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15 Feb 2017 00:00
Mamelodi Sundowns supporters during the Absa Premiership match against Orlando Pirates at Loftus Versfeld Stadium on February 11 2017 in Pretoria. (Sydney Seshibedi, Gallo)
The Confederation of African Football (CAF) bigwigs landed in South Africa this week to attend the annual Super Cup tie between local side Mamelodi Sundowns and TP Mazembe from the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). They flew into a rising storm of protest by regional affiliates seemingly no longer prepared to toe the party line.
The Council of Southern Africa Football Associations (Cosafa) has certainly rocked the boat after meeting in Johannesburg last week.
They took a radical, if not far-reaching, decision not to support incumbent CAF president Issa Hayatou at the presidential elections during the CAF congress in Addis Ababa next month.
Cosafa — led by newly elected president Philip Chiyangwa, who is also the Zimbabwean Football Association (FA) president — threw its weight behind Malagasy Football Association president Ahmad Ahmad.
In a fit of pique, Hayatou retaliated against Ahmad’s decision to stand by withdrawing Madagascar’s right to host the CAF Under-17 African Cup of Nations tournament, due to be staged in April, and handed the right to host the youth event to Gabon.
It is said in the corridors of the CAF headquarters in Cairo that Madagascar was not technically ready to host the eight-team event, but the decision smacks of punishment for Ahmad refusing to endorse Hayatou for the CAF presidency.
As the drama unfolded, Chiyangwa also found himself at the wrong end of Hayatou’s wrath. He has been warned sternly not to proceed with preparations for his own birthday party.
Chiyangwa has already issued several invitation letters to friends and FA presidents across the continent, and to Fifa president Gianni Infantino, to celebrate his February 3 birthday belatedly as well as winning the Cosafa presidency.
The CAF regards the upcoming Harare birthday party as nothing more than an “illegal gathering” aimed at hatching a coup against the present leaders.
“The CAF leadership has been informed that a meeting has been convened by yourself in your capacity as Cosafa president in Harare on February 24,” reads a letter from CAF secretary general Hicham el Amrani to Chiyangwa.
“Such a meeting would not only include presidents of member associations of Cosafa but also presidents of many other member associations outside the Cosafa zone.
“The CAF leadership would therefore like to remind you that you do not have any authority to convene such a meeting without CAF’s knowledge, nor do you have the required approval.
“While it would be acceptable to convene a meeting of the leaders of your zonal union, convening a meeting with many member associations outside the Cosafa zone is deemed to represent an attempt to destabilise CAF.”
But a clearly upset and unrepentant Chiyangwa responded by warning the CAF that he was not the least amused by the tone of the letter insinuating that his birthday party is an illegal attempt to destabilise the CAF.
“The CAF statutes state clearly that the continental organisation shall promote friendly relations between national associations, zonal unions, clubs, officials and players,” he replied, insisting that his meeting is for “that very objective”.
Chiyangwa’s letter referred to Fifa’s statutes relating to the protection of human rights, which, he says, include the “freedom of association of member associations and zonal unions for the development and growth of the game on our continent”.
The gloves are off and this sideshow has shifted the spotlight away from the CAF Super Cup that pits billionaire friends — Moïse Katumbi Chapwe (Mazembe) against Patrice Tlhopane Motsepe (Sundowns) — for the tie that pairs the African Champions against the Confederation Cup winners.
Katumbi, a former ally of DRC President Joseph Kabila, quit the country’s ruling party when it became evident that he intended to break up Katanga province, where Katumbi was governor, into nine mini provinces.
In addition, he was unimpressed with his compatriot’s intention to hold on to power when his mandate expired in November last year.
Katumbi has since gone into exile. He was involved in the mass mobilisation of opposition parties under the leadership of Étienne Tshisekedi, who died in Belgium in January, leaving his deputy as the leader of the mass opposition movement in the DRC.
Kabila reacted by banning all football activities, which has seen Linafoot, the top professional division of the Federation of Congolese Football, grind to a standstill, seriously affecting Mazembe’s preparations for the title they won last year.
Of concern to many Mazembe followers is the fact that, although Sundowns have been steadily strengthening their team, The DRC team has seen a steady trickle of players going to top European teams.
Tanzanians Mbwana Samatta and Thomas Ulimwengu have left Lubumbashi for Belgium and Sweden, respectively. Roger Assalé has just concluded a loan deal to FC Young Boys in Switzerland, and Zambian midfield enforcer Nathan Sinkala and Ghanaian winger Solomon Asante are rumoured to be on their way out.
But Mazembe remains one of Africa’s greatest, if not strongest, sides. They have won the CAF Champions League an impressive four times in the past decade and, with that kind of pedigree, they are certainly no slouches, as Sundowns will find out on Saturday.
Mazembe welcomed Ley Matampi and Djos Issama (DRC) and Salif Coulibaly (Mali) back from Afcon commitments this week and, despite the lack of league action, intensified their preparations with friendly matches.
As Sundowns continued with their league programme catch-up with victories over Bloemfontein Celtic (1-0) and Orlando Pirates (6-0), Mazembe handed AS New Soger a 7-0 hiding and beat Lubumbashi Sport 4-1 in friendly matches between the Congolese sides at the Stade TP Mazembe over the weekend.
They fielded their strongest possible line-up, starting with goalkeeper Sylvain Gbohouo, Zambian Kabaso Chongo, Joël Kimwaki, Daniel Adjei, Given Singuluma and Trésor Mputu, with skipper Rainford Kalaba the only notable absentee.
This will be Sundowns’ first Super Cup appearance, whereas Mazembe have won the CAF tournaments’ curtain raiser three times — in 2010, 2011 and 2016 — and have vowed to retain it at Loftus stadium on Saturday.
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