Fifa presidential candidate Tokyo Sexwale, the anti-apartheid fighter turned African football money man
Sexwale served prison time with Nelson Mandela and became a tycoon and politician, but none of that has boosted his attempt to become the first African to head Fifa
Tokyo Sexwale served prison time with Nelson Mandela and became a tycoon and politician, but none of that has boosted his attempt to become the first African to head Fifa.
The 62-year-old has endured constant criticism of his campaign hoping to be carried to victory by the 54 votes of the African bloc.
He failed to secure the support of the Confederation of African Football (CAF) and he may not even get South Africa’s vote in Friday’s election for the Fifa president.
Sexwale – pronounced seh-wa-le – is likely to see defeat as just a minor setback in his extraordinary life as a survivor of South Africa’s turbulent history.
Born in Johannesburg’s Soweto township, he became a radical student leader and earned his nickname ‘Tokyo’ for his love of karate.
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Sexwale joined the Umkhonto weSizwe armed wing of the African National Congress and underwent military training in Moscow in 1975.
On his return to South Africa, he was convicted of terrorism and conspiracy to overthrow the government, and sentenced to prison on Robben Island in 1977.
He served 13 years of an 18-year jail term, during which time he helped run the Makana Football Association, a league for political prisoners later given honorary Fifa membership.
After his release, Sexwale enhanced his reputation by taking an active role trying to calm deadly political violence that engulfed black townships.
When Mandela was elected president in 1994, Sexwale was appointed premier of Gauteng, the province which includes Johannesburg and Pretoria.
Unlike many former freedom fighters, he was at home with business leaders, and his career took a new turn after he was out-manoeuvered in the plotting to succeed Mandela.
Taking a break from politics in 1998, Sexwale became one of South Africa’s richest black businessmen with interests in diamond mining, oil, property and the media.
He had little experience, but quick learning and charisma allowed him to reap the benefits of the Black Economic Empowerment programme under which profitable white-run businesses were forced to transfer assets to black partners in a bid to transform the economy.
Sexwale built a rapid and massive fortune that still attracts envy and controversy.
On the football front, he was part of South Africa’s 2010 World Cup bid team and on the organising committee. Organisers have been accused of bribery and Sexwale gave testimony to a US grand jury in December.
After the tournament, he was appointed to Fifa’s anti-racism and anti-discrimination committee.
“I’ve always fought against racism,” he said. “I wouldn’t call European football institutionally racist because racism is a direct act, but I think it is by omission.
“It is time to bring in a person of colour.”
Sexwale has repeatedly defended Sepp Blatter, fuelling critics who say that he is not the man to eradicate corruption within Fifa.
Sexwale suffered a political blow in 2012 when he lost an election for ANC party deputy president. He was sacked as housing minister the following year.
His private life has been as striking as his professional life.
He married a white legal adviser he met on Robben Island, and the couple were feted on the post-apartheid social scene.
But they had an acrimonious separation two years ago.
Their divorce case included disputes over whether Sexwale owned private jets, a luxury island off Mozambique and several vineyards and safari lodges.