Top referee Victor Hlungwani would be forgiven for feeling bitter and disappointed by the South African soccer fraternity right now.
I know that I would be bitter and feeling let down if I was in his position.
On September 16, Hlungwani was a victim of one of the worst abuses that any South African football official has suffered.
He was called all kinds of ugly names that one can think of by Black Leopards boss David Thidiela and warned “never” to set foot in Thohoyandou again because the club boss would not be responsible for what might happen to him.
Thidiela has since apologised to Hlungwani and even made a public apology for his vitriolic attack on the poor whistleman.
The club boss was handed a “cautionary suspension” and appeared before the PSL disciplinary committee last month, which promised to issue its verdict this month.
As if the abuse he suffered was not enough, Hlungwani was also put on ice for a month by Safa following that particular match, which Leopards lost 1-0 to Bloemfontein Celtic.
The reason for the cold shoulder?
Hlungwani and the other match officials had agreed to change their Outsurance uniforms because they felt that their colours clashed with those of Celtic.
This is common practice, however, it so happened that Safa had just signed a sponsorship deal with the insurance company that compelled match officials to wear branded outfits.
Referee Victor Hlungwani. Picture: Samuel Shivambu/BackpagePix
At the time, Safa insisted that Hlungwani was not suspended, which raised suspicions as to how one of the best referees in the country could be left out of matches for an entire month.
What’s puzzling is that Safa has done zilch about the Thohoyandou incident. The national body is wont to remind us at every turn that referees fall under its jurisdiction.
It is Safa that provides referees to the PSL and the NFD, which both fall under the National Soccer League, the holding company under which the PSL trades.
The PSL is a special member of Safa, therefore Safa cannot turn around and tell us that it is awaiting the outcome of Thidiela’s case unless it wants to confirm the notion that its relationship with its special member is still that of a tail waging the dog.
In fact, from the onset, Safa should have ordered the PSL to deal with this matter speedily as it is not just a football matter, but one that could have serious implications, especially in areas such as Vuwani, which burned continuously two years ago because of tensions between Tsonga and Venda peole.
This delay by Safa must be a matter of concern for referees on how safe and protected they are under the organisation.
But, there’s more...
Hlungwani has been left out of the elite Fifa panel of referees.
In the wake of his omission from this prestigious panel, whose members get to officiate at international matches sanctioned by the CAF and Fifa, Hlungwani was last Saturday given the task of handling one the biggest matches on the South African calendar – Kaizer Chiefs against Mamelodi Sundowns at FNB Stadium.
One of the two officials running the line at this game – in a role that has come to be known as assistant referee, formerly linesman – was one Johannes Moshidi.
Moshidi, just like Hlungwani, has been dropped from the international list of assistant referees.
Now, you tell me, is it not puzzling that Safa finds Hlungwani and Moshidi not good enough to handle international matches, but fit to handle one of the biggest domestic fixtures? I smell a rat.
Hlungwani was also put on ice for a month by Safa following that particular match, which Leopards lost 1-0 to Bloemfontein Celtic.
At 42 years old, Hlungwani is only three years away from the international referees’ retirement age.
While one might somehow understand Safa’s explanation that it wants to pour new blood into the international panel, must this happen at the expense of some of the best and most experienced officials?
Hlungwani is highly rated, a view to which this writer also subscribes, and he is one of the best among the current cream of the crop.
How much would it have cost Safa to let the man continue for the next three years and retire on a high with his dignity intact?
Just as one politician for whom English was not his mother tongue was once quoted, I also feel that “ze whole sing is politik”.