The new president of the Confederation of African Football (Caf) is a South African billionaire named Patrice Motsepe. It is a well-known fact that he is one of the richest Africans. What is however sometimes disputed is how he has been able to amass a $3bn fortune in less than 30 years.
But it is in tracing his meteoric rise that we get to see that in whatever he has reached for, be it gold mines or football, Patrice Motsepe date with destiny has always been blessed with a midas touch.
His is by no means a rags to riches story. But neither was he born with a silver spoon. His father was a chief with a corner shop, and whose claim to fame was more political title than business acumen. Patrice inherited neither the title nor the corner shop.
So, don’t expect this to be a story about a boy who gave up public service to grow a business empire out of a modest shop tucked away in a dusty corner of a nondescript South African mining town. Instead, we see a rather flat early life suddenly interrupted by a dramatic spike in economic fortune. This spike occurs around the mid-90’s and coincides with the fall of the Apartheid regime in South Arica.
The Apartheid regime was unmistakably skewed in favour of white people. So, one of the leading issues was always going to be how to redress the blatant socio-economic imbalances in the country. It was agreed that black folk had to be integrated into the economy and that is how Black Economic Empowerment (BEE) emerged – the substantial and equitably transfer of the ownership, management, and control of South Africa’s financial and economic resources to the majority of its citizens.
It is this intentional broader and meaningful participation in the economy that brings Motsepe into real money. He uses the opportunity to buy or ‘get invited’ into businesses. The rest like they say is history.
He couldn’t have been the only black South African aware of such opportunities which is why there is a widely held belief that his methods weren’t always off a level playing field. But even all that is beside the point.
The point is that fate placed him at the confluence of ambition and opportunity. Not everyone is able to say that they grew what BEE placed in their laps.
Not every empowered black man loves sport either. Most just sat in smug satisfaction. But Motsepe grew what came to him until such a time that he could afford to disrupt the century old Kaizer Chiefs-Pirates football duopoly. That alone is passion and ambition backed by ability.
And like all ambitions go, all things achieved are eventually just stepping-stones. It was only logical for a man of his means, to start viewing the top job in African football as his logical destination or stepping-stone (don’t discount him for going for the Fifa presidency in future).
So, we can go on about his early life and the skewed nature of his opportunities but one thing for sure, is that he will bring genuine passion and a wealth of know-how and know-who to football. Politicians and teachers have gotten us this far and maybe it is about time we heard from a successful businessman. This could be the opportunity African football ordered for.
I say this because African football today is a rapidly evolving commercial enterprise worth billions of dollars. Who would you rather be running matters of this magnitude? A billionaire for whom fate has dealt a good hand but also, one who has been there and done that. That’s who.