15/02/2017 15:51 SAST | Updated 15/02/2017 18:14 SAST

Mugabe's Nephew 'Takes On Africa's Football Dynasty Just Like His Uncle Took On The West'

Phillip Chiyangwa is taking notes from his uncle in his bid to take over at the Confederation of African Football.

Zimbabwe's President Robert Mugabe.
Philimon Bulawayo / Reuters
Zimbabwe's President Robert Mugabe.

President Robert Mugabe's flamboyant nephew, Phillip Chiyangwa, is following in the footsteps of his Machiavellian politician uncle by taking the proverbial bull by its horns; challenging Africa's football dynasty at the helm of the Confederation of African Football (CAF).

Chiyangwa, the controversial business-cum politician, and now president of the Zimbabwe Football Association who also recently won the presidency of the Council of Southern African Football Associations (COSAFA), is leading a rugged but rare charge to oust long-serving and revered CAF president Issa Hayatou, who has been in power since 1988.

Hayatou is seeking an eighth term at the helm of CAF but Mugabe's nephew, who has not hidden his own CAF ambitions, wants the godfather of African football to bite the dust in elections set for next month.

He has appointed himself campaign manager to Hayatou's nemesis, Ahmad Ahmad, who is challenging the Cameroonian strongman of football. Just as Mugabe has done to the West, Chiyangwa is showing the middle finger to the CAF hierarchy, even shrugging off threats of imminent sanctions.

Adding intrigue, drama and suspense into the whole football stage, Chiyangwa has slated a lavish party next Friday in Harare in which FIFA boss Gianni Infantino is the guest speaker, coincidentally the same weekend Mugabe would be eating cake as he turns 93 despite abject poverty in the nation.

In a clear sign of wheeling and dealing synonymous with the football world, Chiyangwa, under the auspices of COSAFA, has invited all presidents of African associations eligible to vote in next month's CAF presidential race and other prominent football and sporting personalities that could probably have an influence in swinging the vote to his horse.

As expected, Hayatou is not on the guest list and typical of Mugabe's Machiavellian type of politics, Chiyangwa has disguised the shinding in Harare as joint celebrations to mark his 58th birthday and his election unopposed as COSAFA president after South African Football Association president Danny Jordan inexplicably withdrew at the last minute.

News24 has obtained a copy of a letter dated February 13, 2017, in which Chiyangwa personally invites Zambia Football Association president, Kalusha Bwalya. Chiyangwa implores the celebrated African soccer star to "find time in your busy schedule to attend these very important and historic celebrations".

Hayatou is threatening unspecified sanctions against the Harare businessman turned football administrator, citing CAF statutes.

Mugabe's nephew is unfazed. Just like his uncle who thumped his nose to the West when he forcibly evicted white commercial farmers and presided over Zimbabwe's economic decay, Chiyangwa is defiant, telling a state daily on Wednesday he is unmoved by the threats from the CAF boss.

Regime change
Critics say it would appear Chiyangwa has been taking notes from his uncle as he ingratiates himself with football king-makers while he bides his time at CAF, just as Mugabe did during Zimbabwe's war of liberation.

"Chiyangwa has never been one to hide his ambition to take over football in terms of leadership. He understands this from politics that you use your financial muscle and connection to get what you want," John Mokwetsi, a soccer analyst and an online editor with a respected popular Zimbabwe private daily newspaper told News24.

"Now through hosting [football] leaders for his birthday bash he is definitely going for the kill," Mokwetsi reckons.

Critics of the Cameroonian strongman claim there is a general consensus in the global footballing fraternity that Hayatou has overstayed his welcome in Africa, CAF and even in FIFA and should go now. However, they are quick to point out the irony appears lost to Chiyangwa whose uncle has himself refused to go and wants to contest Zimbabwe's next presidential election aged 94.

Jacob Mafume, the spokesperson for the opposition People's Democratic Party, said Chiyangwa should also instead expend his energies on urging his uncle to call it quits if he is to be taken seriously in his agitation for regime change or reform at CAF.

"Maybe he [Chiyangwa] might succeed where his uncle failed lest he ends being exiled from soccer and all its frills," said Mafume, adding that in the highly corrupt world of African soccer, just like in continental politics, only those who are willing to wrestle with the big-guns take a gamble.

"But in this football saga it could be a case of the proverbial sending a thief to catch a thief," he added.