Will Bafana ever win SA hearts again?

Henry

Will Bafana Bafana goalkeeper Ronwen Williams’ brilliant performance reignite South Africans’ love for the national football team? Or will it take much more for Bafana – who disappoint South Africans time and again – to become the pride of a nation again?

The 32-year-old Williams, in a quarter-final match against the Cape Verde Islands at the Africa Cup at the weekend, thwarted four of his opponents’ penalty attempts and Bafana finished the match 2-1. It is the first time in 24 years that they have reached the semi-finals of the cup.

South Africa will now face the mighty Nigeria in the semi-final.

But how many fans back in South Africa even bothered to follow this heroic effort in Yamoussoukro on the box?

South Africa is a country of sports enthusiasts. The Springboks win hearts as far as they go – and across all borders and races. Cricket is also hugely popular and has a huge following, and football fans AFP spoke to also get excited about Banyana Banyana, the country’s women’s football team.

But Bafana? They haven’t done much to excite the country so far.

Attendances at international home matches have now dropped into the hundreds, even as thousands of fans flock to matches of local clubs such as Sundowns and Pirates.

Pres. Cyril Ramaphosa wished Bafana luck in a message before Saturday night’s game, and even the president confessed that he was surprised that they had progressed so far.

“To get where they are – when we didn’t expect them to do it – is a truly amazing achievement,” he said at a voter registration point at the weekend.

A quick look at the team’s history may explain the president’s earlier skepticism.

South Africa was kicked out of African football during the apartheid era, but made a promising re-entry after the start of democracy. In 1996, South Africa hosted the African Nations Cup and won the cup on home soil.

From there, things started to go south.

In 2010, South Africa became the only country on the continent to host a World Cup soccer tournament – and then Bafana tumbled out of the tournament in the group stages.

Worth it?

The team did not even qualify for the subsequent three world cups and not even for the previous African Cup.

The South Africans’ performance this year in the Ivory Coast can therefore be described as somewhat of an inspiring story.

However, the tournament has so far done little to rekindle fire among South Africans who have had to endure one disappointment after another for years and no longer have much hope for the team – or even interest in it.

In the bars and watering holes of a place like Soweto, there is not much appetite for the Bafana footballers.

“They haven’t really convinced many people that they are worth the time,” says Collins Tshabalala, a 27-year-old engineer.

Collins and his teammates sat at a table under a TV screen, ordered a few beers and a brandy or so and followed the action – but the rest of the restaurant was actually empty.

Most people probably couldn’t have watched at home either, because the township experienced load shedding at that stage and was shrouded in darkness in places.

Victor Khoza, a 58-year-old carpenter and interior decorator, is unconcerned.

“These guys only cause disappointment. That’s how bad it is, people are without hope. I might go home half-time and go to sleep instead.”

Had he gone to sleep, he would have ultimately missed Williams’ heroic save – and perhaps now fans will sit up again (and stay awake) to cheer on Bafana Bafana.