South Africans have a love-hate relationship with Bafana Bafana — they love to see them win, but hate how much they lose.
The national mood hit a low when a slim loss to the Super Eagles of Nigeria, on South African soil, scuppered their chance of featuring in the 2010 Africa Cup of Nations in Angola.
But Bafana Bafana have risen from that despondency to achieve four wins in a row, raising South Africans’ hopes that they have turned a corner six months before hosting the Confederations Cup and the World Cup in 2010.
”Bafana Bafana deserve all the support we can muster for them because they are on track and scoring goals,” Gladys Gailey, secretary of the South African Football Supporters’ Association, said.
”South Africans support good soccer and we know they are going to make us proud,” she said.
Their most recent win — a 3-2 victory last month over continental powerhouses, the Indomitable Lions of Cameroon — was the icing on the cake after defeating Malawi, Equatorial Guinea and Ghana.
The winning streak ended a string of losses against the United States, Egypt and Senegal, which had soured fans’ moods and led to calls for the sacking of Brazilian coach Joel Santana, engaged earlier in the year.
”The mentality of South African soccer fans is that their team must continue to win to enjoy their support,” said Nkareng Matshe, a soccer correspondent at the Star.
”For now, the crowds have started to believe in Bafana Bafana. This support should be carried to the two global competitions if the team does not falter,” he said.
The big tournaments are also a chance for football to cross South Africa’s lingering racial divide.
The sport developed in the townships, where most of the stadiums are located, and local teams have struggled to win white fans who tend to prefer rugby and cricket.
With the international tournaments, Congress of South African Trade Unions spokesperson Patrick Craven said he believed the team would win support across the spectrum.
”The stadia will be filled to capacity anytime the team is playing,” said Craven.
”The colour of the skin will make no difference to the support the team will get,” he said.
Bafana Bafana won the Africa Cup of Nations in 1996, but now ranks 80th in the world and 17th in Africa.
But the team’s budding midfield impressario, Kagisho Dikgacoi, said that the tide has now turned.
”We are very much improved now and we can sparkle and dazzle fans. So, we appeal to all South Africans to rally behind us before and during the Confederations Cup and World Cup,” the 24-year-old said.
Ardent fans say they’re already gearing up for the global competitions.
”I am already saving towards buying tickets to watch all Bafana Bafana matches from now till the end of the World Cup. The team dazzles me,” said Ntando Boikanyo, a 16-year-old student in Alexandra.
Organisers are trying to help local fans by offering cut-rate tickets to South Africans, starting at just R70 for the Confed Cup in June next year.
The most expensive World Cup tickets offered under the scheme are R1 400 ($140). By comparison, regular price tickets for the World Cup final will cost $900.
About 120 000 free tickets will also be offered exclusively to fans, stadium construction workers and Fifa partners in South Africa to enable them watch all matches.
For Lucky Dumisani, a Durban schoolteacher, hosting the world event ”is Bafana Bafana’s glorious moment and I want to be part of it by supporting the team. ”I have started campaigning for them, through my pupils, and I think the Bafana fever is catching on,” she said. — Sapa-AFP