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Cry Bafana

Cry Bafana

by Roger Young, images by Syd Willow Smith / 18.06.2010

When I was very little my grandfather would tell me how, as a teenager, he had been sent to fight for England in WW2. The war had been dragging on, there was a troop shortage and therefore, training was short (not as brutally short as WW1 but still), and he was terrified. That trial by fire was not survived by many of the friends who went with him, but, he credited it for making him a man. He would get this look of hurt in his eye when he’d talk about it. The same look that I imagine, in years to come, Wednesday night’s Bafana squad will get when they talk about their match with Uruguay. Some of them will have survived, others will not.

Standing among the odd twenty five thousand people at the fan park in Cape Town before that game the sense of expectation was at a fever pitch, as if we could will it into being. I felt the force of it and, at first whistle, could not help but shed a tear; it was an unsustainable expectation, the boys would not be able to carry it on their shoulders. As the match ground on it was clear to everyone we were outclassed, but the high, the fervor of patriotic pride, the sense of this great event, sustained our hope. Until that red card. The moment that hope died. We had sent our boys to the slaughter, without lengthy training or real experience. We had built up a fable of glory in our heads and we were now shocked in the defeat. From a nation that hoped collectively, we became a nation that collectively gave up.

Fans started to leave the stadium in droves. In front of us, in the fan park, a man took the South African flag off his shoulders and packed it into his bag. His national pride became useless to him, the dream had been exposed as just that, an unreachable dream. Someone next to me cursed him, “Fuck you! How dare you give up now!” He shoved him a little, tried to convince him to take his flag back out. It got tense. The determined patriot against the convenient patriot. “You don’t turn your back just because they’re down!” He shouted. The convenient patriot shrugged, “We didn’t have a chance anyway” and made an exit while the others held back the weeping antagonist.

Sport is like that; people feel it intensely. Imagine what Bafana Bafana felt when they saw the backs of people as they left the stadium with fifteen minutes on the clock. Abandoned. It must have drained them. We sent them in and then we deserted them. The vuvuzelas went quiet, we were stripped of bluster and bravado.

But why were our hopes so high in the first place? It’s not as if we’ve been the most united nation lately. Maybe we just needed an excuse, a common cause, maybe, as trite as it sounds, we CAN all just get along. Who can say? All I know for sure is that for five days, from Friday 11th of June to Wednesday 16th June 2010, everything was possible, everything worked. It still is, it still can. Not for Bafana, but for us, collectively. We can still annoy the international TV viewing public with our vuvus, we can still sing only the parts of the anthem we know and understand and mumble the rest, and we can still smile in traffic at perfect strangers. Let’s just not be the guy who only picks up the flag because of the current mood. Let us not abandon each other, because like any come down, this is the moment we all need each other most, to hold onto the possibilities. Especially those war ravaged boys, who have now been made men.

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  1. Upintheclouds says:

    Lovely piece roger.false pride!we wish we had wand to make this country whole,instanst bandage!normally your writting is so much up your own arse with its airs and graces.

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  2. Andre says:

    I was in the stands, resolutely sitting and blowing my Vuvuzela after that penalty went in. You have no idea how hard it is to summon the energy to do that when you feel as cheated as we all did in that stadium. To make matters worse we all knew Bafana had been robbed when Khune was sent off, because it was the only time in the game that the big screen wouldn’t show us the replay. We watched the world cup logo instead and felt futile.

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  3. G says:

    Beautifully written bud, couldn’t agree with your sentiment more.
    If someone had told me a few months ago that a Bafana loss would hurt so deeply, I’d never have believed them. The boys have done us proud.

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  4. Karen Lotter says:

    Shot guys – Great story and images. I cried with Khune when he was sent off. I understand the red card, but the off sides should have been called. I know it is a game, This World Cup has shown us a lot – the Rugby at Orlando Stadium; the crowds in Sandton the day before and the truly united Mzansi – even if it was only for a while.

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  5. Sindy-Lou says:

    Beautiful words. I wish the rest of South Africa would read this piece.

