By Eddie Chikamhi
The bribery trial of ZIFA president Felton Kamambo is likely to attract the wide interest of the football community, including the world governing body FIFA, as the Zimbabwe football leader battles to clear his name on accusations of vote-buying during the 2018 elections.
The ZIFA elections, for a long time, have been marred by such allegations. But this is the first time that a case of this nature has been prosecuted in Zimbabwe.
Interestingly, former president of the association, Phillip Chiyangwa, who lost to Kamambo in the December 2018 ballot, is the complainant and one of the two main witnesses.
The other witness is Kamambo’s former campaign manager, Robert Matoka, who played the middleman’s role in the alleged bribery case.
According to Article 27.1 of the FIFA Code of Ethics, which deals with issues to do with bribery, both the giver and receiver of the bribe are equally liable for the offence.
FIFA, a body that has also been tainted by allegations of corruption over the years, are clear in their statutes that they do not condone such practices.
“Persons bound by this code shall not accept, give, offer, promise, receive, request or solicit any personal or undue pecuniary or other advantage in order to obtain or retain business or any other improper advantage to or from anyone within or outside FIFA,” reads Article 27.1 of the FIFA statutes.
“Such acts are prohibited regardless of whether carried out directly or indirectly through, or in conjunction with, third parties.
“In particular, persons bound by this Code shall not accept, give, offer, promise, receive, request or solicit any personal or undue pecuniary or other advantage for the execution or omission of an act that is related to their official activities and is contrary to their duties or falls within their discretion.”
Kamambo, who has always maintained his innocence, is accused of bribing about 32 councillors to vote for him at the last election that ushered him into office two years ago. He got 35 votes to Chiyangwa’s 24.
The COSAFA boss withdrew from a possible second round, handing Kamambo victory, after the first round had failed to settle the contest.
Kamambo had won more votes in the first round but failed to secure enough backing, according to the ZIFA constitution, to win the contest without the need for a second round.
Bribery charges were brought up by Kamambo’s estranged election manager Matoka earlier this year and the Police Commercial Crimes Unit acted swiftly.
The duo fell out after the elections and Matoka claimed Kamambo could have used unorthodox means, including bribing the electorate, to win the watershed elections.
Matoka is the main witness in the case. Curiously, the former campaign manager and the councillors who are reported to have benefited from the shenanigans, should also be in the dock to answer to the same charges. This has also given room to suspicion whether this is not a matter of sour grapes.
All the same, the case raises a stink. Allegations of bribery and vote-buying have come up at every turn in the ZIFA elections, but the cases never saw the light of the day.
Zimbabwean football has been the biggest loser from these vote-buying shenanigans. Capable and deserving candidates usually get elbowed out by the well-oiled businessmen and political cast-aways who want to use football to enrich themselves and pep up their dying political careers.
Chiyangwa himself and his predecessor Cuthbert Dube were also at some point accused of greasing the palms of councillors and journalists ahead of their election into office.
There has to be tangible proof to proceed, but it is always difficult to come up with conclusive evidence since these shenanigans are carefully guarded secrets.
Chiyangwa first raised the alarm last year but the matter was dismissed. The National Prosecuting Authority declined to lay charges against Kamambo, citing lack of evidence.
However, police investigations have managed to come up with some evidence from the EcoCash transactions that are purported to have taken place during the election period, with the aim of inducing the voters.
In his defence outline, Kamambo said he did not give or agree to give any inducements when the case finally kicked off this week.
He argued that, while small sums were handed out, these were to reimburse or cover the councillors’ expenses to travel to his campaign meetings.
Hwange-based ZIFA Southern Region board member, Mehluli Thebe, let the cat out of the bag when he told our sister newspaper, The Chronicle, he received $300 through the EcoCash platform from Matoka two weeks before the elections.
The money, he said, was for him to travel to Bulawayo to hear Kamambo speak about why he should be voted the ZIFA boss.
“Never would I have used my own money to come to Bulawayo to listen to a candidate,’’ Thebe said. “I made that clear to him so he then sent someone, Robert (Matoka, who was Kamambo’s campaign manager), to Ecocash me $300 for transport and accommodation at a Bulawayo hotel.
“And, I came, listened to what he had to offer for Zimbabwean football (and) then the next day I went back to Hwange.”
Successive ZIFA elections have been marred by allegations of vote-buying with councillors, who elect those who serve on the board, always being accused of accepting financial gifts in exchange for votes.
But, this is the first time the issues have spilled into the courts of law and the results at the end will be interesting. The Herald