THE 2002-03 season was not a good one for Manchester United — not by the extremely high standards set by the hard-nosed manager Sir Alex Ferguson. The club was dumped out of the League Cup by Arsenal, and then acrimoniously dumped out of the FA Cup in the third round by a rampant Arsenal, by shipping four goals and scoring none.
The league record wasn’t pretty either — and again, Arsenal beat them at Highbury and Old Trafford on their way to a Premier League and FA Cup double. Ferguson was beyond miffed. In a press conference towards the end of the season, he painted his bitter rivals as scrappy winners and said he had the best team. These were the days of the great rivalry between the two football giants. Arsenal manager Arsène Wenger wasn’t going to take the jab quietly.
“Everyone thinks they have the prettiest wife at home,” a caustic Wenger shot back. It has gone down in legend as perhaps his snarkiest putdown.
We are under no such illusions in South Africa. We do not think that we have the team around. The South African national football side has not been able to recover the glorious heights of the 1996 African Cup of Nations. If anything, it has slowly sunk in quality due to — well, a huge number of things. We pine and pine for glory, but it eludes us.
The relationship between Bafana Bafana and the fans is akin to that of the heroin addict and his fix. Those early, shimmering highs have been replaced by something ugly, but we can’t stop jabbing ourselves.
The 2010 World Cup was a fine example of what Bafana has become. The early promise shown in the first game withered when Uruguay’s hitman, Diego Forlán, went to work, and a win against France in the final round was not enough to see South Africa through to the next round. A crestfallen public that had perhaps expected too much searched for another team to lay its hopes upon. Ghana were the only African side to make it to the last 16. And just like that, “BaGhana BaGhana” was born.
Such an awkward and unattractive nom de guerre could have only come from the type of people who think that such a thing is funny: newspaper subeditors and politicians.
“Ghana have to do it for Africa and we must support our new adopted team called BaGhana BaGhana,” said Gauteng Premier Nomvula Mokonyane.
You know what happened next. Luis Suarez, that brilliant yet hateful little gnome, worked his magic and Ghana did not make it to the semifinals. My theory? We jinxed Ghana. We pawed with our grubby hands at a profound moment for the Black Stars of Africa, and ruined it for them.
It seems obvious now, but Ghana were always Africa’s best shot at a first World Cup semi-final. Not Bafana Bafana. Yet how many South Africans were there for the Black Stars before our boys got kicked out of the tournament? And not content just to lend our support, we had to mould the Ghanaian team into something we could consume. They couldn’t just be who they are — they had to become BaGhana BaGhana. You may call it harmless fun. I call it cultural colonialism.
The African Nations Championship is happening at the moment. (It’s not your fault that you haven’t heard of it. The marketing and publicity has been pathetic.) Bafana Bafana are — surprise! — out before the knockout stage. And where has our lust for glory led us, once again? Drive down Oxford Road and look at the posters that the newspapers have put up.
If we took an hour to snap out of our South African navel-gazing and inform ourselves, we would appreciate that the Black Stars have their own, incredible history. This is not just a football team. It is a symbol of Ghana’s self-determination. An emblem of its proud history of struggle against colonialist oppression and of a country’s right to assert itself in the world. This is Kwame Nkrumah’s team.
“Football was brought to countries like Nigeria and Ghana, after all, when they weren’t ‘countries,’ but were essentially fiefdoms of the British. It was new. But God was it popular,” wrote Kieran Dodds in, Africa is a Country.
“That this growth coincided with the growth of national independence and anticolonial movements changed everything. African football and African nationalism were brothers — twins, even — growing up together. The national team thus became the focal point for, firstly, ‘normal’ Africans, but also for leaders like Amílcar Cabral, who recognised in football a revolutionary potential.
“In the absence of an established league system, and in the presence of a burgeoning national identity, the African passion for international football was born. It was to be central to nation building and the consolidation of pan-African solidarity,” he wrote.
When we call the Black Stars something that suits South Africa, we’re smudging out this history. Imagine if some other country tried to appropriate Nelson Mandela (it’s not an exact analogy, but it works), and made a concerted effort to have him renamed so as to suit the people of that country. How would that feel to you? Would it be funny or deeply offensive?
Destiny Man editor Kojo Baffoe finds the “South Africanisation” of the Black Stars insulting. “In a way, it implies that South Africa is superior and, therefore, by localising it, one is celebrating and supporting,” he said.
“The team name was not randomly chosen. Someone didn’t wake up one day and say ‘what a cool idea’, let’s call the team the Black Stars. It is very much about history and a Ghanaian and African identity. The Black Star is at the centre of the flag, the people, and the identity.
“The irony is that the whole thing started during the (2010) World Cup, in a country that is still grappling with xenophobia … that often talks of ‘going to Africa’, and that in many ways sees itself as superior to the rest of the continent. To then seek to claim and ‘support’ a team from a country whose citizens are viewed as ‘makwerekwere’ by changing its name (is insulting),” he said.
I suppose we ought to be a bit happy that South Africans are beginning to notice that the rest of Africa. In a positive way. But we can be better than “BaGhana BaGhana”. It’s not very clever or funny. It’s embarrassing. Headline writers? Politicians? Spare us, please.
On a personal note, I do hope the Black Stars win the CHAN2014. Sorry Nigeria. It’s your fault (for being better than Bafana) that this BaGhana nonsense is back.