South Africa’s Patrice Motsepe: Who supports his bid to run African football?
On 12 March in Rabat, Morocco, South African businessman Patrice Motsepe will stand for the presidency of the Confederation of African Football (CAF). His campaign is backed by a number of leading lights, including the cream of South Africa's power elite, such as wife of President Cyril Ramaphosa, and the FIFA boss Gianni Infantino.
Ranked No. 9 on the Forbes 2021 list of African billionaires, Patrice Motsepe, 59, also happens to be a candidate standing for the Confederation of African Football (CAF) presidency. His election bid has garnered extra attention now that the reputation of the outgoing president, Ahmad Ahmad, has been tarnished by a financial misconduct scandal.
The Malagasy leader was suspended on 19 November 2020 by the FIFA Ethics Committee, although the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) later issued a ruling effectively restoring him as CAF president.
Meanwhile, the football organisation’s Congolese vice president, Constant Omari, is also currently barred as a candidate in light of an ongoing investigation. As things stand, Motsepe’s rivals include Côte d’Ivoire’s Jacques Anouma (with Alassane Ouattara spearheading an intense lobbying campaign to persuade his peers to support the candidate’s bid), Mauritania’s Ahmed Yahya and Senegal’s Augustin Senghor.
Motsepe, as president of the Mamelodi Sundowns Football Club, South Africa’s most titled league (winner of the CAF Champions League in 2016 and the CAF Super Cup in 2017), has the backing of most national football federations in Southern and East Africa, apart from a few rare exceptions, such as Malawi’s federation. In addition, the mining magnate is endorsed by the Equatoguinean Football Federation President Gustavo Ndong and the Sierra Leone Football Association President Isha Johansen.
As for the football players themselves, none have formally endorsed the billionaire, even among South Africa’s current or retired footballers. The candidate courted African players, such as Cameroon’s Samuel Eto’o and Senegal’s El Hadji Diouf, this past December by inviting them to Mamelodi Sundowns’ 50th anniversary celebration. Motsepe also extended an invitation to all African football federation presidents, but only around ten of them accepted.
As the founder of the mining company African Rainbow Minerals and the brother-in-law of South African President Cyril Ramaphosa, Motsepe leverages his strong network of contacts to advance his goals.
Through his deputy chairmanship on the board of directors of Sanlam, the largest insurance company in Africa, his influence extends as far afield as Morocco, where the South African company acquired Saham Group’s insurance division.
While he is seen as FIFA’s candidate of choice because of his close ties with Gianni Infantino, the jury is still out on whether these strengths will be enough for him to clinch an election victory.
President of the Nigeria Football Federation Amaju Pinnick is sparing no effort to promote Motsepe’s bid among his counterparts in English-speaking West Africa. Once close with Ahmad, Pinnick has now become a sharp critic of his management of the CAF. On 5 July 2018, Ahmad appointed Pinnick as first vice president of the federation.
After being removed by Ahmad, who appointed Omari as his replacement, Pinnick aligned himself with his ex-ally’s rivals. There is a method to his madness; previously interested in running for the CAF presidency, he has grown closer with Infantino and is now vying for a spot on FIFA’s board.
The African federation presidents who are still on close terms with Ahmad have a sneaking suspicion that FIFA President Giani Infantino is the architect behind Motsepe’s bid. Before bringing the South African into the mix, Infantino had sounded out a different wealthy businessman, the DRC’s Moïse Katumbi, who owns the iconic Lubumbashi-based football team Tout Puissant Mazembe.
Putting the Johannesburg billionaire at the helm of the CAF would bring the 54-country confederation under the Swiss-Italian football administrator’s control, meaning he could win as many votes, providing a boost for his re-election bid to the international body. Infantino is also close with Mauritania’s Ahmed Yahya, even though Yahya is disappointed that the FIFA boss has not publicly endorsed him and takes a dim view of his support of Motsepe.
Danny Jordaan was the first to announce his fellow countryman’s bid. Serving as president of the South African Football Association since 2013, Jordaan has taken on a new role as Motsepe’s official campaign director.
The Port Elizabeth native is well-versed in how to manage a campaign, having led South Africa’s successful 2010 FIFA World Cup bid.
While the South African government has not yet formally endorsed Motsepe, its support is all but assured given the magnate’s ties to President Ramaphosa. Indeed, Motsepe’s older sister, Tshepo Motsepe, is married to the South African president. The billionaire’s connections with the first family allow him to harness the continental superpower’s diplomatic and geopolitical influence.
Last but not least, another one of his sisters, Bridgette Radebe, is the only woman presiding over a mining industry association in South Africa. She is married to Jeff Radebe, a high-ranking official in the ruling African National Congress (ANC) party, who formerly served as energy minister in the early days of Ramaphosa’s administration.