Tokyo Sexwale, a South African anti-apartheid campaigner jailed alongside Nelson Mandela, hopes to beat the odds and become the first African to be president of scandal-hit world football body FIFA.
The 62-year-old, who is better known as former minister of human settlements and one of his country’s richest men rather than as a football administrator, confirmed his candidacy on Saturday.
Other official candidates ahead of the deadline this Monday for the February 26 election are European football chief Michel Platini, Prince Ali bin al Hussein of Jordan, former Trinidad and Tobago captain David Nahkid and former FIFA deputy general secretary Jerome Champagne.
Sexwale has no current active role in domestic football, but was part of South Africa’s 2010 FIFA World Cup bidding team and the committee that organised the event.
After the 2010 World Cup, he was appointed to FIFA’s anti-racism and anti-discrimination committee.
Standing up to racism in football
He has become an ardent proponent of anti-racism in the game, once likening racism in football to “a monster that is trying to infiltrate sporting fields”.
“If we don’t stand up, if we allow racism to overpower sport, we will be doomed to existence in a hostile world,” he warned FIFA last year.
More recently, Sexwale led a delegation to Palestine and Israel to discuss issues affecting football development.
However, despite Sexwale’s involvement in an organisation tarnished by serious allegations of corruption under long serving but now suspended president Sepp Blatter, he does not hold an executive position.
He is one of the richest men in South Africa, having established a business empire around various interests, including mining.
As a fighter of the defunct ANC armed wing, Umkhonto Wesizwe (MK), Sexwale underwent military training in the Soviet Union in 1975, returning to South Africa a year later.
His conviction on charges of terrorism and conspiracy to overthrow the government saw him sentenced to Robben Island prison in 1977. He served 13 years of his 18-year jail term.
After his release, Sexwale played an active role in calming the deadly wave of political violence that engulfed black townships outside Johannesburg – sometimes while wearing MK fatigues.
During the dark years on the prison island, Sexwale got involved in the running of the Makana Football Association, an informal league of political prisoners.
The association was given honorary FIFA membership in 2007.
Taking the reins of the powerful football body would be a totally different ball game for the charismatic political stalwart.
His supporters believe that the anti-apartheid activist would draw on his business and political leadership to steer FIFA out of the corruption crisis.
In 1994, Sexwale was appointed by Mandela as the first premier of the country’s richest province, Gauteng.
Seen by many as a possible presidential candidate, Sexwale left government after four years as premier to start his company, Mvelaphanda, and became a multi-millionaire.
But his reputation almost suffered a blow in 2001 when he was named in a conspiracy to topple former president Thabo Mbeki, together with current deputy president Cyril Ramaphosa. The plot was later found to be false.
In 2012, Sexwale suffered a political defeat at the ANC elective conference, failing to win enough votes for the position of party deputy president.
President Jacob Zuma fired him the following year as housing minister and he has taken a less visible ANC role since. – AFP