Lift Afcon trophy for unity and patriotism

2013-01-13 10:00

On Saturday, Bafana Bafana will trot into the National Stadium to face the unknown Cape Verde in the opening match of the 2013 Africa Cup of Nations (Afcon).

The national team will be carrying the hopes of millions of South Africans.

South Africans’ patriotism has been tested severely. There is a lot to be grumpy about.

The SA Football Association (Safa) is its usual dysfunctional self.

The Confederation of African Football (Caf) has shirked its responsibility.

They have not lifted a finger to ensure that the tourney is a success.

They have instead created the false impression that this is a Safa tournament when it is a Caf event.

Bafana themselves have not been exactly inspiring.

Apart from last evening’s match against The Desert Foxes of Algeria, the Gordon Igesund era as head coach has resulted in an interesting pattern: a sequence of losing one match, and winning the next.

However, it is important to recognise that it is more than football glory that’s at stake.

Until Egypt won the Afcon in 2010, to mark their third triumph in the tournament, teams in the Afcon finals competed for the “Trophy of African Unity” or “African Unity Cup”.

The significance of the name of the trophy is sometimes lost in the hurly-burly world of commodified sport where agents and sponsors rule the roost.

Since its inception in 1957, the Afcon has been about extending the hand of friendship to neighbours cut off from each other by borders they had no say in creating.

The Cup has been about fostering a common Africanness among nations.

This is particularly significant for South Africa that has, of late, suffered the bane of xenophobia, particularly against black Africans.

For three weeks, South Africa will get an opportunity to redeem itself with its treatment of fellow Africans, while selling itself as one of the continent’s – and the world’s – most worthy sporting destinations.

It is a unique opportunity that must not be lost just because the local and continental football associations have been lethargic in helping put together the spectacle that the Afcon deserves.

Despite the many reasons to be gloomy, we wish Bafana Bafana well and urge all South Africans to back them.

Those fans unable to back the team should use their energy for something other than the abominable practice of booing our players.

We also hope that, once more, football and unity will be the ultimate winners.

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