As Peter ‘Samora’ Simelane, the Chief Executive Officer of SwaziMed, cleared his throat to gleefully declaire “football will never be the same” after his election as the new Eswatini Football Association (EFA) President, he was, in hindsight, talking about his own bank balance. Surely his finances will never be the same after ascending to the cushy part-time job of being the country’s football head-honcho. Unbeknown to many, being the country’s football boss is not some ceremonial position but comes with perks that can easily outshine some of the country’s top Chief Executive Officer (CEO)s in the private sector.

This is but one of the many reasons why the previous EFA president, Adam ‘Bomber’ Mthethwa, fought tooth and nail to stay in power for a combined 24-years. It is not an exaggeration to say the three presidential hopefuls, Peter Simelane, Mashumi Shongwe and Comfort Shongwe engaged in a bruising battle that turned even nasty and dirty leading to Sunday’s D-Day.

While over the years it was almost a given that ‘Bomber’ Mthethwa would bull-doze his way to the ‘throne’ with little to no resistance but by 2017 Mashumi Shongwe had garnered enough support to challenge him. The only other time that Mthethwa had lost an election was back in June 3, 2001 when Patrick Kunene, a former school teacher, beat him via a coin-toss to the coveted position.

This was the selfsame bruising election that split the country’s football landscape down the middle and in the process turned friends to sworn enemies. Leading to the 2017 EFA elections, however, Shongwe was the leading candidate and a  safe bet to win as Mthethwa had increasingly become unpopular owing in part to his unfulfilled promises dating back to 2013. But Mthethwa had an ace up his sleeves; having the influential Mbabane Swallows boss, Victor ‘Maradona’ Gamedze, by his corner. It must be remembered that at the time Gamedze had had a fall out with Shongwe, who by then was in charge of the national team’s ‘Special Projects’.

As Chairman of the Special Projects, Shongwe could boast that he had the honour of getting Sihlangu come within a whisker of reaching the 2015 semi-final of the COSAFA Castle Cup. When Gamedze was appointed by Mthethwa to replace Shongwe as Chairman of this ‘Special Projects’, on the basis of Mbabane Swallow's dominance of local football, it left the two men (Shongwe and Mthethwa) not seeing eye-to-eye. During that time, Gamedze was riding the wave of his red and white outfit winning just about every trophy on offer in the country. For this reason, Shongwe openly challenging Mthethwa for the presidency was sure to turn the best of friends to the worst of enemies. After all, the relationship between the two had come a long way.

[Former Mbabane Swallows Boss Victor Gamedze. He funded Adam Bomber Mthethwa's election as EFA President.]

Shongwe had been Mthethwa’s campaign manager during the 2013 EFA elections. So close were the two that Mthethwa even nicknamed Shongwe his ‘Malema’ because of his ability to rally delegates behind him thus ensuring he could attack his critics with gusto. Gamedze, armed with wads of cash, was sure going to repay Mthethwa for gifting him the Sihlangu position and when battles lines were drawn it was clear where his loyalty lied. With many, if not all the voting delegates in Gamedze’s pockets, the sly businessman and soccer boss played his card very well by offering as much as E10 000 per delegate to sway votes to Mthethwa’s favour. On that night before the 2017 election, one of Mthethwa’s campaign managers, the late Thabo ‘Koki’ Vilakati, moved door-to-door at Lugogo Sun doling out cash. Vilakati was at the time a known Gamedze blue-eyed boy. In any event, the relationship between Vilakati and Gamedze was not just based on him being Mbabane Swallows coach but was deeper than that. Lest we forget, Vilakati once became a subject of investigation at Mbabane Highlanders after gifting each player E1 000 ‘incentive’ to beat Royal Leopard (who were at the time competing with Mbabane Swallows for 2013/2014 season title). Gamedze was the suspected funder. Just to add ambience, Gamedze was also Vilakati’s ‘employer’ if one considers that Gamedze was Eswatini Posts and Telecommunications Corporation (EPTC) biggest supplier. Theirs was therefore a tongue-and-saliva type of relationship.

[EFA Presidential Nominee Mshumi Shongwe. Picture credit: EswatiniSoccer.]

History will show that Mthethwa went on to win the election on a landslide victory of 30-18 and Mashumi Shongwe left the election venue a broken and bitter man.

But many would ask, why is the EFA presidential position so cushy that it would turn friends to enemies while others spend as much as thousands of Emalangeni for a mere ‘ceremonial’ post? Today The Bridge waves through the intricacies why many football officials are ready to take bank loans to secure the EFA top position. For starters, besides the monthly stipend of E10 000, the position comes with an annual stipend of US$20 000 (about E300 000) from the Confederation of African Football (CAF). This stipend was initiated by ousted CAF President Ahmad Ahmad and is usually paid around June/July.

On top of that, the travelling allowances and daily allowances in CAF and FIFA events are paid in US dollars and can be as much as US$800 (E12 000) per day for 30-day events like the Africa Cup of Nations. During the Africa Cup of Nations not only do the 54 football federations presidents travel business class but their accommodation in five-star hotels and meals are catered for by CAF and further paid daily allowances of up to US$200 (E3 000) . In the event they officiate as match commissioners they are paid US$800 (E12 000) per game. In total, an EFA President can take home not less than E100 000 during a 30-day Africa Cup of Nations tournament alone.

And of course, as EFA president one also gets to attend the plush FIFA Congress where you not only rub shoulders with the high and mighty in the world of football but paid handsomely in allowances too.

Then as the football head honcho you also get to preside over a budget of close to E60 million a year. You also oversee the allocated FIFA monies, in particular the ‘FIFA Goal Projects’ which has turned to be a haven for construction jobs handed to pals and where minimal work is rewarded with handsome pay. The recently launched Ka-Langa Technical Centre purportedly built at a cost of E31 million is a case in point. This, ladies and gentlemen, is the genesis of the bruising battles behind the scenes in the fight for the coveted EFA Presidency. All football officials want to lay their hands on the levers of power not just to be invited to prize presentations and taking pictures with the King in Cup finals but clearly to have an opportunity to dip their hands in the cookie jar too. Perhaps ‘Samora’ is right, football and his life will never be the same again. Will drink to that Mnguni!