Guest Post by Marc Fletcher* (cross-posted with permission of Africa is a Country and the author.)
One of the key sights of this year’s Africa Cup of Nations has been emptiness. Aside from the opener between South Africa and Cape Verde, the television cameras have picked up images of large swathes of empty seats. Whether it was Burkina Faso’s last gasp equalizer against Nigeria in Nelspruit or Tunisia’s equally late winner versus Algeria in Rustenburg, the empty seats appeared to outnumber the fans that had made the trip. Coverage from previous editions of the tournament in Ghana, Angola and Equatorial Guinea picked up similar images. This is clearly not a South African-only problem.
I had earlier hoped that the more reasonable pricing structure for this tournament as opposed to the 2010 World Cup would have made the games more accessible to majority of poorer, working class football fans; those who make up the vast majority of the support base of South Africa’s domestic clubs. The empty seats suggest that it’s reaching few people in general.
So what are the issues behind this?
Firstly, there aren’t many players in this tournament that can be described as superstars. In the World Cup, there was Messi, Ronaldo and the entire Spanish squad. This time around, there’s Didier Drogba, whose career is winding down in China but few others. Yes, there are players such as Yaya Touré and Asamoah Gyan but they simply do not have the same star status. Why spend hard-earned money to watch two teams that you have little or no interest in?
Secondly, the 5 pm kick off times are hardly conducive to getting bums on seats. As I write this, I have one eye on the Bafana v Angola match. While attendance seems to be significantly greater than in most of the other matches, there are still many empty seats. Traffic at this time in the major cities can be nightmarish and some fans will be unwilling to put themselves through the gridlock and confusion. To make sure that you get to the stadium in plenty of time means taking the afternoon off work.
A big contributory factor is that that there are few, if any African countries that have a large fan base with a large enough disposable income to fly out to the southern tip of the continent for the tournament. Unlike the vast hoards of traveling football tourists at the Euros or at the World Cup, the support of visiting teams is usually restricted to a small rump of die-hard regular fans who are sometimes subsided by the state or political parties. While the commitment on the part of these fans is impressive, this is not going to fill these former World Cup venue. This is a problem that is not going to go away anytime soon.
But the thing that strikes me most as I write from Johannesburg is the absence of evidence that the tournament is taking place. In 2010, there were numerous posters around the city, large fan parks with big screens and people blowing vuvuzelas on street corners. Thousands crammed onto the streets in the north of the city when Bafana went on an open-top bus tour while a giant photo of Cristiano Ronaldo was emblazoned on Nelson Mandela Bridge. This time, it is severely underwhelming. There is no party atmosphere, no fan parks, little hype on local television or radio. Bafana shirts are far less apparent on the street in contrast to 2010. It’s not totally absent though. Staff at my local Spar were wearing their Bafana shirts today, while bar staff on Soweto’s tourist strip on Vilakazi Street were doing the same.
Still, it’s as if the tournament has passed Jo’burg by and I wouldn’t be surprised if it passes most of South Africa by with little more than a passing awareness that Africa’s biggest football tournament is in their country. The slogan of the tournament is “The beat at Africa’s feet,” but this beat is strangely subdued.
Maybe people realize that they have more important things to do than watch football?
N.B. During the South Africa vs Angola match, Moses Mabhida stadium in Durban seemed to be fuller in the second half. The commentator on Supersport (the South African satellite channel that dominates football broadcasting on the continent) has suggested that there is an excessive number of security cordons, which has delayed many fans from getting into the ground until the latter part of the first half.
* Marc Fletcher (MarcFletcher1), a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Johannesburg, blogs at One Man and His Football: Tales of the Global Game.
Guest Post by *Marc Fletcher
Gloomy skies and wet weather greeted the Research Forum on South African Football held at the University of Johannesburg (UJ) last month. The bleak conditions made for an intimate crowd, but the academics, journalists and sports practitioners in attendance were rewarded with three strikingly different presentations on varying aspects of the “beautiful game” in South Africa. The aim of the forum was to advance the specialized study of soccer in the country and beyond.
First up was Chris Bolsmann, a South African sociologist based at Aston University, Birmingham. His paper entitled “Professional Football in Apartheid South Africa: Leisure, Consumption and Identity in the National Football League, 1959-1977″ provided a rich history of the whites-only National Football League (NFL) during apartheid. The common misconception of South African football is that it has historically been, and continues to be, an exclusively black, working-class game. Yet, Chris’s work challenges such a perception and begins to reconstruct a past that is often forgotten or even ignored. Matches in this white league were staged in front of segregated crowds. A successful corporate affair, the NFL attracted a host of world-renowned players, including George Best and Bobby Charlton. In concluding that the NFL became the leisure and sporting entertainment of choice for significant numbers of white and black (particularly Indian and Coloured) South Africans, this history emphasized how football in South Africa has had a more diverse support base than is often acknowledged.
