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Tebogo Sebego and the battle for the soul of BFA

When President Tebogo Sebego came to the structures of the football association roughly 12 years ago, it was never clear that he will one day yearn for football power and strive to control the game in a similar fashion deployed by long time bogus leaders of FIFA and CAF, MOSIMANEGAPE TSHOSWANE writes

It was a sudden depth of the sport life blended with a football conspiracy that was marked by a full four year reign of basking in the local acclaim of his success and failures that helped in molding both a new and unrecognizable BFA house. Observers put it that Sebego gained popularity at the time everyone close to the game was fed up with former president David Fani‘s style of leadership.  He, therefore, seized the opportunity and campaigned vigorously under the ‘friends of football’ banner to white wash Fani whose camp was crippled from every angle in the cold July of 2012.

Sebego, a lawyer by profession won country wide adoration and his ascendency to the BFA plum post hung on a two-fold victory mood. First, his flambouyance and charm convinced doubting Thomases he was the right man to refresh the then decaying association, and secondly, he master minded the fall of a man who had the backing of football god fathers.

Prior to the 2012 election, It was an open secret that David Fani was handpicked by Ishmael Bhamjee as a way of protecting and extending his BFA legacy while he needed to go up in FIFA positions. Observers point out that in 2000 when Fani took the baton, it became rather clear that he was a ‘feed boy’ of both Bhamjee and Ashford Mamelodi. True to their closeness, the umbilical cord remained intact that Fani finally won a position within CAF in 2011.

With Sebego, it is however, unknown whether he would like the next president to be a candidate who carries his blessing so as to preserve his legacy. But for now, he still prefers his.

Sebego and his energetic troops upon resuming office promised to clean Lekidi football center. Their hopes of taking the association to a reform phase were high as a kite. However, during his first two years (2012-2014), Sebego and his mentors’ hopes began dashing.

In the second year of his presidency, the mood within BFA began to shift as the team was hit with a back lash for taking decisions without consultation. When the matter first cropped up, Sebego gave it an eye wash and it gradually ballooned up when friends of football god fathers split over his resolve to transform the game.

Under his leadership, the association toiled to appoint British born Keith Masters as the Chief Executive Officer. But that was after a raging fire scorched across his National Executive Committee (NEC) over his decision to elevate one Tariq Babitseng to the position of CEO. Observers were convinced that it was a simple way of thanking him for forcefully canvassing massive support for him to dethrone David Fani.

The appointment of Tariq- whose contradictory attributes excite and irk the football fraternity in equal measure- was always with controversy and of course ruffled a few feathers.

But what raised eye brows and continued to draw burning criticism was the arrival of the ageing Keith Masters as the head of secretariat. His voice was never audible in the stubborn NEC, His leadership style was questionable and his admiration of power never influenced anybody until his sacking early last year.

To demonstrate his ambition for power, Sebego also acknowledged one Ernest Nthobelang to create a position of Chief Operation Officer. But when the team’s ship cruised, everything else revolved around Sebego and when the ship finally hit an iceberg, all hell broke loose.

The foot soldiers who were instrumental in bringing Sebego into power all attracted controversy. Nthobelang, who held the fort in BFA technical wing, was expelled for reading a different script when the team needed to thrive when dark clouds were gathering.

That Sebego‘s silent diplomacy is his best ingredient is purely not in doubt. He remained quiet as factions within the association burned.  Bruising affairs within the association were seen all over, spilling all the way down to the secretariat.

Sebego and his feed boy Tariq Babitseng‘s relationship hit the rocks once, but when the post of Vice President- Administration emerged, they teamed again. This was after one Segolame Ramotlhwa, (who was earmarked for the presidency before Sebego) broke affiliation with friends of football and challenged Tariq to the position. In- fact, this was the beginning of the regime’s factions.

In Ramotlhwa’s eye, Babitseng should have not campaigned because he was accused of having his fingers all over the till while holding the post of CEO. For the first time, the two members from the same regime stood against each other and it was not surprising that Babitseng strolled to victory while Ramotlhwa was left licking his wounds. “My history should not determine my destination, what happened while I held the post of CEO should be water under the bridge,’’ Babitseng had said after the victory.