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  6. Sara says:

    Thank you for this Roger. Your article has been distributed to all in my company. I knew what I wanted to say, but just couldn’t put it into words.

    I still fly the SA flag proudly and will do my utmost to not be a ‘convenient’ patriot!

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  7. C says:

    Well put!!!!!!!!!!! Great piece of writing, beaut photos! Hope lots of people read it.

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  8. Anonymous says:

    Niice Pics Syd…Obviously you upgraded from “a phone that has a camera”.

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  9. Lubpark says:

    Great piece.. We all felt drained after watching bafana lose! The town went quiet.. No1 blew the victory call of the vuvuzelas! Wen they flasht that red card, I crumbled.. This was the eNd! Our best man..gone! Ppl walkt away cz it wuz2painful 2c! I held my hands across my face! We lose sum, we win sum..that’s life! Bafana jz nds2work harder, strategise and hv beta game plan.. There were times wher they kickt the ball widout thinkin, sum players stood around while they cudv helpt! Bt hey.. We’r suppose2 b proudly south african, right? I mean, who really thought we would stand a chance.. Lol

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  10. Tessa says:

    What a brilliant piece Mr Young ! Before the World Cup I never knew how many men were on a soccer field but the feeling of pride, excitement and euphoria I feel now when Bafana play is undeniable. Sometimes I can hardly breathe and their match against Uruguay was so painful to watch. I hated the ref, loved our players and screamed at the injustice of some decisions taken. My partner’s father was killed during WW2 on his second birthday so we know all about loss and sacrifice and you are so right – never desert your children even if they are on the losing team. Abandoned ………. no way, Bafana, we are with you to the end.

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  11. shaun says:

    I was sitting thousands of miles away with a SA flag and vuvuzela, opened a packet of biltong a friend brought me 4 months ago that I had frozen, to watch the match. When that red card was pulled out I wept like a child. I felt sorrier for the incredible South African supporters that I’d seen on TV for the last week than for the team.
    If the amazing feeling and love of those supporters and all South Africanshad felt these last 10 days can be continued into the future then the red card (bad call!) would be worth it.
    To all the SA supporters that were so awesome to see (from far away) I lift my cap and honor you all and believe that “if you will it, it is not a dream”.

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  12. Gillstrawberry says:

    I’ve posted this all over 🙂 Beautifully written and fortunately, not everyone as turned their back on the boys or this country, there are many out there who feel the same way as you 🙂 This WC2010 has changed me…

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  13. K says:

    gr8 piece, i’m also thousands and thousands of miles away and watching khune get that card was awful but i was hopeful till the last minutes and then the 3rd goal came. i was bitter cos i felt bafana had been kicked when they were down – enuff now! but still i’m proud of the boyz, if i was sitting in the stadium i prob wld hve chided people 4 leaving and i’m not even south african, but ekapa’s my 2nd home after my own across the limpopo. i’m jacking this and re-posting on my blog – thank u ; )

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  14. Think_ink says:

    I was busy criting Bafana for letting the whole country down and now that Roger you have flipped the coin, especially when you mentioned how much more it felt for Bafana Bafana seeing the people live 15 minutes before the match ends.

    I still think our boys can do it but not on their own, they need us more than we need them to win, lets stay positive and blow those vuvuzelas and make the entire world feel it, that Mzansi is still here! Wear that S.A jersey on Friday, dress those mirrors with your heart, our pride, the rainbow nation flag!

    I believe the boys can beat France and go to the next round!!! Maybe this is what they needed to do better! Shapa Bafana Shapa!!!!

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  15. Anonymous says:

    Thank you

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  16. Squarehole says:

    Comparable to the WWII trenches? Think that’s a bit of a reach. Nice from the second para though.

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  17. Amryl says:

    this has brought tears to my eyes, i was so upset that we played like shq§”$ but i still wear top and flag proudly and hope for the best and thinks it is so true people needed to stay and show them we will be there thru thick and thin. GOOD LUCK BAFANA BAFANA show them french.

