The Run of Play is a blog about
the wonder and terror of soccer.
We left the window open during a match in October 2007 and a strange wind blew into the room.
Now we walk the forgotten byways of football with a lonely tread, searching for the beautiful, the bewildering, the haunting, and the absurd.
Jimmy Mohlala, the speaker of the Mbombela municipality in South Africa who exposed corruption related to the construction of the Mbombela World Cup stadium, was shot to death outside his house yesterday. It’s too soon to say whether the murder has anything to do with the World Cup, but the timing is certainly suggestive.
The background is that about a year ago Mohlala blew the whistle on Jacob Dladla, the Mbombela municipal manager, for colluding with construction contractors to rig the multimillion-dollar stadium project for their own profit. “Manipulation of tenders, service delivery failures, victimisation and harassment of council employees, and failure to implement council resolutions as well as to keep the council informed on matters relating to the World Cup,” begins one sentence in the Mail & Guardian report.
However, Dladla and the contractors apparently had high-powered political connections, and when a working committee of the African National Congress met to discuss the allegations, they wound up demanding Mohlala’s resignation while saying nothing about Dladla. (Actually, that’s not quite true. When asked about Dladla, their provincial chairperson said, “The ANC has its reasons for taking its decision, which will be communicated to the public in due time.” Well, then. Wouldn’t want to rush you.)
Mohlala, however, refused to resign, and the ANC was stuck trying to figure out what to do with him. And then two men showed up at Mohlala’s house, started an argument about parking their car, shot his son in the ankle, and then shot and killed him. The police are saying that it would be irresponsible to see the murder as a reprisal, while members of the opposition party are describing it as “absolutely a political assassination” related to the World Cup.
One thing working against any immediate interpretation of the murder is that Mohlala seems to have accrued a bizarre legal record himself, having been charged with rape, drunk driving and assault in 2008 alone. However, even that fact is essentially opaque, as the charges were reported in only one South African newspaper—the same one each time—and they all seem to have come after the ANC’s attempt to dismiss him. So it’s possible to read them as political reprisals as well. Or maybe they occupy that seldom-trod middle ground between being a political martyr and getting drunk and assaulting a cop. In any case they’ve been completely ignored by every report I’ve seen on Mohlala’s death.
It would be nice to think that FIFA, the World Cup Organizing Committee, or the ANC might take Mohlala’s murder as an opportunity to address the allegations he helped to raise. But my guess is that it will only heighten the urgency with which they ignore them.
by Brian Phillips · January 5, 2009