All the while, Sebego’s support got dented and later diminished as his backers literally betrayed him. However, he knew his term was far from ending, but because he had unknowingly rooted out some of his troops, it was almost impossible for him to save the BFA ship from sinking under his watch. He became a turncoat when he somersaulted on his decision not to stand for CAF committees.  

He found himself having to deal with difficult questions when his fire-brand Babitseng was again- accused of office abuse and mal-administration. When Babitseng was finally labeled the black sheep of BFA, Sebego too, took the bullet. He found himself caught between a rock and a hard place when the time came to sack him. Friends of football hit rock bottom.

Sebego’s heart bled profusely but he remained steadfast in his mission to battle and capture the soul of the association, much to the amusement of those who were by his side.

But it proved to take a toll on his attempts.

A new mood of militancy swept across his NEC again when he battled to submit a bid to co-host AFCON 2017 with Zimbabwe. He had to answer more piercing questions mainly for surrounding himself with Babitseng while Masters was used as pawn in a tactful chess game. The attempt to co-host was finally shot down and at the time, the president and his legal advisor, Doctor Pusoentse were two worlds apart.

The infighting heightened. The Briton CEO was soon in the eye of the storm until he fell from BFA’s radar. Observers had highlighted that the CEO was Sebego’s moral voice, and his fall from grace would eventually cripple the president’s support within the NEC. At that time, Tariq was nowhere to be seen while the arrival of a new broom, Marshlow Motlogelwa was seen to be the beginning of a reform process. Motlogelwa, who came to the NEC under the Vice President-finance and marketing ticket, received unending showers particularly that he is believed to have master minded the fall of Sebego’s blue eyed boy- Tariq Babitseng.

As Sebego’s house endured a dizzying fall from grace, the time to recruit a new CEO arrived. Three names were submitted, and reports suggested that the president wanted to opt for more names insisting that the three front runners were not the right cut for the job. Of the three names, former BNSC boss Kitso Kemoeng was attractive.

His lieutenants, Marshlow Motlogelwa and Stephen Phetlhe-Vice President technical convinced him to settle for Kemoeng while he frowned upon the decision, he later embraced him when he got the position.

In essence, the newly recruited CEO was soon to fill Babitseng’s space in molding the ailing association. Together they became the heart-beat of the NEC. But soon, just as they were enjoying their new working relationship, the monster of consultation reared its head. The file and rank members of NEC who had a fall out with him grilled him for treating Kemoeng with kids’ gloves. Many of them felt Sebego had temporarily found comfort within Kemoeng‘s shrewd way of leadership.

The members regrouped and were about to send Kemoeng packing until a “technical error” saved him the job. He was initially given a three months probation but somehow it later turned out that it was a six months trial out. “As far as I am concerned, I am contracted to BFA and that issue is not relevant,’’ Kemoeng had pointed out at the time.

That Kemoeng would soon become Sebego’s shield was not in doubt. The former sports council boss began a restructuring exercise that left people bruised. While appointment of new faces and uninformed expulsion of old BFA cadres tormented the association, Sebego saw it all as unfinished business.

Observers say that he is seeking another term mainly to solidify his power at CAF. Whether he still remembers the promises uttered under Friends of Football manifesto are open to debate is unknown. One promise was to save the game from going to the dogs. As to why the objective of finding FA cup is not yet achieved after four long hard years might be a football terrain hard to maneuver. “I am  working to improve the game, those who see my track record will talk positive, and those who do not see it will say otherwise,’’ Sebego professed.

The road to 2016 elections is still under construction. A couple of foot-soldiers-drawing inspiration from Friends of Football gurus-want to take him head on. Of the few names penciled out is Ramotlhwa’s who sees this as a perfect opportunity tackle a man who he worked with in crafting todays’ BFA constitution.

It will prove to be a titanic battle for football power. Fresh reports suggest that Sebego has once again turned to Babitseng to defend the regime.

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