Now that Afcon is done and dusted, it’s time to look closer at home and apply lessons learned. I see the so-called ‘tiny impoverished country called Burkina Faso made it to the Afcon finals! And we, South Africa, the best and largest economy in Africa, was relegated to spectator status and grudgingly cheered ‘any team will do’ game so long as it was soccer. We sported our Bafana regalia to show our patriotism to our team and country. Although our beloved Bafana didn’t play in the final, our apparel and vuvuzelas served to remind us how glorious it would have been had they not been booted out of the tournament by a team from a country at war. We forgot that we staged and participated in Afcon because Libya could not undertake this glorious function. Our early exit went on to show that one can not profit in all aspects on the misfortunes of others.
Even though Burkina Faso lost in the final, they did a splendid job of teaching us geography and sporting lessons.
For most of us, we did not even know there was a country called Burkina Faso. When we heard about Burkina Faso, we thought it was some small village in the North West Province of South Africa. Had this been a Grade 12 geography question, we would probably have scored 30% since the examiner would have assumed that the North West we referred to was northwest Africa! Goes on to show that belonging to the biggest economy on the continent doesn’t mean we have all the knowledge.
So we were surprised when the radio told us that Burkina Faso was one of the countries that qualified and would be playing in group C in Mbombela. We thought it was going to be a walk over by Togo, one of Africa’s football power houses - only to eat our predictions when Burkina Faso won 1-0.
As in the Pied Piper of Hamelin story in which the Mayor and the Councillors thought he would never go over the top of the hill but were surprised when, as the Piper reached the hill-side a wide cavern opened and all but one of the children were swallowed.
So it was with Burkina Faso. When they drew 1-1 with the mighty Eagles (of Nigeria), we said it was a fluke. The Nigerians were finding their feet (as if the feet were luggage lost in transit). Then they trounced Ethiopia 4-0 and we said the Ethiopians were just colorful without football panache. When they drew nil-nil against Zambia we woke up to the fact that Burkina Faso was a country that meant serious Afcon business.
Suddenly, we were asking who are these Burkina Fasians? (Displaying once again our limited geographical knowledge). We had to learn a few quick facts so we didn’t sound dumb at Afcon shisa nyama parties.
We learned that citizens of Burkina Faso are known as Burkinabé. That’s their demonym. We also learned that Burkina Faso means "Land of upright people" or "Land of honest people", has a land area of 274 200 km² (74th in the world); and a population of 15 730 977 (64th in the world). It is land locked, surrounded by six countries: Mali to the north; Niger to the east; Benin to the southeast; Togo and Ghana to the south; and Cote d’Ivoire to the southwest. Its capital is Ouagadaougou.
We finaly understood that football is a game of skill (the money comes after), and all participating countries field eleven men each, even if its a country of half a million people. With better skills, can still beat a team from a county with tens of millions. (Ask the Angolans about their encounter wth Cape Verde)
We also learned that a team has to earn its place, not to muscle in by being the tournament hosts. If the country is fortunate to get in as hosts, then it has a very difficult time proving that it had the oomph to take on those that proved themselves through elimination matches.
Another lesson learned was that football games are not won by crowds and noisy support. A good team wins regardless of being ignored or written off by the media or relegated to the ‘also played’ group even before the tournament begins.
How to be polite, generous, accommodating, and welcoming all became work in progress as we mastered the art of gracious hosting and being humble losers. We still have to wean ourselves of the idea of entitlement that has ruined our ability to work hard and achieve like everyone else.
Above all, we now know that we can not be the best and number one in everything all the time, others also have their chances. We are not unique. Even the name South Africa is not the only one with ‘Africa’. There is Central African Republic.
Hopefully we now know the adage ‘you win some and loose some’ and that the sun does not always shine on you.
The mighty Pirates still needs to learn that first lesson since they were booted out of the Nedbank cup by minnows Maluti FET College (Safa Second Division League side).