Wednesday, 24 April 2013

African Champions League: Why the trip to TP Mazembe requires careful consideration for Orlando Pirates

Flying high: Daine Klate on a high in the first leg against TP Mazembe

ON the beaming face of it, Roger de Sa’s comments after Orlando Pirates’ stirring 3-1 win over TP Mazembe in the CAF Champions League sound just like any other coach after an exceptional first leg performance.

The much-maligned De Sa said: “It could have been five to be honest. But with all our injuries, that was an outstanding performance from everybody.

“I’m a bit worried that we let in a home goal, because in these games it’s so important not to concede. That away goal will give them a little bit to work on.”

The Mocambique-born De Sa, who won international caps at basketball and football for South Africa, added: “This second leg is going to be very tough, because not every team goes there and get everything, but at least we have got something to take with us.

“I am very happy with the way we carried ourselves and the way we played, but we have a lot to do because it will be very difficult when we go to the Congo.”

You can say that again. De Sa, struck in the face by vuvuzela-wielding fans when his double-treble winners all but faded out of the PSL title race with six successive draws, can take a bit of stick. But Lubumbashi makes Orlando look like Houghton.

Ironically, the side tagged “Drawlando Pirates” domestically need just that on May 5. Even a single-goal defeat would be enough to see them through to the last eight, where the group format kicks in.

But as we watch this week’s European Champions League semi-finals, the words “it will be very difficult in the Congo” should not be confused with “it will be very difficult at the Nou Camp”.

I’ve offered to go with the Buccaneers to the away leg. The tycoon who owns TS Mazembe makes Irvin Khoza look small-time in Congolese football. My aim is to ensure fair-play, guard against dodgy refereeing, threatening soldiers and a repeat of the post-match incident at Orlando, where the referee was punched in the face and the perpetrator escaped in the private jet.

I’ll use my contacts at eNCAnews, eTV, The New Age and on twitter and facebook to tell South Africans if the Pirates are robbed. At least, that’s the plan.

Moise Katumbi will not let South Africa’s Sea Robbers escape without a fight. The return leg at Stade TP Mazembe in Kamalondo near Lubumbashi offers seats to just 18,000 spectators. I hope to be one of them. I expect unfair play on May 5, starting from 3.30pm local time.

Here’s why. Katumbi, 48, has led the side for 13 years, guiding them to consecutive Champions League titles in 2009/2010, duplicating their 1967/68 achievement, when Moise was a mere tot.

South Africa has troops in the DRC, just like they did in the Central African Republic. They are helping to support a controversial regime in a war-torn country which is among the poorest on the planet but awash with mineral wealth. Quite what the locals will make of this, I hope to find out.

What I do know is that Katanga is Copper Belt. And when the Congo government banned copper exports this month, he stood against it in what is described by analysts as “a clear power play”.  Many think Katumbi will go all the way to a presidential coup. Awkward given South Africa’s role in keeping the current regime in charge.

Here’s the background: In 1964, Moise Soriano, the son of a Sephardic Jew from Greece, came to the land of his mother’s birth. Then-president Mobutu Sese Seko was, at the time, trying to wipe-out all traces of the nation’s French/Belgian colonial past.

Legend suggests Katumbi, voted governor of the copper and cobalt-rich province of Katanga in 2007, made his first business deal aged 13, when he sold a basket of fish for R40.
By 1997, he had made enough money to buy TP Mazembe. By 2010 his spending on the team had risen to 
around R100m A YEAR.

He says: "Bit by bit, we are making our march towards the land of the greats. Our income is meagre, but for the image of the club, for the image of the country and to give an opportunity for our youth, we fight on.”

The "TP" in Mazembe's name stands for "Tout Puissant", which is French for "all powerful". Ridiculous spending has made that dream come true.

The club formerly known as Engelbert are nicknamed Les Corbeaux (The Ravens) despite having a crocodile with a ball in its mouth on the team badge.  In 2010, the club made FIFA Club World Cup history by becoming the first club team from Africa to reach the final after beating CONMEBOL's Internacional of Brazil 2–0 in the semi-final.

TP Mazembe defeated ES Tunis 6-1 on aggregate to win their fourth CAF Champions League crown in 2010, they boast a turn-over of R150 million with rivals CS Don Bosco – beaten by South Africa’s SuperSport United in the CAF Confederation Cup this season – now a mere feeder club to the “all powerful” Mazembe.

Some wicked history: the club was founded in 1939 by Benedictine monks of the order of Sanctimonious Saint that directed the Holy Institute Boniface of Élisabethville, now known as Lubumbashi.

To diversify the student activities for those that did not consecrate themselves to the priesthood, the missionaries decided to set up a football team, named Saint Georges FC.

In 1944 the team took the name of FC Engelbert after its sponsor, a tyre brand. "Tout Puissant" was added after an undefeated first league title in 1966.

After the independence of Congo on June 30, 1960, Engelbert won the treble of League, Katanga Cup and Congo Cup. In 1967 and 1968, they won the African Cup of Champions and were finalists a record FOUR successive times in 1967, 1968, 1969 and 1970.

But it was only when the aforementioned fast-rising businessman Moïse Katumbi Chapwe took over that they were able to repeat that feat in 2009 and 2010 after reaching the 2008 final.
Worryingly, Morocco’s Wydad Casablanca and Egypt’s seven-time winners Al-Ahly have won the last two African Champions League trophies.

Moise is impatient. Eager to win again after a two-year hiatus. Ten new players, none of them from the Congo, have been purchased. Money is no object. Orlando Pirates need to be aware of that. This is win at all costs.

Nobody can be trusted. Where will they stay? Will the noisy Mazembe fans know? Will the Buccaneers sleep the night before the game? Who will referee? Will somebody throw a punch? Will the army be around? Will the locals be pro-government or anti-South African?

Those are the questions De Sa and Khoza must deal with. Roger wants me to be there. He is aware of the potential pitfalls. He says: "I do not think that many people understand the magnitude of our victory over Mazembe.

"TP Mazembe are one of the biggest clubs in Africa. It won’t be easy in the Congo.”

You can say that again.


  1. LOL. I envy you Neal - having friends in high places.
    Think I need to make friends with Roger and Dr. Khoza.

    The rest of us have to dig into our savings to pay for our airfare, tickets and accommodation. But it will be worth it. The opportunity to see Pirates in action against an African powerhouse doesn't come often (considering how often Pirates fuck up against small opposition in the CL).

    Look forward to seeing you there. Pirates will make us proud.

  2. Hehehehe....what did u ever did to Kuhle? Why is he swearing at u like that? Did you chow his chick or something?

  3. I do some business in DRC and luckily will be there when Pirates take on Mazembe. Looking forward to seeing a great match.

  4. RDS should take his baseball bat to Congo. Not forgeting Lucky's ok jokes aside. I know its going to be difficult but we will surely go to the next round. Class of 95 did it in Abijan...we can also do it. And i believe former players like Jerry Sikhosana can help motivate the guys!

  5. Well done u have soldiered u deserve a recognition u has made us proud u have represented us with pride -go all the way and lift the cup