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What in the world is up at Safa?

You’d think it couldn’t get any worse, but the South African Football Association has somehow ended the week looking sillier than ever. And even though Safa’s gaffes are legion, the current crisis is quite the stretch.

Last Saturday, the body informed the country that its elective congress would go ahead in a week’s time. No voice in the footballing world could prevent it, it said. Despite at least three ongoing or looming court motions to interdict the event, there was no missing the March 24 train to elections. Cries of corruption be damned.

The loudest of those voices, of course, belonged to Ace Ncobo. A very public waging of war between the former referee and Safa, and in particular Safa president Danny Jordaan, has left all the dirty laundry scattered across the lawns of Soccer City.

Fifa representative Phillip Chiyangwa arrived in the country last week to encourage the two to “smoke the peace pipe” before joining their hands à la Winnie Madikizela-Mandela. Former president Jacob Zuma and President Cyril Ramaphosa would have cringed at how awkward the resulting photo turned out.

No sooner had the illusory smoke from that pipe dissipated than the “peace” itself evaporated. Ncobo has continued to be vocal about his dissatisfaction. He has ripped into Safa, demanding the congress be called off because of illegitimacy. The governing body did its best to reduce his cries to those of a mad man — releasing the aforementioned Saturday statement, targeted specifically at him.

“I pity pie bakers,” Ncobo wrote on Twitter. “They will have to work long shifts to feed so many that must eat humble pies.”

By Tuesday evening, the egg on Safa’s face had begun to rot.

Jordaan, who would also have been the sole presidential candidate on Saturday, called a short-notice national executive committee (NEC) meeting. It was resolved to suspend the congress to protect its legitimacy.

“The NEC unanimously agreed to postpone the elective congress that was scheduled for Saturday March 24 in order to address any issues that may impact [on] the credibility of the congress,” its statement read.

It is unclear what exactly happened here to pierce Safa’s resolve.

The presidential race has been equally opaque. After names like Lucas Radebe, Tokyo Sexwale and Chief Mwelo Nonkonyana were mentioned but fell away, Ncobo was widely touted as the lead contender for South African football’s administrative job. After the meeting with Fifa’s Chiyangwa, Ncobo dropped out of contention.

And he’s just as confused as we are about the process in this drama.

“From the onset, I made it abundantly clear,” he told the Mail & Guardian. “I am unable to reach a decision on whether or not to stand because being a nominee does not automatically translate to being a candidate. There is a process that is embarked upon according to the electoral code. That process is being undertaken by the electoral committee. In the absence of an electoral committee, you cannot have candidates.”

For Ncobo, the congress’s postponement is insufficient. He believes the entire nomination process must be revisited, considering that the electoral committee was appointed only a few weeks ago — it was established after the Independent Electoral Commission declared that it would no longer assist at the congress.

“The process has excluded other people from participating,” he said. “Those people that they excluded from participating had no football judicial body to go to to lay their complaints because there was no electoral committee. That’s why they need to start afresh with the nominations. It is the electoral committee that decides the eligibility or otherwise of any candidate that wants to stand. That is why that committee is elected six months before elections.”

Ncobo told the M&G that his lawyers are in the process of approaching the Johannesburg high court to effect the restarting of the process.

The M&G asked Safa to elaborate on its NEC resolutions and why it was so confident last Saturday that all was in order, given that it now admits there is still much to be thrashed out.Its spokesperson Dominic Chimhavi said the congress could have gone ahead on March 24 without issue, but the body decided to give it a little breathing room, essentially because of bad press.

“There is nothing much to be thrashed out,” he said. “The NEC’s point of view was: ‘Look, we have sponsors and partners.’ We don’t want to go into an election with too much talk [surrounding it]. When everything is in the newspapers it’s not good for the sponsors and partners. We don’t want to go into an election with our credibility questioned by the outside world. Otherwise we could have gone ahead. After all this bickering in the media, we said: ‘No, let’s do what they want so we don’t have any qualms going forward.’”

Chimhavi said the initial decision to hold elections on March 24 was completely above-board. A motion was reportedly put forward last year and passed unanimously at Safa’s December conference.

“We have a World Cup cycle — the thinking was that Bafana would be going to the World Cup and we didn’t want to disturb that so let’s hold it in September. But then Bafana didn’t qualify so it was said: ‘We might as well hold it sooner, what’s the delay? If we hold it sooner we can start activating our programmes.’”

He also said that the electoral commission that was established was not a violation of Safa’s constitution and was a necessary response to the IEC pullout.

“These things came out of the blue,” he said “When the IEC withdrew, they didn’t give us a reason why. Understand the circumstances. The NEC can appoint a substitute electoral committee. During the electoral congress itself they can seek what is called condonation and say, ‘yes we approve the electoral committee’.”

Something that has not helped Safa’s gasps for credibility as they drown in a tide of adverse public opinion has been their handling of the national team.

Stuart Baxter’s men have travelled to Zambia for the Four Nations trophy featuring the hosts, Angola and Zimbabwe. It’s a trip the Scot never wanted to take. He had his eyes trained on the King’s Cup in Thailand, an opportunity he viewed as perfect to blood some youngsters against overseas opposition. What he got instead was an announcement only two-odd weeks ago that the team need only strap in for a brief journey up north.

After diplomatically insisting he would never disrespect his employers, he nonetheless accepted that: “I think we’ve got to get our house in order because the way we’ve done this is all over the place.”

Wednesday’s match against Angola was not televised.

Someone not on the plane is Rhulani Mokwena. The prodigal Orlando Pirates assistant coach was “called up” to the national setup last week after the announcement of the young travelling squad. It was considered a just reward for an introspective tactician dutifully going about bolstering his reputation. Mokwena has no doubt been a key element alongside Milutin Sredojevic in transforming the Buccaneers from limp dawdlers into league contenders.

All seemed well and good. Except it wasn’t. Pirates blocked the move — reportedly because of the short notice period. Given that six games potentially stand between them and a remarkable title, any criticism of the club’s decision is surely unreasonable.

What is perfectly reasonable to ask is: How exactly did Safa go about this? According to Baxter, processes could, at the very least, have been toed a little more soberly: “It’s possible that protocols were not followed 100%.”

Either way, Safa would probably have preferred a different week to learn this lesson.

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Luke Feltham
Luke Feltham is a features writer at the Mail & Guardian

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