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In pursuit of power – the lowdown on Safa’s three presidential candidates

From left: Danny Jordaan. (Photo: Sydney Seshibedi / Gallo Images) | Safa vice-president Ria Ledwaba. (Photo: Lefty Shivambu / Gallo Images) | Safa presidential candidate Solly Mohlabeng. (Photo: Lefty Shivambu / Gallo Images)

The South African Football Association will hold its elective congress on Saturday, 25 June. Just who are the candidates to lead the association over the next four years?

With the South African Football Association’s (Safa) elective congress just days away, we take a look at the three candidates vying for the position of commander-in-chief: the incumbent, Danny Jordaan, one of his vice-presidents, Ria Ledwaba, and Safa Tshwane president Solly Mohlabeng.

Danny Jordaan

Jordaan, a former mayor of Nelson Mandela Bay in the Eastern Cape, has held the position of president since 2013, when he replaced Kirsten Nematandani. He is vying for a third term in office.

Three years after first being installed in the highest Safa seat, he remained the association’s president, despite ascending to the mayorship position after being elected by the ANC to serve in the role.

During his time in charge of Safa, claims of poor corporate governance, apparent power politics within the organisation, and his alleged dictatorial style have followed Jordaan constantly.

Of course, he has always scoffed at these allegations, including during past appearances before the Department of Sport’s parliamentary oversight committee.

According to him, as he told TimesLIVE recently, there is a democratic process among the members of the national executive committee when decisions are taken within the organisation.

“If you want to amend the statutes you need to have two-thirds majority. In other words, two-thirds of the members must agree to any change of the statutes,” said the 70-year-old, dismissing claims that he has turned the association into his fiefdom.  

During his time in charge of Safa, claims of poor corporate governance, apparent power politics within the organisation, and his alleged dictatorial style have followed Danny Jordaan constantly. (Photo: Sydney Seshibedi / Gallo Images)

In spite of Jordaan’s assertion, it cannot be denied that Safa’s public image has taken a knock in recent years, while the regression of the senior national men’s football team, Bafana Bafana, has not helped either.  

Nevertheless, women’s football in the country has made strides during his reign, albeit in keeping with global trends as the sport continues its upward trajectory.

A women’s national football league 10 years in the making launched in 2019, the year Banyana Banyana qualified for the FIFA World Cup for the first time.

Ria Ledwaba

The experienced football administrator has been vice-president and on the national executive committee (NEC) for the past few years. She is famously known for forming and running the defunct Ria Stars, who campaigned in the Premier Soccer League at the turn of the millennium.

She ascended to the position of one of Jordaan’s four vice-presidents in 2018 – the first woman to hold the position in Safa’s history.  

Ledwaba was removed as vice-president in 2020, alongside Jordaan critic Gay Mokoena. But she fought back and was reinstated in the same year.

“As soon as you do not agree with the president (Jordaan), you are enemy number one,” Ledwaba revealed on 702’s SportsTalk while she was still fighting to be reinstated.

Read in Daily Maverick: “Safa’s squabbles only serve to hurt its already bruised public image

Recently, her court bid to halt the upcoming elections was thrown out by Pretoria High Court judge Brenda Neukircher, on the basis that she had dragged her heels in bringing the matter before the judicial system.

Ledwaba alleged that during the Safa Ordinary Congress on 26 March 2022, the association amended its constitution in contravention of the rules and procedures laid down in the same constitution, and that this was intended to give Jordaan an advantage heading into the elections.

She also felt there had not been enough time to campaign from when the names of those contesting the elections were publicly released (6 June), deeming it a further advantage to Jordaan.

In May, she wrote to both the Confederation of African Football (Caf) and global football custodian FIFA to flag the aforementioned alleged irregularities.

Ria Ledwaba was removed as vice-president in 2020, but fought back and was reinstated in the same year. (Photo: Sydney Mahlangu / BackpagePix)

However, Caf reminded her that she was present at the congress where “decisions were democratically taken in the presence of a FIFA representative who stayed for the duration of the proceedings”. The mother body of African football too said it would send representatives to ensure a free and fair election.

Despite these setbacks, Ledwaba remains resolute ahead of the elections, saying in a recent press conference: “I can never be bullied by anyone. I will not worship anyone, but I will worship the statutes.”

Solly Mohlabeng

Mohlabeng was voted as Safa Tshwane president in 2019, a post he held onto unopposed when the region held its most recent elections on 28 May 2022.

Though not in the public eye as much as Jordaan and Ledwaba, Mohlabeng made headlines in March 2022, during the same Safa congress Ledwaba has flagged.

SAFA presidential candidate Solly Mohlabeng during a campaign visit to witness grassroots football on 17 June 2022 in Ga-Rankuwa, South Africa. (Photo: Lefty Shivambu / Gallo Images)

The 47-year-old was sensationally kicked out of the gathering for allegedly speaking out of turn and not conducting himself accordingly at the start of the congress. Security was called to remove him.

“He wanted to speak before the meeting could even start. The agenda of this congress is prescribed by the statutes,” Safa CEO Tebogo Motlanthe said at the time.

Read in Daily Maverick: “Trouble brewing at Safa over Danny Jordaan’s ‘own agenda’

Mohlabeng, who originally hails from Avon village in Limpopo, believes it is time for fresh faces and ideas at Safa, and trusts he can achieve this with “five pillars” laid out in his manifesto: transformation of leadership and governance, development of skills, creation of jobs, social cohesion and continental glory.

“Professor Patrick Lumumba once said: ‘No matter how good you are, if you stay for too long, you spoil it. A good dancer must know when to leave the stage’,” Mohlabeng said. DM

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