Of critics with short memories

I will not hold it against you if you read this and think it is about football. But it is not.

Last week the Premier Soccer League’s board of governors decided to pay some of their number a once-off R70-million gratuity, with luck ending months of speculation over payments to individuals instrumental in getting football’s sponsorship to top the R1-billion mark.

Which brings us to what this piece is about: collective memory.

Some of us have read column after column dedicated to how some fat cats are skimming the cream from football.

Utter nonsense.

Collective memory, which is sometimes sacrificed for cheap sensationalism, reminds us that, until recently, few PSL club owners have made money out of their clubs. If anything, they have lost money hand over fist.

Before we sing along with those who suddenly have football’s best interests at heart — like a certain Afrikaans-language Sunday paper — we should remember how someone like ntate Petrus Molema sweated blood and tears and sacrificed a considerable fortune creating what is today one of the more colourful clubs, Bloemfontein Celtic.

Those of us who do remember, and whose perceptions are not shaped by Johnny-come-latelies, know that Thabo Masilela’s taxi-generated fortune disappeared because he wanted to ensure that the people of the proud community of Tembisa had a premiership side.

We challenge Trevor Manuel’s attempts to defame Kaizer Motaung, and undermine his place in black business, by suggesting that he is part of a corrupt enterprise.

Instead of holding Motaung up as an example of how one can make a fortune without abusing political power, which some of his comrades could follow, Manuel and his choir want us to “unremember” the marketing and branding genius that is “Chincha Guluva”.

Irvin Khoza’s run-ins with the law, including his convictions for insurance fraud, are common cause. But to pretend he is in the game to make money contradicts our own memories. Here is a man who rose through the club’s branches to become a senior official of Orlando Pirates. Based on his acquired wealth and passion for the club and sport, he was asked to bail out the struggling South African giant.

I cannot be the only person who knows that he spent his own money on the club to revive its fortunes and that he regularly loaned the cash-strapped South African Football Association money to run its affairs. That does not sound like a fat cat to me.

Khoza, who we are told is in football for a quick buck and is not interested in the development of the game, was instrumental in South Africa’s first non-racial club match — between Orlando Pirates and Wits University at Orlando stadium in the late 1970s. His efforts ensured that the African Champions League received sponsorship for the first time in its history after Pirates won it in 1995.

I don’t claim an infallible memory. I could not recall the name or face of Lekgetha Makgabo, quoted authoritatively by the Financial Mail as a former Ria Stars, Wits, Chiefs and Sundowns player saying “that many people” could have closed the sponsorship deal clinched by the PSL fat cats.

But I do remember that corporate South Africa, including the SABC, for years exploited football and its fans and now want to make a song and dance when the clubs get their own back.

So give the PSL a break. The ignorant attacks on them are of a piece with the description of high-achieving black folk as the “WaBenzi”, as if their only involvement with that beautiful creation should be at the assembly plant.

By the same token, my defence of our football administrators does not mean that I am their journalistic lackey.

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