Bafana Bafana

Fast fixes, loose tongues

2014-01-21 14:05
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 champions Spain.

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 Africa ...)

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 sporting insight.

“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 those.

Why, if they somehow occur, and you should not hold your breath, they might even make “Bafana Bafana” sound really, really good again ...

*Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing

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Read more on:    bafana bafana  |  fikile mbalula  |  soccer

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