Leopards beware the Sudan
Dear Mr Thidiela
I take this opportunity to congratulate you and your team Black Leopards for reaching this stage of the CAF Confederation Cup. I am particularly impressed by the fact that you do not have the same resources as some of the Gauteng-based teams and one can safely say you run the team on a shoe-string budget.
You have conquered teams from Zimbabwe, DR Congo and Nigeria and that speaks volumes about the courage and bravery of your team. Agreed, it has not been an easy ride for your team in the Premier League. Leopards have been flirting with relegation since the beginning of the season.
I am writing this column prior to your six pointer against Jomo Cosmos. Yet I cannot help but marvel at the gallant manner in which your team has raised the South African flag on the continent. In fact, the performance has made some of us walk with our chests all puffed up.
However, I am deeply concerned about your upcoming fixture against Sudan-based Al Merreikh in the next round of the CAF Confederation Cup. I was in Sudan to cover TP Mazembe’s match against Al Merreikh in the African Champions League last week.
Let me inform you that the experience was not pleasant. First we arrived at the Khartoum International airport on Thursday and immigration officials made us wait for four hours before we could clear customs. I was in a group of 83 people but all of us were made to queue at a single desk, despite the fact that there are 15 desks at their immigration department.
Once we had cleared customs, Merreikh supporters waylaid us on the upper balcony of the airport and rained missiles on us. Seven members of the traveling party sustained various head and facial injuries. We eventually made it to the two buses outside the airport intended to transport us to our hotel, all the time ducking more missiles from their supporters.
Our buses were stoned and three windows were broken. We thankfully made it to the hotel, but on arrival police officials warned us not to venture into town as it was unsafe. We were then holed up in the hotel for two days. On match day, merciful, we received a police escort to the stadium.
At the stadium, Mazembe’s reserve players as well as officials and eight members of the media, went to the main grand stand. We were forced, by the vice-president of the club, to vacate the area, even though it was unoccupied, to go and mingle with Merreikh supporters.
We tried to reason with him that the place did not look safe. That was when their supporters hurled frozen water bottles and stones at us from close range. My colleague Maanda Nwendametswu was knocked out stone cold and his lip was split open and required nine stitches from the Mazembe doctor.
In spite of the unprovoked assault, the Merreikh vice-president requested police to eject us and when we pointed out that we had already suffered casualties, with a woman journalist also hit in the face by an unidentified object, the vice-president retorted that “these sort of things are normal in Sudan”.
By the way, our equipment was confiscated on arrival at the airport by immigration officials. They requested us to pay US$4 800. We demanded to know why and for what. We received no answer. The fee was then reduced to US$2 400. Still we demanded to know for what. I went to the Department of International Relations and Co-operation yesterday to request them to intervene on our behalf to try and recover our camera, which is still locked up (hopefully) at the custom arrival hall in Khartoum.
Mazembe scored first, and this triggered yet another round of target shooting from Merreikh supporters. We left the stadium dragging our wounded and resembling the walking dead. My colleague kissed the airport tarmac when we landed at the OR Tambo International airport yesterday.
I am not trying to scare you and your players. I am merely stating facts regarding what happened to us, not back in 1939, but a mere three days ago. I hope you get in touch with Safa to ask Mazembe on your behalf to explain the kind of treatment they received in Khartoum and check if I am exaggerating.
Then hopefully contact the South African Embassy in Khartoum as well because, after 30 years as a journalist (20 of them covering football across the continent), I have never encountered the kind of treatment we received in Khartoum.
Sincerely yours in sport