My paper on “Divisions, Difference and Encounters in Johannesburg Soccer Fandom,” explored contemporary cultures of fandom beset by race and class divisions, where domestic football is regularly constructed as an Africanized space without white supporters. However, through an ethnography of Kaizer Chiefs, Bidvest Wits, and Manchester United supporters’ clubs in Johannesburg, I began to explore the deeper complexities, where supporters on the margins of these groups began to engage with the other. In doing so, some fans challenged these social barriers in football and thus reinterpreted their understanding of soccer fandom and their wider experiences of everyday life in the city.
Chris Fortuin, based in the Department of Sport and Movement Studies at UJ, gave the third paper–an eye-opening account of the grim state of youth development in South African football. It was alarming to hear the inadequate ratio of qualified youth coaches to players in South Africa compared to some of the giants of international soccer, especially Spain. The shortage of such coaches, along with the absence of a coherent development plan at the national level, is harming the game at all levels and has contributed to the malaise of the men’s national team, Bafana Bafana.
The presentations encouraged members of the audience to think more seriously about football as an academic field of inquiry. During the second half of the forum panelists responded to numerous questions from the floor. One question stuck out, one that is often asked; why are black South Africans not writing about this subject? It is true that much of what is written on the subject is by foreigners like me. But a main goal of football scholars, regardless of origin, is to empower South African students in the humanities and social sciences (and other fields) with tools and desire to critically engage with football studies.
With questions on the presentations filling up the second half, the question of where does the academic study of South African football go from here was left unresolved. Events such as the UJ forum can play a vital role in motivating South African scholars to research and write about their game. Clearly, football is a legitimate and fascinating area of research. But many more events like the forum are needed to further develop the field and chart future directions.
To this end, readers of this blog who are in the Johannesburg area, are welcome to attend the UJ Wednesday Seminar Series on Wednesday, May 8, at 3:30pm, where I will be presenting a paper entitled “Reinforcing Divisions and Blurring Boundaries: Race, Identity and the Contradictions of Johannesburg Soccer Fandom.” For details about the event click here.
The journey continues.
*Marc Fletcher, a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Johannesburg, blogs at One Man and His Football: Tales of the Global Game. Follow him on Twitter: @MarcFletcher1
These are interesting times for politics and football in South Africa. The African National Congress is meeting this week in Bloemfontein/Mangaung to select the ruling party’s new leaders while 94-year-old Nelson Mandela is still hospitalized recovering from surgery and a lung infection. Domestic football has been rocked by a FIFA match fixing report alleging that a transnational match-fixing syndicate based in Singapore, assisted by South African Football Association (SAFA) officials, fixed Bafana Bafana’s friendlies against Thailand, Bulgaria, Colombia and Guatemala in the build up to the 2010 World Cup. Five SAFA men, including its president, Kirsten Nematandani (in photo above), have been suspended pending “further examination” of possible “criminal intent in collusion” with a front organization set up by the convicted match fixer Wilson Raj Perumal.
Consumed by the details of this latest sporting malfeasance as well as the tensions in ANC politics at a particularly difficult moment for South Africa, I was stunned to belatedly learn of the death of Sedick Isaacs at the age of 72. I had the extraordinary privilege to meet him in 2010 while a Fulbright Scholar at the University of KwaZulu-Natal (UKZN). I was humbled and honored to share the stage with Isaacs in a symposium on football history held on the UKZN Westville campus and sponsored by the German cultural exchange program, DAAD.
Isaacs spoke matter-of-factly about the cruelty and hardships endured during his 13 years on Robben Island. What had earned him a place in apartheid’s most notorious prison had been his role as saboteur in the armed struggle. Standing before us wearing a blue sweater in the humidity of sub-tropical Durban, Isaacs pointed out that his years on Robben Island had left him always feeling cold regardless of the temperature. A point he reiterated in Cape Town two weeks later when he spoke at my book launch for African Soccerscapes. (That’s us in the photo below.)
By studying and playing on Robben Island, Isaacs told us, prisoners formed and maintained communities of survival and resistance. He earned a university degree while behind bars and also helped to build and administer the prisoners’ Makana Football Association. (The story is admirably told by Chuck Korr and Marvin Close in More Than Just a Game: Football v Apartheid.) When the prisoners finally secured the warden’s approval for their league after three years of struggle, Isaacs ended up handling much of the day-to-day operations of the Makana FA.
