Remembering Mvuso Martin Mbebe – The giant of African sport

By Andrew Bonani Kamanga

It is now two years since the passing on of Mvuso Martin Mbebe of South Africa.  The late secretary general/treasurer of the African Union Sports Council (AUSC) Region 5 was a larger-than-life character, a man gifted with unique analytical skills and unparalleled communication ability.

Mbebe was involved and established himself in South African and African sport during the negotiations for the non-racial unification of various South African sports organisations in 1990 after the unbanning of the African National Congress (ANC) and the Pan Africanist Congress (PAC) by the then South African government.

Together with other South Africans, Sam Ramsamy (swimming), Danie Craven (rugby), the late South African Football Association (SAFA) President, Solomon “Stix” Morewa and other African sports administrators, agreement was reached for the return of the erstwhile banned and pariah state of South Africa to international sport.

The crowning glory of the end of South Africa’s isolation from international sport was its participation in, among other high profile events, the 1992 Barcelona Olympic Games.

South Africa was welcomed back into international sport with a lot of pomp and fanfare.  Some of the people who performed a lot of the behind-the-scenes work was Mbebe.

He worked with and learnt from some of Africa’s top sports administrators such as Tomas Sithole, Issa Hayatou, Ishmael Bhamjee and many others.

When the Supreme Council for Sport in Africa (SCSA) Zone VI was established in 1981, it was more of a talk-shop to discuss issues pertaining to development of sport in Southern Africa.

Led by Macleod Chaora of Zimbabwe (chairman) and Mark Jimu Tembo (secretary general/treasurer) of Malawi during the most of the 1980s and early 1990s, the organisation developed slowly and became the leading regional sport authority of Southern Africa.

The advent of the brash, confident and highly assertive Boyce Sebetlela of Botswana coupled with the new chairman, Dr Vetumbuavi Veii, from Namibia, changed the ball game in so far as the SCSA Zone VI was concerned.

Their arrival was also accompanied by the establishment of the full-time secretariat for the organisation led by Charles Dzimba, a veteran sports administrator from Zimbabwe as general manager for the SCSA Zone VI.

The departure of Sebetlela to take up a cabinet appointment in his native Botswana, paved the way for the emergence of Mbebe as the new secretary general/treasurer of the SCSA Zone VI.

Together with other team members at the SCSA Zone VI, Mbebe was a champion of the transformation of the organisation establishing a forum of technocrats to advise the council of ministers.

Furthermore, the organisation established, among other programmes, the Under 20 Youth Games for the region. Mbebe oversaw the transition of the SCSA Zone VI organisation to the current AUSC Region 5.

Over the years, Mvuso worked with his colleagues to make the AUSC Region 5 the most active and organized unit under the auspices of the continental African Union Sports Council (AUSC).

Mbebe was always a passionate and fearless champion for sports development in the region and Africa as a whole.

His enthusiasm and energy were hallmarks of his work within the sports organisations of his country, the South African Broadcasting Corporation (SABC) as well as the AUSC Region 5.

It is no great surprise that when South Africa was requested by the Confederation of African Football (CAF) to host the 2013 Africa Cup of Nations, Mbebe was chosen to be the CEO of the Local Organizing Committee (LOC).

He led that organisation with his usual meticulousness and the 2013 AFCON was a memorable event consolidating South Africa’s position as host par excellence for international and continental sporting events.

He continued his good work with the 2014 African Champions Tournament (CHAN) for home-based football players on the African continent, which greatly raised the profile of the event in Africa.

Mbebe was a personification of the saying that “Everything worth doing is worth doing well”. Sport is now a multi-billion-dollar industry employing millions all over the world.

Africa’s share of this fast growing industry is far less than 10 percent. Of course, apologists of the status quo would argue that this is because of the continent’s weak economy compared to other continents.

However, the fact remains that the relevant  authorities  have not made a good argument for sport, first of all , as public health intervention and secondly as a viable industry capable of alleviating abject poverty on the continent.

There is a ridiculously low prioritisation of sport on the African continent.  This is indeed a great betrayal of the noble ideals that people like Mbebe have fought for. Mbebe has run his race.

He fought a good fight. It is for those remaining to carry the baton.  South Africans and the Mbebe family can be rest assured that Mbebe’s passing on was not just their loss. It was a terrible loss to Africa.

Go well, Great Son of the Soil. Lala ngokuthula qhawe la maqhawe! Rest in Peace!

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December 2017
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