South Africa, Sport

Football: Tokyo, Out of Africa

By Ismail Lagardien 8 February 2016

After a lacklustre campaign, Tokyo Sexwale has lost the support of African countries in his bid to succeed Sepp Blatter as FIFA president. This should come as no surprise to those who follow the ANC’s attitude to Africans north of our country's borders where South Africans are often seen as arrogant and imperialist. By ISMAIL LAGARDIEN.

Tokyo Sexwale has lost the backing of the Confederation of African Football (CAF) in his bid to replace Sepp Blatter as FIFA’s new president.

Forget, for the moment, that Sexwale is a South African politician in a party that is steeped in charges of corruption and maladministration. Forget, too, that he, personally, has a professional background that is “littered with controversies involving secretive business deals and problematic partners”, according to the amaBhungane Centre for Investigative Journalism.

Sexwale’s attitude is also problematic. The way Sexwale has gone about lobbying for votes is consistent with the way that South Africa’s politicians and senior foreign affairs officials have conducted themselves in recent years. Let me place a disclaimer, at this point: I was involved in the preparation of the National Development Plan, especially on South Africa’s future relations with Africa and the world.

While I will not violate any of the confidences and trust I built up during the four years or so that I spent in the Secretariat of the National Planning Commission, I draw on knowledge that is in the public domain to make this comparison.

Let us look at the main “charges” against Sexwale; the factors that “sealed his fate”.

  • A member of the CAF executive committee has said that Sexwale’s campaign was “non-existent.” Sexwale was reportedly the only candidate not to have mounted a full-time campaign.
  • Sexwale’s Africa campaign was poorly articulated. It was difficult to figure out what he stood for. Among Africans it was clear that Sexwale did not have Africa’s agenda at heart
  • Officials of CAF were especially miffed that his travels were to the United States, Europe and the United Arab Emirates, instead of Africa
  • Sexwale’s biggest mistake was when he snubbed Africa’s football awards in Abuja, Nigeria, choosing instead to go the Ballon d’Or ceremony in Zurich
  • Sexwale also skipped the West African Football Union Congress in Accra, Ghana, a meeting attended by the other Fifa presidential candidates. This especially irritated Africa’s most powerful bloc

In short, Sexwale took African countries for granted. He appeared to feel much more at home among the razzmatazz of Europe. I use the word razzmatazz purposefully; it has been associated with some of the conduct of ANC leaders. In general, South African politicians and diplomats have gone about the continent with a sense of entitlement and superiority for most of the past decade or so. As the Daily Maverick’s Simon Allison wrote last year, the new South Africa has never been so unpopular on the continent.

There is a perception, first published by the Presidency in a research project in 2008, that South Africa’s foreign policies sometimes contradicted “expressed commitment to pursue mutually beneficial relations and promote balanced development in the sub-region and the broader continent [which has] has fed into perceptions that the country seeks to play a hegemonic role or that it harbours hegemonic ambitions. Moreover, many South African companies in the continent are perceived as arrogant, disrespectful, aloof and careless in their attitude towards local business communities”.

This has fed into a narrative, published by the Institute of Security Studies last year, that South Africa’s economic-diplomacy initiatives in Africa by the government’s indecision and concerns about not wanting to be perceived as an arrogant, hegemonic actor by the rest of the continent. In response, the ANC has tried to underplay this perception by stating that South Africa has “deliberately avoided playing a hegemonic role in African institutions and politics”. Criticism will not go away, though. South Africa’s intervention in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) in the late 1990s and early 2000s was described as “vagabondage politique”.

The main premise of the vagabondage politique is the understanding that the African Renaissance was about maximising South Africa’s strategic options at the expense of development. This, in turn, feeds into the perceptions that South African government facilitated the development of business in the continent through peacebuilding initiatives that have been likened to Western imperialism.

And so we return to Tokyo in Africa.

It should come as no surprise, then, that Sexwale has ignored the African football powers which holds 54 out of 209 votes. It should come as no surprise, also, if instead Sheikh Salman Bin Ibrahim Al-Khalifa gets CAF’s backing at the FIFA vote on 26 February. Unlike Sexwale, Shaikh Al-Khalifa may not be African; but unlike Sexwale, he didn’t take continental support for granted. DM

Photo: Abdullah bin Khalifah Stadium, Doha, Qatar – 30/01/16: FIFA vice-president Prince Ali Bin Al Hussein of Jordan (R) stands with Tokyo Sexwale, chairman of the FIFA Monitoring Committee. REUTERS/Ibraheem Al Omari.


Comments - share your knowledge and experience

Please note you must be a Maverick Insider to comment. Sign up here or if you are already an Insider.


Mashaba resigns: ‘I cannot reconcile myself with a group who believe that race is irrelevant’

By Greg Nicolson

"Last century’s magic is this year’s science." ~ Cherie Priest