Why we should keep our flags flying

2010-06-28 00:00

IN a slight rewording of a popular forties song, one might justly sing “Where have all the South African flags gone?” when speeding down any road in our country. When South Africa lost spectacularly to Uruguay two weeks ago, it seemed that Bafana Bafana fans were not the only thing that left the building.

I heard of masses of people tearing down the South African flags one has become so accustomed to seeing, but I was not prepared for the overwhelming evidence that presented itself. These days the national flag on a car is at times noticeably outnumbered, and one can see why. Although we have had time to recover from the Uruguay debacle and the loss of our beloved Itumeleng Khune, it seems that the country is still reeling and many folk I have spoken to seem to regard the still fully fledged World Cup fanfare as a cruel reminder of a national pride that was lost in that game.

I was at the Sandton fan park when it happened. I screamed myself hoarse, first cursing Parreira and our players during the first half and then the “bloody clock- winding, Toblerone-making, good- for-nothing ref” for the next three days (no offence meant to any Swiss visitors — you must understand that I was in a highly emotional state). I have never regarded myself as a sport fanatic or anything more than an ambivalent spectator, and so I was truly surprised at the keen sense of disappointment that flooded my system after each one of Uruguay’s goals. I felt crushed, heartbroken. It was the exact opposite of the overwhelming joy I experienced after we scored that goal against Mexico.

Curiously, not many people I spoke to have seen our lovely victory against France last week as a redeeming feature in our World Cup performance. I myself am on the fence with this one. I was surprised and delighted when we beat France, but the humiliation of our boys at the hands of Diego Forlan still loomed large in my mind. Why is it that we have reacted in this way? Almost everyone, including me, confesses to suspecting that we would not get very far in the tournament, and yet we mourn our knockout with the gusto of defending champions. My friend Megan puts it eloquently. “We knew our team was going to lose sometime, but the hype in the media was so great that we suspended our disbelief, and now we feel stupid and naïve because of that.”

The proof of her words is in the pudding. These days I can drive to the mall and back without spotting one South African flag on a quiet day, which was a mission impossible just a couple of weeks ago. So is that it then? We tried, we failed, no use crying over spilt milk? Perhaps not. But what is the alternative?

I think my sister, Jesse, has the right idea. When I asked if any flags had come down in her house or car she exclaimed: “Of course not. I didn’t have the flags up for our team in the first place. They were up because it is an honour to host the cup, whoever wins, and I am proud of us for doing that.” Her words reminded me of a memory from the Sandton fan park that had previously been overshadowed by all my shouting at the ref: a moment before the game started when one of the more well-known adopted anthem songs, Wave Your Flag, came on. There must have been 20 000 people standing in front of that screen, and every voice was singing and every arm was waving either a flag or a vuvuzela in time to the music. It was a wonderful, inspiring moment of the kind of togetherness we South Africans are famous for but seldom experience in our day-to-day lives.

This last option seems the best. We have all this patriotic pride and a whole bunch of vuvuzelas still lying around, why not put them to good use? After all, to err is human, especially for Bafana Bafana (or Bafana Banana, as I have taken to calling them) but to sit back and be glad of the awesome opportunity to host this event feels simply divine.

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