Fast fixes, loose tongues
Fikile Mbalula (Gallo Images)
Cape Town - The sound of knees jerking and dummies being
spat from cots reverberates rather depressingly around South Africa right now.
VIDEO: Fans respond to Bafana's loss
OPINION: Ditch Bafana Bafana, let's go with...
Not for the first time, of course, the horn has sounded on “Bash
Bafana Bafana” season.
The phenomenon does occasionally rear its head for our
national rugby or cricket teams, but they are riding notably higher on the
world pops than the soccer crew - the Proteas head the Test rankings and the
Springboks have made stealthy progress back to No 2 on the planet - so
currently dodge the serial backstabbers.
But Bafana - ailing in Africa, never mind the greater world - are easy meat once more, and vultures and bottom feeders have descended in
predictable droves after their group-phase exit from the home-staged 2014
African Nations Championship (Chan).
The hysteria has been so immense on this occasion that you
would think they have slumped to a new low.
Quick but necessary correction at this point: in a landscape
that had admittedly been “awkward” for Bafana, at best, for many years, latest
developments - from an experimental, lightweight sort of tournament minus any
overseas-based players - don’t come close to matching some of the more
ignominious timeline moments in their still short, post-democracy history.
But that crucial 3-1 loss to Nigeria (and could there be
just a hint of xenophobic distaste in some people simply not stomaching the
Super Eagles’ traditional stranglehold over South Africa?) inevitably brought
fresh foam to domestic mouths.
Leading the dubious charge, regrettably, was Sports Minister
Fikile Mbalula, with his extraordinary yet abjectly unscientific outburst
against Bafana, unapologetically branding them “a bunch of losers ... who don’t
have any respect for this country”.
It is funny how only a few weeks ago the very Mr Mbalula was
among a gaggle of dignitaries (it can be tempting to use that word advisedly) striding
into the home dressing room to eulogise the 1-0 friendly victory over World Cup
Wow, how swiftly the mighty fall, don’t they?
Little wonder that on Tuesday President Jacob Zuma -- in a
welcome decisive and sensible step -- saw fit to state that “the national team
has improved greatly and needs our support”.
He also suggested that “the current coach (embattled Gordon
Igesund) knows what he’s doing”, even if that is a matter more deserving of
rational debate, I grant you, than Mbabula’s ill-considered salvo from his dirty
old Gatling gun.
Despite President Zuma’s very obvious exercise in damage
limitation, I find it alarming that there seems fair weight of South African public
support early this week for the Sports Minister’s utterances, which included an
absurdly off-side fingering of goalkeeper Moeneeb Josephs for specific blame in
the Nigeria setback.
It is an unwritten but generally respected rule, I think,
that in most reasonably sophisticated and democratic societies the Sports
Minister spiritedly does not intervene in judgement of individual sportspeople.
That becomes dangerous, undesirable and frankly unethical
ground ... just as a previous occupant of Mbalula’s portfolio, Ngconde Balfour,
often did nobody any special favours with such words as: “Who is Jacques
Kallis? Jacques Kallis means nothing to me.” (Equally unforgivable of course,
are apartheid Prime Ministers trying to influence which personnel England, a la
the Dolly Affair of 1968, should not include in their touring parties to South
Just as it is a high-risk exercise to ask a high-level
parliamentary suit to drop-kick a ball to herald the opening of a new stadium –
rather get him to cut a less demanding ribbon, eh? – weighing in on the merits
or otherwise of specific players often only exposes a severe shortage of orthodox
“That goalkeeper ... he was playing with the team, but he
added up a whole lot of mess,” was reportedly one Mbalula literary gem, while
he also showed dubious appreciation of the dynamics at play in concession of
penalties in soccer as he wailed: “The goalkeeper commits a penalty, alone,
single-handedly, and without being assisted by anybody.”
Most of us even vaguely acquainted with the great game also
know that surrendering a penalty is most commonly the work of just one errant
player, rather than some weird, fiendish group assault, isn’t it?
But let’s mercifully leave Mbalula-gate at this point.
As reliably as a
German train schedule, you can bank on another old bogey paying a return visit
at a time of perceived crisis: the possibility of the Bafana nickname being
canned and a new strip (ching-ching, is that the convenient sound of a cash
register I hear?) similarly being introduced.
Of course such imperilment was not deemed necessary when
South Africa won Afcon ’96, or when Siphiwe Tshabalala ignited the 2010 World
Cup with his opening-goal sizzler against Mexico, or, indeed, when the Spanish
Armada was gloriously repelled only in mid-November.
Not the eccentric soapbox words of Fikile Mbalula, nor any
name change or rebranding drive will bag South Africa a berth at their next
intended World Cup party, Russia 2018.
It will require altogether more painstaking, honest,
educated, cool-headed, structurally-geared and introspective measures than
Why, if they somehow occur, and you should not hold your
breath, they might even make “Bafana Bafana” sound really, really good again ...
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writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing
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