Mzwandile Ishmael Soqaga is a well known Mangaung-based essayist, author and activist. He is renowned for his Pan-Africanist vision. But he is also a sports enthusiast. Here he ventilates his feelings on SA Sports…
What is your overview of the sports scenario so far?
South Africa is a very diverse and heterogeneous country that is always striving to work for unity through diversity. Everybody, beginning from the government, business people and the people at the grassroots level are mostly and habitually affectionate in the event of their country and they often exhibit such sentiments so blatantly. South Africa is a country that grows in gargantuan fashion despite its social setbacks and challenges. It is gratifying that the legacy of 2010 soccer World Cup left behind us beautiful stadiums.
Although South Africa is a dramatic country that is bountiful to the tourists and to the foreign investors, however it still needs to accelerate and bolster its effort to be a winning nation. In fact, South Africans are people who are not apathetic to sports but the crisis is that the people are always disappointed when their national team performs badly. Usually, I don’t think there will be a nation that will like its team to lose so many times!
You have a soft spot for the Springboks, don’t you?
Among popular sports in South Africa I can see that the Springboks (national Rugby squad) is one of the teams that is keenly determined to satisfy its nation. The nation and the world have seen how they played in the rugby world cup recently and in actual fact they are used to hoisting world cup trophies as champions. They were champions in 1995 when they defeated New Zealand All Blacks, and in 2007 they also made the world mark by beating England in the finals. First and foremost, the team was aware that the whole nation was behind them and they never played to bring sadness on the people’s hearts, the springboks played with great zest and with full of energy to ensure that even if feasible they could lose and everybody will accept the outcome with satisfaction.
What I really like to compliment is that during, and before the Rugby World Cup which New Zealand won, the rugby team was utterly aware that they have the support of the nation. Much credit must be given to the Minister of sports, Fikile Mbalula who was in the forefront as a sterling paradigm and advocate of sports as the minister. Through his contributions, the nation responded positively to the Springbok action. The Minister ensured that when the World Cup started, all South African became green and gold. South Africans bought the boks’ merchants to show support for their rugby national team and meanwhile the market was booming. Moreover, what was pleasing mostly was to witness how people in general showed attention in watching the game on television, talking about the boks matches on the street, radios, in the press, working places and elsewhere. It was wonderful and fabulous indeed.
Certainly, if the Boks’ were playing on the soil of South Africa, definitely they were going to defend their championship status successfully, and ultimately they were actually going to produce the appropriate results to make their nation proud and satisfied. I am very content by the enthusiasm and seriousness of the springboks when they played. Their commitment showed that the team understood what it means to play for their country.
These days Bafana Bafana (national soccer squad) seem to be in the doldrums?
Ah! Unlike Bafana Bafana, it is apparent that our national soccer team is the draw players even in their own backyard. They don’t demonstrate any authentic play to the nation. Their loss in Zimbabwe this week was a poignant illustration. It becomes so excruciating to watch Bafana nowadays; sometimes one can sadly recall the momentous and brilliant yesteryear of Doctor Khumalo, Mark Fish and Philemon Masinga etc. Bafana of 1996 were very committed and competent, but currently we witness disappointments and the dwindling standard of football in our national team especially in international matches and African championship. No one can forget that great moment unless someone is ignorant and envious. The magic boots of legs of “Thunder” Jerry Skhosana did a spectacular work for Orlando Pirates in Abidjan Cote D’Voire on 16 December 1995 when ORlando Pirates were crowned champions of Africa after recording an entirely unexpected 1-0 win away to the might of ASEC Mimosa.
Similar with Bafana Bafana’s triumph in 1996, almost the South African people celebrated with gusto with Orlando Pirates. During those days South African celebrated as if it was the New Year. Last year, South Africa hosted soccer World Cup, one of the most lavish and exciting tournaments for the first time on African soil, and Bafana’s performance was not convincing. When we won the bid, Africa and the world celebrated with us; much infrastructural development took place. It was sizzling, and the people’s anticipation was so high, people were expecting a lot.
Overall what transpired ultimately was a great grief and disillusionment. Bafana was knocked out in the first round and it became the first team to fail to qualify for the second round as the host in the history of soccer World Cup. Furthermore, despite the exploits of Ghana Africa did not pull up so many trees at the tournament which saw Spain crowned the champions in the soil of Africa. Verily, as South Africans we must appreciate the fact that losing games is not the fault of the coach. It will be naïve to make noises about the apparent inefficiency of the coach; the current national coach Pitso Mosimane tried to propel the country to quallfy for the Nations Cup finals. Unfortunately it all ended in heartbreak though.
Yet you believe our footballers essentially play exciting football…
No doubt Bafana play very good football. They know how to play and pass the ball, their ball control and defence is impressive but their problem is scoring goals. Scoring goals is part of winning the matches. Playing quality football must concur with scoring goals. In their last qualifying game for African Cup of Nations with Sierra Leone, they were supposed to win that game. They were supposed to confirm that they can make us proud by being a winning nation, but what they did was to preserve a draw and simultaneously they misunderstood the CAF rules and subsequently they failed to qualify for AFCON.
Yet fundamentally Bafana play a rather thrilling brand of football, but they need to learn and adopt the habit to win on their own soil. Their friendly match with Ivory Coast last week again exposed their vulnerability, and a similar situation happened and they secured a draw again. Essentially they were playing good football but fell short of scoring the winning goals, even after they had created clear and plenty chances to win the game. Bafana Bafana needs motivation and the fighting spirit to defend the image of football in this country.
So the victorious 1996 Bafana remain a benchmark
Now current Bafana Bafana players and enthusiasts need to learn soccer lessons from their old heroes who lifted the African Cup of Nations with pride in 1996 in the presence of the revered old man, Nelson Mandela and the late sports minister Steve Tshwete. Surely the boys need to acknowledge and apprehend that once we used to be African champions through the effort of yesteryear soccer legends like Neil Tovey, Lucas Radebe, Mark Fish, Mark Williams and Philemon Masinga etc. They must be inspired and should be filled with confidence to win their games in their own backyard!