Who do we support now?

2010-06-28 00:00

AS Katlego Mphela slotted in Bafana Bafana’s second goal, I was confident that this would be a proud and memorable day for South African football. Not only were the national side well on their way to defeating one of the tournament’s giants, but they were also showing the resilience and determination that have become vital characteristics of a country with a troubled past.

Unfortunately, the Uruguayans could only manage to net a single goal against the Mexicans, forcing the host nation out of the competition in the first round with an unfavourable goal difference, a cruel fate for a team that has showed so much promise in recent matches.

So, following the exit of our national team, to whom do South African fans now turn their attention? In an interesting display of continental allegiance, most South Africans I have spoken to are casting their eyes towards the next African hopeful Ghana or even the Ivory Coast, if they manage a mammoth defeat over the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.

It would seem that despite the marvellous link-up play of teams like the Netherlands or the long-range ability of the likes of Steven Gerrard, many South Africans opt to support teams closer to home.

I’m fairly confident that die-hard English fans would sooner switch their TVs off than switch their allegiance to another team and I can’t imagine the Spaniards, in the event of their team being eliminated from the competition, suddenly sporting orange miniskirts and screaming “Nederland”. Yet South Africans readily turn their attention to the nearest African country with a hope of progressing in the competition.

The fact that the World Cup is the first to be hosted on African soil certainly drums up support for national teams with borders that fall within the continent. If the South African national team is unable to progress, then let it at least be another team from the same continent in which we can place our faith.

This year’s World Cup has become a symbol of the progress of Africa, a chance for the Dark Continent to shake the previously held misconceptions of Western audiences.

On a continent that is often the focus of news reports with headlines telling tales of war, famine and disease, South Africans have become accustomed to being lumped unceremoniously into a narrow grouping along with all the other African nations — a grouping that is more often than not associated with the pejorative. We want to see other developing countries achieving something as prestigious as the placement of the World Cup in their national trophy cabinet.

On the one hand, I’m tempted to praise this Pan-Africanist ideology that sees Africans supporting fellow Africans in a proud and unified allegiance to our continent. Yet, on the other hand, I can’t help but feel that by grouping all African countries together, we are essentially reinforcing the proclivity of the foreign media to do exactly the same thing.

In a postcolonial era in which many less-developed nations are striving to instil a sense of national identity, this kind of oversimplification of an entire continent can prove problematic, to say the least.

However, the difference in this case is that this generalising is not describing a place that is riddled with disease and crime, but rather it is being used to unify African people who are brought together by a single motive — to bring glory to a continent that is too often stereotyped as dependent on foreign aid or as corrupt and dangerous.

It is for this reason that I found myself cheering wildly when the Blacks Stars of Ghana took on the formidable German machine and it is also why I’ll be hoping for a remarkable performance by the Elephants to see them edge their way above the Portuguese in group G.

Regardless of the potential generalising of a continent, I would much more readily support a fellow African football team than turn my loyalty towards some money-grubbing European football giant, regardless of the flair and brilliance of David Villa or Wayne Rooney.

Maybe it is a reflection of the nature of Africa’s media coverage or perhaps it is something that has always been there, but I can’t help but feel that there is something that connects African countries in a unified struggle to be recognised, and it is this affiliation with other nations on the continent that will have me cheering for the African underdogs every time.

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