By Craig Nudelman
And so it happened on 24 March 2019 that South Africa won their spot in the African Cup of Nations (Afcon) 2019, taking place in Egypt in June/July.
It was a momentous occasion for South Africa. For years, Bafana Bafana have been called “Banana Banana”. Their inability to qualify for any major tournament has made them a laughing stock in African football, most recently in the 2014 and 2018 FIFA World Cups and the 2017 Afcon. Remaining loyal to Bafana during these tough times was as trying as being positive about Zuma’s reign as President. But now Bafana are through to the Finals and the African centerpiece will finally display the acronym ‘RSA’ on the programme.
During this dark footballing decline, from our heyday in 1996 (where we were 16th in the World according to FIFA rankings) to now, I have supported Bafana. My cheers have been outnumbered by my cries of anger for the vast majority of my life, But I have still supported them. I, for some unknown reason, believe that the national team can do us proud once again.
This is also true of my feelings towards our country and its political state. We have lived through some of the most dramatic scenes a state has ever faced. The first democratic election very nearly didn’t happen. The documentary A Bloody Miracle looks at the events from Chris Hani’s assassination on 10 April 1993 to the election on 27 April 1994. During that year blood was shed. A civil war was on our doorstep and yet, wonder of wonders, we survived. That year, so many of us got chills seeing the snaking lines of people finally allowed to vote for the first time. This was truly a breakthrough moment. The apartheid system had ended. But 25 years on, how have we, as a society, evolved?
Since the Zuma presidency, South Africa, like Bafana, has slipped down the rankings. Our economy has broken down, public service has been diminished and our state-owned enterprises are bleeding the country of its much-needed economic support systems. Our education system is one of the worst in the world, and together with a lack of jobs, we have a terrifying unemployment rate. State capture and the Guptas have made a mockery of the country, with only the judiciary and the press still shining some light in dark times (irrespective of load-shedding, thanks to Eskom).
Many of us say we need a ‘Plan B’, furiously trying to get our Lithuanian or Polish passports; digging into our grandparent’s disorganised archives to see where that damn birth certificate is! What a chutzpah that they didn’t know we‘d need proof of their birth as a result of our country’s potential implosion. Perhaps these are the same people who have given up on Bafana, choosing not to watch the national team’s struggles (even though we do klab some nachas from our Yiddishe boychik Dean Furman being in the line-up).
And who can blame them? Increasing populism has made it very difficult to find a place of belonging in society, where we are constantly reminded of our white privilege. Julius Malema said, in his manifesto launch, that the amount of money that people receive in social grants is less than what white people spend to feed their dogs. He exclaimed, “Their (whites’) dogs even have medical aid, our children don’t have medical aid. Their dogs eat steak, they (are) cooked for and eat…” That rhetoric is dangerous. It fuels the fire of racialism and radicalism that Nelson Mandela and the ANC of old tried to get rid of. The ANC is also guilty of this, as is the DA. Its campaign to “Keep the ANC and EFF out of the Western Cape” seemed rather negative and in my mind, a bit racially charged.
We have also seen how disgraceful the ANC is, their list of MPs for the election including the most corrupt of individuals in the previous Zuma administration. The ‘New Dawn’ that was supposed to be Cyril Ramaphosa’s attempt to return the ANC to its former glory has been referred to as the ‘New Dusk’ by political analyst Daniel Silke. The fact that they might receive less than 60% for the elections is a severe blow to the party.
But life and sports will go on. There is the Cricket World Cup in England from 30 May to 14 July where we have a chance of reaching the semi-finals and perhaps ridding ourselves of our reputation as the perpetual ‘chokers’. I am still trying to recover from the last World Cup there in 1999, when a disastrous run-out sent South Africa into a deep depression. And there is of course the Rugby World Cup in Japan; who knows how the Springboks will fair?
Although we may find ourselves in a state of uncertainty over the political aspects in South Africa, at least we have the certainty that sports will carry on, and I will continue to proudly sing, “we will live and strive for freedom in South Africa our land”. Viva South Africa, Viva!