Dr. Isaacs explained that the weekly cycle of matches proved crucial in fighting “eventless time” — a debilitating condition for prisoners serving lengthy sentences. The cycle worked something like this: teams started the week by analyzing the previous match and then by midweek there was growing anticipation for upcoming matches. Conversations, banter, and meetings stoked the hype and created heroes and personalities. By the weekend, excitement surrounding the matches reached fever pitch. Football’s importance, Isaacs said, was enhanced by its force as a provider of human emotions in an emotionally neutral context.
Isaacs pointed out that the only positive effects of long prison sentences is that they can strengthen prisoners’ organizational skills and improve their understanding of human nature. The activities of the Makana FA reinforced this outcome. Intriguingly, both candidates for the ANC presidency in 2012, South African President Jacob Zuma and his challenger Kgalema Motlanthe, played football on Robben Island. “If it had not been for the beautiful game and these community building devices,” Isaacs concluded, “we could have become psychological and physical wrecks incapable of integration into a multicultural world, let alone be able to contribute positively to it.” May you rest in peace Sedick Isaacs. An exemplary South African who can teach folks in Mangaung and at SAFA a few lessons about doing the right thing in politics and football.
Boosted by a home crowd of 20,000 fans, including President Teodoro Obiang Mbasogo, Equatorial Guinea crushed South Africa 4-0 in the final of the 8th African Women’s Championship in Malabo on Sunday.
Banyana Banyana — as the team is affectionately known — held out until the 43rd minute when the home team took the lead through Chinasa’s header from a corner kick. The goal seemed to take the wind out of Banyana’s sails. After the break the qualitative difference between the two sides became evident. Midway through the second half Banyana lost their concentration, giving up three goals in six minutes to the Nzalang Nacional (Nation’s light): Costa (66′), Anonman (70′) and Tiga (72′).
“Falling at the final hurdle is a major disappointment to all involved with Banyana Banyana,” said head coach Joseph Mkhonza at the post-match press conference. In a year that saw South Africa’s women’s team reach two major milestones, competing in the Olympics for the first time and finally beating powerhouse Nigeria, Mkhonza looked ahead and said that “Banyana Banyana should be able to qualify for international tournaments, such as the World Cup and the Olympics, in the future.”
It is always tough to play a final against the host nation, but the big game in hostile territory did appear to get the best of the South Africans. The night before the match, for example, Banyana captain Amanda Dlamini (@Amanda_Dlamini9) shared her state of mind on Twitter. “I don’t know how I’m going to sleep tonight. If I’m going to sleep at all,” she wrote. Then a few hours before the match, defender Janine Van Wyk (@Janinevanwyk5), whose marvelous goal beat Nigeria in Wednesday’s semifinal, tweeted: “Very IMPORTANT game today. I’m so nervous its [sic] insane but I know we will do well.” Perhaps adding to the pressure of the moment, the office of the Presidency (@PresidencyZA) followed by tweeting its support: “President Zuma wishes Banyana well.”
That Banyana could not field three overseas players partly explains Sunday’s result. Midfielder Kylie Ann Louw and reserve goalkeeper Roxanne Barker stayed in the United States due to study commitments, while midfielder Nompumelelo Nyandeni remained with her club in Russia. “Losing a player of Nyandeni’s talent and experience will always be a setback to any team,” said Mkhonza. Another factor to consider has to do with oil-rich Equatorial Guinea’s “willingness to hand out passports to players who agree to play for them without any period of residency,” as Ian Malcolm of goal.com put it. “Almost the entire squad selected for the African Women’s Championship were born outside Equatorial Guinea, most in Brazil, but also in other African states.” While not illegal according to FIFA rules, the ethics of this all-star team formation are questionable.
The buzz about Banyana from South Africans on social media was overwhelmingly positive. “You did South Africa proud, the whole team deserves a heroes welcome. You passed all expectation and showed your greatness,” @RhandzuOptimus wrote in a tweet that captured the general tenor of South Africans’ reactions. The government chimed in too. Sports Minister Fikile Mbalula said that “Although they did not win the (African) Championships, Banyana Banyana have proven that they are an ever improving team that has shown progress over the last year.”
Now that the tournament is over what will happen to the “Banyana Bandwagon”? Practitioners and fans know that women’s football in South Africa needs much more investment and support. Even at the elite level there is no season-long national league. And as Thabo Dladla, founding director of Izichwe Youth Football in Pietermaritzburg, explains in a comment to my previous Banyana post: “There are no competitions for girls junior teams. Our girls only start playing football at the university level. These issues have nothing to do with money. SAFA should play the role in terms of promoting the game.” The road ahead is long and tortuous. We’ll be following developments closely.
