Sunday, January 29, 2023

Nicolas Zakhem – A Pit Bull among Tswana Dogs

Ask anyone close to the Botswana Football Association (BFA) about who controls local football and you will probably get one answer, Nicolas Zakhem.

An unashamed, no-nonsense character and straight talker to boot, the man known as a ‘Pitbull’ by those in football circles, more especially administration, is revered and loathed in equal measure.

Asked as to where the name Pitbull comes from, one administrator had an interesting story to tell. Whether the story is true or not, that cannot be determined.

“Some time ago while talking to Zack (Zakhem), he made some analogy about the mentality of black and white people that I found very interesting,” one football administrator says.

“He said while both equal and human, there is a difference in how they behave. He likened the mentality of whites to that of Pitbulls and that of blacks to Tswana dogs.”

“His analogy was that whereas both are dogs, a Pitbull will never pick and eat food thrown on the ground. On the other hand, Tswana dogs will do such,” says the administrator.

‘Another thing,’ the administrator says, ‘is that the temperament of a Pit Bull is unpredictable. Even if you are its owner, it can turn against you at any time. All the said characteristics portray Zack,” he says.

In all these counts, no one can argue with the administrator. For the past few months, even before he ascended to be the board chairperson of Botswana Football League (BFL), Zakhem has proved to be an untouchable.

Almost everyone who has come up against him, from the BFA NEC to the BFL shareholders, has had to either jump ship or hit a hasty retreat. The man, it seems, is untouchable.

Whereas anyone, including one time ally Jagdish Shah, has at one point or another received a letter of reprimand for misdemeanor, Zakhem is an exception. He says and does what he wants, when he wants, and no one can dare touch him.

Late in March this year after Shah allegedly made some comments in the media blaming the Players Status Committee for the Onkarabile Ratanang registration saga, the BFA quickly intervened.

A couple of days after the alleged comments, the BFA chief executive officer (CEO) Mfolo Mfolo wrote to his counterpart at the BFL Solomon Ramochotlhwane calling for his office ‘to investigate the matter and take appropriate action.’

By contrast, when Zakhem sought to ascend the BFL board chairperson seat in April 2021, he went on a media charade castigating the BFA. In one instance, he was quoted in local media castigating the BFA, even going to an extent of saying ‘football died before covid-19.’

Five months later in September, he was at it again as he castigated his erstwhile friend and the association president MaClean Letshwiti. Speaking to the media, Zakhem publicly ‘apologized to football lovers’ for supporting Letshwiti. He even went on say ‘he made a huge mistake.’

For all these utterances, the GU financier received no reprimand. In fact, he would go on to be voted the board chairperson of the BFL. Here as well, ‘the Pitbull’ has apparently flexed its muscles.

Already, sources within the BFL suggest that he has taken full control of the shareholders. “Apart from at least four (4) clubs, all of the shareholders are under the control of Zakhem,” one insider says.

His ascension to the BFA National Executive, which came courtesy of his position as chairperson of the BFL board has allegedly only served to fortify his control of local football.

Once he arrived in the BFA NEC, it is alleged he did not waste time as he pushed his weight and many fell by the wayside. His most notable casualty was none other than the then association 1st vice president Pelotshweu Mashlow Motlogelwa.

After confrontation with Zakhem during a meeting with a FIFA delegation sent to investigate allegations of financial mismanagement, Motlogelwa, fearing for his professional reputation, jumped ship.

“We made a mistake when we roped in Zack to help us during our election campaign,” one administrator says. “He is now in control and there is little that can be done about it.”

With Masego Nchingane having ascended to the position vacated by Motlogelwa, this has left the position of association’s 2nd vice president vacant. With the BFL pushing to be given the position, signs are that Zakhem will be the association’s next 2nd vice president.

Should this come to pass, it will make Zakhem third in command in local football. He will sit in the BFA emergency committee, which will accord him a say in all football decisions in the country.

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