OPINION | Caf presidential race: Why Patrice Motsepe is about to have the last laugh

Mninawa Ntloko Digital sports editor
Patrice Motsepe speaks during the Dr. Patrice Motsepe CAF Manifesto launch at Sandton Convention Centre on February 25, 2021 in Johannesburg, South Africa.
Patrice Motsepe speaks during the Dr. Patrice Motsepe CAF Manifesto launch at Sandton Convention Centre on February 25, 2021 in Johannesburg, South Africa.
Image: Sydney Seshibedi/Gallo Images

The jokes kept on coming and an appreciative audience bawled their approval in instantaneous bursts of uncontrollable laughter when mining magnate Patrice Motsepe announced that he was bidding to become the next Confederation of African Football (Caf) president last year.

The announcement had them rolling in the aisles as the 59-year-old Motsepe has never held a position at the South African Football Association‚ and was a surprise candidate.

The amateur comedians had a field day from Cape to Cairo and the businessman was labelled a "football novice"‚ a "baby at this level"‚ a "wet behind the ears administrator who is biting more than he could chew" and many other more colourful descriptions.

Fast forward to today and the wannabe comics have slinked away with their tails tucked firmly between their legs as Motsepe is within touching distance of an office only a few dare to dream about.

But some of us had seen this movie before and suspected that history was about to repeat itself when Motsepe first planted the seeds of his audacious bid for the plush corner office with a stunning view of Cairo at the Caf headquarters.

You have to go back to almost 20 years ago when Motsepe bought out the Tsichlas family and acquired sole ownership of Mamelodi Sundowns to get an understanding of the man's mindset. After first coming on board as the majority shareholder in February 2003‚ he bought 100 percent of Sundowns in 2004 and transferred ownership to the Motsepe Mamelodi Sundowns Trust.

He never hid his ambition at the time‚ even though Sundowns were misfiring badly and had the aura of a rusty Nissan 1400 bakkie rather than the purring Rolls Royce Ghost he wanted them to become.

The plan was very basic: re-establish Sundowns as a dominant force in the country and then take these aspirations of domination to the continental stages.

These lofty plans had them rolling in the aisles and the amateur comedians had a field day from Cape to Cairo. Kaizer Chiefs and Orlando Pirates were the biggest bulls in the kraal at the time and the idea that someone had a plan to destabilise the status quo was unimaginable. But Motsepe had other ideas and wasn't to be denied.

While Sundowns managed to win some trophies during those initial years‚ the plan really came together when the legendary Pitso Mosimane assumed the coaching seat on Sunday December 1‚ 2012.

The Brazilians were second from the bottom when Mosimane took over and they had won just two matches since the start of the season.

Despite boasting some of the most talented players in the premiership‚ they had only managed to score just seven goals during the season and were waist-deep in the relegation quicksand. Only basement side AmaZulu had scored fewer goals (five goals) at the time.

But Mosimane steered them to calmer waters and they eventually finished at 10th place at the end of the campaign a few months later. This was the beginning of a crazy ride that saw Sundowns adopt an almost frightening grip on South African football and eventually the continent.

Their dominance is unrelenting even today and with hindsight‚ Motsepe's personal ascent to the top of the African football food chain should not have been a surprise.

Sundowns are a force that strikes fear from Cape to Cairo and there's no public relations company in the world that could have produced a better marketing campaign for the club's owner than the team itself. But there were still a lot of doubters and they queued up to share their one-liners.

It certainly felt like déjà vu as they tried to explain why the Sundowns owner didn't have a hope in hell of succeeding in his quest.

A lot has happened in the last few months and after being labelled a novice‚ he has outlasted all his rivals and will be elevated to the Caf presidency on Friday after Fifa boss Gianni Infantino brokered a deal for his rivals Augustin Senghor‚ Ahmed Yahya and Jacques Anouma to withdraw from the race.

They withdrew their candidacies in exchange for leadership and executive positions. Senghor and Yahya have been offered vice-presidencies‚ and Anouma an advisory role.

The comedians have lost their sense of humour but guess who's about to have the last laugh on Friday.