Prishani Naidoo and Zanele Muholi, “Women’s bodies and the world of football in South Africa,” in Ashwin Desai, ed., Race to Transform: Sport in Post-Apartheid South Africa (HSRC Press, 2010).
Cynthia Fabrizio Pelak, “Women and gender in South African soccer: a brief history,” Soccer and Society 11, 1/2 (2010); 63-78.
Martha Saavedra, “Football Feminine—Development of the African Game: Senegal, Nigeria, and South Africa,” Soccer and Society 4, 2/3 (2003): 225-253.
Guest Post by Chris Bolsmann (@ChrisBolsmann)
Four matches into the Premier Soccer League season and newly promoted University of Pretoria remain unbeaten. Even more surprisingly, Tuks, as the university side are known, are second on the table behind South African football giants Kaizer Chiefs. The name Tuks is derived from the institution’s original name: Transvaal University College, established in 1908. During a recent visit back to my hometown of Pretoria I watched Tuks play against city rivals Supersport United at the intimate L. C. de Villers Stadium. The uninspiring derby ended in goalless stalemate. Former national team goalkeeper, Rowan Fernandez pulled off a world-class save in the dying minutes of the game to earn Supersport United a point. This moment of brilliance was his only significant contribution but was enough to earn him the man of the match award.
I was an undergraduate student at the University of Pretoria during the volatile early 1990s. The University of Pretoria was an overwhelmingly white campus during this period with a substantial number of visible and active extreme right-wing students. It was a sign of the troubled times that the fascist Afrikaner Weerstandsbeweging (AWB) essentially barred Nelson Mandela from speaking on campus. My politics classes were attended by students who left leave their 9mm pistols on their desks to either intimidate progressive lecturers or students or both.
Between 1993 and 1998 I also played football for Tukkies in the local amateur leagues. We fielded two teams and were relatively successful during this period. Our home ground was one of two fields in the enormous L. C. de Villers sports complex. Training was on Tuesday and Thursday evenings after lectures and matches on Saturday afternoons. Sunday football was deemed to violate the Sabbath and thus prohibited. The university sporting authorities were passionate about rugby but not particularly interested in football. Rugby was played on many pitches and, of course, in an impressive rugby stadium that could seat 10,000 spectators. Soccer teams weren’t issued the university regulation kit nor were we acknowledged at the end of the year sports functions.
With this history in mind, it was great to watch Tuks play PSL football at the former rugby stadium in front of a small crowd that included many black students. How things have changed at the University of Pretoria! Many of the previously sacred rugby pitches are now football fields; the football club now has teams from under 6 all the way up to the professional team. Moreover, women’s teams and university residential hall teams also play competitively.
Why the university authorities have invested substantial resources into football is perplexing. Tuks football is not a money-making venture since it attracts few paying spectators. My sense is that the University of Pretoria sees a professional football team as a marketing opportunity that helps strategically reposition itself as a premier university for all South Africans. The university has changed from its heyday as the elite training ground for Afrikaner nationalists, but as with many of South Africa’s symbols, what do we make of Tuks’s badge featuring an ox-wagon on their white shirts? Will this powerful symbol of the Boer Voortrekkers of the 1830s be reappropriated and adapted for a new era much like the Springbok survived apartheid to remain the symbol of South African rugby?
South Africa’s Premier Soccer League is back in action. For the next nine months, we are assured of the thrills, spills, and glossy mediocrity of Africa’s richest domestic championship. Things are already getting interesting. Newly promoted Chippa United fired their coach just two games into their maiden PSL campaign and Mamelodi Sundowns walloped crowd favourites Kaizer Chiefs 4-1 in the MTN 8 quarter-finals before crashing to a 2-1 home defeat against lowly Maritzburg United.
Off the pitch, the heir-apparent to the Chiefs’ throne and incumbent team manager, Bobby Motaung (whose father, Kaizer Motaung, is the founder-owner of the club) was arrested and then released on bail in relation to allegations of fraud and corruption around the construction of the Mbombela Stadium used in the 2010 World Cup. It says a lot about the state of South Africa that the son of a multi-millionaire — and a wealthy man in his own right — is one of the people under scrutiny for illegal self-enrichment from an expensive tournament that was punted to economically uplift so-called ordinary men and women on the street.
