Irvin Khoza plots coup

28 March 2010 - 02:00 By SIMPIWE PILISO and BUDDY NAIDU

Irvin Khoza, chairman of the 2010 Local Organising Committee, is lobbying the ANC, senior government officials and club bosses in a controversial bid to topple the leadership of the SA Football Association.

The Sunday Times has established that Khoza's campaign to take over Safa is in direct defiance of President Jacob Zuma's instructions that all the country's top soccer administrators work together in the interests of the 2010 World Cup.

Khoza, who lost a bid to become president of the national soccer governing body to former referees' co-ordinator Kirsten Nematandani in September last year, has launched the complex and detailed campaign with the further aim of making Safa "ungovernable".

Nematandani took over from Khoza ally Molefi Oliphant, who had stepped down after 13 years at the helm - ostensibly to make way for Khoza.

With powerful political connections, the Orlando Pirates boss and Premier Soccer League (PSL) chairman is said to be lobbying Safa's regional structures to cast "a vote of no confidence" against the organisation's executive team.

The Sunday Times this week established that Khoza had even approached members of the ANC's national executive committee in his drive to become the country's most powerful soccer administrator.

Khoza's campaign to solicit support, which includes secret meetings with top-level politicians, has involved private rendezvous at up-market hotels, mostly in Johannesburg.

About three weeks ago, Khoza met with members of the ANC Women's League at the exclusive Saxon Hotel in Johannesburg.

This week, five senior Safa officials - closely aligned to Safa's newly elected executives - revealed that Khoza had also approached members of Safa's regional structures and offered them financial inducements to cast a vote of no confidence in Safa's executive.

"Once a vote of no confidence is cast, the executive will be forced to step down.

"In the interim, the government will intervene and an administrator will be selected to run Safa until after the World Cup ... and at that time, Khoza wants the people he has lobbied to fully support his bid for Safa's presidency," said one of the senior officials.

He added: "His (Khoza's) primary aim is to destabilise Safa and in the process make the executive appear incompetent. He does not have the interests of soccer at heart and is using whatever means possible to further his own ambitions. He is driven by greed."

The position would also enable Khoza to oversee Safa's finances, which will include a financial windfall from Fifa after the World Cup - expected to be between R500-million and R1-billion.

Safa, which has spent R60-million on Bafana Bafana's two training camps in preparation for the World Cup, has been hit by a string of financial woes in recent years.

Officials within the organisation this week said Khoza's main ambition was to use the Safa position to propel him into the presidency of the Confederation of African Football, which is currency held by Cameroon's ailing and ageing Issa Hayatou.

And, ultimately, Khoza has his sights set on Fifa's executive committee, world football's governing body.

The infighting within Safa - on whose executive committee Khoza still serves by virtue of his role in the 2010 Local Organising Committee - has already split the local soccer fraternity into two factions.

The PSL has publicly stated that it does not recognise the new Safa leadership and has threatened to challenge it in court.

Some Safa regions have already gone public on their rejection of Nematandani and his executive.

The Sunday Times understands that attempts by Khoza, via Safa officials loyal to him, to "destabilise" Safa - and ensure that the newly appointed executive is viewed as incompetent - include:

  • Deliberately wasteful expenditure of the cash-strapped body's finances. One example is that of several high-ranking Safa officials within Khoza's camp who have racked up cellphone bills of over R55000 a month since October last year;
  • Sabotaging soccer tournaments organised and approved by the new executive team. One of these is a four-nations tournament planned to commemorate the Sharpeville Massacre, which had to be shelved after individuals within Safa ensured that the Under-20 national team was unavailable; and
  • The creation of divisions within almost every section within Safa, from administration to finance.

The five senior Safa officials said these efforts were meant "to undermine the newly elected Safa executive, deem them incompetent and in the process frustrate the entire organisation".

Several unsuccessful attempts, including SMSes and e-mails, were made to get comment from Khoza.

His business associate, PSL consultant Peter Mancer, refused to accept detailed questions from the Sunday Times.

"I don't know where he is, he's not with me ... (but) don't send me the questions, I don't want to get involved. I'll try and get a hold of him. But if I can't get hold of him, I can't get hold of him."

Fifa's secretary-general, Jerome Valcke, could not be reached for comment this week.

Fifa frowns on government interference in the affairs of football associations, with Kenya having been briefly expelled from Fifa for this two years ago.

Nematandani and his vice-president, Chief Mwelo Nonkonyana, told the Sunday Times this week that although they were aware of the campaign, it was a "sensitive" matter .

Nematandani said: "It would be premature for us to react.

He added: "From my point of view, Khoza was at Safa's national executive meeting on Friday, which is a clear indication that he has accepted the decision regarding the appointment of the leadership."

Regarding claims that Khoza was lobbying Safa regional structures, he said: "Lobbying regions is normal in an organisation like this."

Nonkonyana, who is also an ANC member of parliament, said: "The ANC simply cannot be used to fight battles within statutory bodies such as ours."

He added that Safa's executive had recently been obliged to hold its meetings - usually monthly affairs - every week in an effort to monitor the situation.

LOC chief executive Danny Jordaan, who had initially contested with Khoza for the Safa presidency, said he did not want to be drawn into the matter.

Although the Safa hierarchy is publicly downplaying Khoza's campaign, it is understood they tried to remove him from the chairmanship of the LOC.

It emerged this week that, shortly after Safa's executive team took office, a motion was discussed to remove Khoza and Kaizer Chiefs boss Kaizer Motaung from the LOC's board of directors.

The LOC is overseen by Safa.

Well-placed soccer officials told the Sunday Times that, on learning of this move, Khoza approached Zuma and asked him to intervene and to prevent the Nematandani executive from taking office until the World Cup had passed. It is unclear who would have run Safa during this period

Zuma's spokesman, Vincent Magwenya, could not be reached for comment regarding any attempts by the president to intervene.

However, the Sunday Times understands that Zuma convened a meeting with Nematandani, Nonkonyana, Mazibuko, Jordaan, and Khoza.

The minister of sport and recreation, Makhenkesi Stofile, and the minister of international relations, Maite Nkoana-Mashabane, were also present.

It is understood that Zuma summoned Nkoana-Mashabane to the meeting in a bid to avert any international ramifications from the fallout within Safa.

Following lengthy discussions, Zuma advised that everyone remain in their current positions until after the World Cup. All parties agreed to cease the infighting.

But Khoza has now secretly reneged on this.

A Safa official described how Khoza had "openly boasted" at the time that he had approached Zuma to intervene.

"The meeting with Zuma was supposed to be a private affair since the president (Zuma) did not want to appear (to be) meddling in Safa's affairs, and create a negative public impression," he said.