Jaco Van Der Merwe
Head of Motoring
3 minute read
26 Jan 2017
1:24 pm

Bafana void at Afcon sticks in the throat

Jaco Van Der Merwe

I had known for a long time that Bafana Bafana had failed to qualify for the ongoing Africa Cup of Nations in Gabon.

In fact, I had almost forgotten by the time the tournament kicked off earlier this month. I was also very much aware that neighbours Zimbabwe and the almost forgotten sons of African football, Uganda, had indeed qualified for the biennial showpiece.

I can confirm I did see the balls containing their names on rolled up pieces of paper hopping around during the lottery-style draw last year. Before proceedings got underway in Gabon a couple of weeks ago I also saw the groups and the fixtures. Yes, loud and clear, there was Zimbabwe and Uganda. And no Bafana. I read the previews. I studied the past winners, the record goal-scorers, the works. So by the time I switched on the television to watch Africa’s elite start their battle for continental supremacy, there was no surprises. I had it under control.

I knew exactly what I was getting myself into. But for the myriad emotions that followed over the course of the next couple of days, I was hopelessly ill-prepared. The realisation that Bafana weren’t there became exactly that – real. Then it became confusing. Then it became laughable. Then it became embarrassing, Then I became deeply ashamed.

Then I finally changed the channel, but not even Trevor Noah’s anti-Trump jibes on a competing network can help eradicating the foul stench left by our national football team have left us with for the umpteenth time. Although Zimbabwe and Uganda both crashed out at the first stage, they did extraordinarily well to punch so high above their weight to ensure their seats at Africa’s top table. And that is the very reason I’m so miffed by Bafana’s absence.

Had it been at the expense of a powerhouse like Nigeria that doomed our national pride to follow the Afcon on TV I would have accepted it more generously than I’m doing at the moment. But Zimbabwe and Uganda are not the first Cinderellas to travel to the tournament in style in a carriage while Bafana are left choking on the pumpkin seeds in their own backyard.

Cape Verde, Equatorial Guinea and Ethiopia can be added to that list. They are all examples of tiny little specks on the continental football map that managed to defy the odds and qualify for the Afcon finals.

These humble footballing minorities don’t have domestic leagues that boast of being the richest in Africa and highly-ranked worldwide, they don’t have the facilities and infrastructure of a country that has hosted the World Cup, and they surely do not come close to the number of registered players on their books that Mzansi have at their disposal. Yet they make us eat humble pie.

We, a country that once marvelled at our beloved former president Nelson Mandela smiling as Neil Tovey lifted the Afcon trophy. A country that once was ranked in the top 16 footballing nations in the world. But the harsh reality is that this once proud nation has failed to qualify for three of the last five Afcons, and hosted one of them. And we are sitting at No 60 in the world rankings.

Hell, we don’t even have a national coach! I can only sum my emotional state up in my mother tongue: Dis om van te kots.