The prelude to any forthcoming football season is typified by the movement of players, coaches and even administrators to new teams. While the top clubs made the obligatory headline-grabbing plunges into the transfer market, Bidvest Wits made the boldest acquisitions. (Formerly known as Wits University, “The Clever Boys” were bought by one of the country’s biggest financial companies a few years back.) Their long-serving coach departed, a new CEO was appointed, and a number of high-profile players signed. Could these moves mark the dawn of a new era for the Johannesburg club? Or will they remain little more than a mid-table team capable of an upset or two and an occasional run in a knockout tournament?
Probably the most notable new Wits recruit is former Bafana Bafana captain, Aaron “Mbazo” (“The Axe”) Mokoena. The player most likely to partner Mbazo in the centre of the defence is the man he replaced as national captain: Mbulelo “OJ” Mabizela. The progression of the two centre-backs’ careers could not be more divergent. Yet they seem to capture the different experiences and trajectories of players who emerged in the PSL, made it the Promised Land of the English Premier League, and then returned home to play out their days.
Both men were born in 1980. Mbazo was the first to make it to the professional ranks. After being discovered by the iconic manager Jomo Sono at the age of 15, he made his professional debut two years later, and soon he was in the national team. His ascension to Bafana Bafana, however, was shrouded in controversy. Caretaker coach Jomo Sono selected the unknown and unproven Mokoena for the 1998 African Nations Cup in Burkina Faso where Bafana Bafana were to defend their continental title. Jomo Sono is not only a club owner and manager, but also a player agent of note, and there were rumblings that his selection of Mbazo was largely influenced by his personal interests in the young defender. The rumblings proved to be accurate.
Guest Post by Chris Bolsmann (c.h.bolsmann [at] aston [dot] ac [dot] uk)
COVENTRY–In a week when South African cricketers and golfers recorded convincing victories, a hat trick of results would have seen South Africa’s women’s national team celebrate their first appearance at the Olympic Games by beating Sweden. But facing a team ranked 4th in the world, Banyana Banyana (Zulu for “the ladies”) could not pull off the miracle win.
The South Africans met their Swedish counterparts in Coventry, 100 miles north of London, in the second match of a double header. Japan beat Canada 2-1 in the early game in front of 18,000 spectators, while the 2011 World Cup third-place finishers defeated South Africa 4-1.
Normally called the Ricoh Arena and home to Coventry City FC, the City of Coventry Stadium looked quite different from its normal appearance full of advertising hoardings. The Olympic organisers were not quite able to cover up all of Coventry City’s history though, as a photo of the 1987 FA Cup winning team adorned one of the stadium walls.
While Banyana Banyana have always worn the yellow and green colours of the South African Football Association, this time the squad entered the pitch in a horrible-looking green and white vertically striped kit, courtesy of the South African Sports Confederation and Olympic Committee’s official kit supplier: Erke, from China. The crowd had dwindled to a few thousand for the second match and the majority of photo press had left the stadium. A small contingent of South African fans remained who were vocal throughout but were outnumbered by Swedish fans and locals who supported their European neighbours.
Sweden kicked off and, ominously, twice hit the cross bar in the opening six minutes. The Scandinavians went ahead in the 7th minute thanks to a Nilla Fischer shot from outside the box that was cruelly deflected past United States-based Roxanne Barker in the South African goal. Then the Swedes again hit the cross bar and doubled their lead in the 20th minute when Lisa Dahlkvist poked home a ball from the flanks. A minute later Sweden scored a third goal when South African stalwart Janine van Wyk was beaten for pace on a through ball and Lotta Schelin slotted past the on rushing South African keeper. After 21 minutes Banyana’s debut had turned into a nightmare and a real humiliation was on the cards.
The South African midfield were constantly over run by the more forceful and creative Swedes and the defence were outpaced on numerous occasions, allowing for the Swedes to cross balls into the box at leisure. To her credit, Barker dealt well with crosses and high balls and remained calm under constant Swedish pressure.
The second half saw Banyana kick off with far more purpose and creative intent. In the 60th minute, Portia Modise, a former World Player of the Year nominee, dispossessed a Swedish midfielder well within the South African half and from inside the centre circle unleashed a wonderful strike to beat Hedvig Lindahl. Modise’s goal restored South African spirits and momentarily gave South African supporters some hope. But three minutes later Schelin got her second goal of the match and restored the three-goal margin.
The final quarter of the game saw South Africa struggle with fitness and the match ended with a resounding victory for the Swedes. Sweden had over 57% possession and outshot South Africa 21 to 7. Banyana Banyana were outclassed by a technically superior and fitter Swedish side. After the shock of allowing three goals within 25 minutes, Banyana settled and showed a few individual moments of skill but were unable to retain possession for any length of time. It won’t get any easier in this tournament for South Africa: they face Canada on Saturday and World Champions Japan the following week.