1972 to 18 August 1987.
Abdel Halim Muhammad bounced back as CAF president on August 18, 1987 but was only in charge for 205 days this time when Hayatou took over on March 10, 1988.
Hayatou’s rise to power meant West Africa had been given its chance to rule African football and he stayed on for 29 years and six days, the longest serving leader of the game on the continent, until he was deposed by the Southern African revolution.