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  18. Chucky says:

    Roger, I’m sorry you are sad. I am quite sorry too. But mostly I am sorry for your grand-dad’s dead buddies. I suspect that if they had read your first paragraph or last sentence they might not have thought that future generations were worth dying for. If you really think that a loss by professional footballers is the same as seeing your teenaged mates blown to bits, then I’m afraid all of it was a terrible waste. (Aside: Mahala Editor, this is your bad. This site seems to promote clear thought and to reject the mental dross that clogs public discourse. Allowing Roger’s little shocker through has made you guilty of the same kind of sloppy hyperbole that you’re supposed to be fighting. Tut tut.)

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  19. Roger Young says:

    The comparison was not about the actual fighting but being ill prepared to do the fighting AND being under massive scrutiny. I’m sorry that wasn’t clearer.

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  20. King Mob says:

    Of course, the trusty Mahala arsehole, niggling the details to miss the point, that’s YOU chucky

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  21. lia says:

    Ah poor bafana bafana. They did get pushed out onto the international stage before their time. I watched the game until the end but must admit that I knew we were fucked well before half time. I got a lot of flack for saying as much. I think that it was the bursting of that naively unrealistic optimism that caused our boys to be deserted by their “patriotic fans”. Me – I know bafana bafana are kak compared to the world’s top teams. Hell, I didn’t expect them to draw, let alone win. So I was not particularly gutted when “surprise!” – a team ranked a good 40+ places above us made us look like the U9B squad. At least we were not whooped 4-1 like the S Koreans..
    PS: unprepared comparisons aside, I really would choose a red card and a drubbing to trench foot and a bullet in the head. Just saying.

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  22. neil says:

    beautiful insight into this roger. This is exactly it! Perfectly said.

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  23. anneline says:

    We don’t support them because we think they will win this world cup we support because they belong to us…they are our boys! They have my unwavering support! Stand tall South Africa be proud and wave our flag.

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  24. Drifter says:

    Anneline has hit the nail on the head. The issue at stake here is delusion. If one wants to be creative about anything one needs to be as clear as possible about where one stands and from there set one’s sights on where one would like to be. To use the analogy of WW2: Winston Churchill said to the British Commonwealth (which included us) on the declaration of war, “this is our darkest hour.” but from here “we will fight them in the air, we will fight them the beaches ……………..we will overcome!” This defeat is not the end it is just the begining. At least we now know where we stand – way below Uruguay. Everywhere I look in this country I see the same delusion and passionate optimism which can only have the same results as befell “our boys”. Aids, Jobs for All, Corruption, Rights for Women, Environment and on and on and on and the myths are being perpertrated on us by our leaders. Why one may ask – to keep us all enslaved, is the short answer. Wake up South Africa!

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  25. JD says:

    The second round was always gonna be a bonus. We’ve been unlucky. We’ve performed well for a team ranked 80th or whatever in the world. That second half against Mexico was some of the best football this country has ever seen. Period

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  26. DodgyCam says:

    Awesome writing … beautiful pictures … a much needed sentiment.
    Top job that man …

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  27. fred hatman says:

    Lovely writing, beautiful pics. Ah, the pathos! Time to pick ourselves up and show our true Rainbow colours against the French! Viva Bafana, Viva!

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  28. Ria says:

    Now is the time to seperate the patriots from the pretenders

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  29. Anastassia says:

    Losing gracefully is a great sport in itself.

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  30. Hoarse says:

    What amazes still is the reluctance on behalf of South Africans (all many colours and creeds) to now, having faced national defeat, support a win for the CONTINENT! If your own country is out, surely the next best thing, a kind of consolation prize, is to hope for a win for your continent? (check the map if you’re not sure or Google “Africa”, you will see, South Africa is still attached down there at the bottom, physically, if not mentally.)
    As heaps of those silly over-priced car flags and wing mirror covers bearing the national flag lie torn, forlorn and damp in the gutters of disgust, it is sad to think that we are so militant about our borders that we will rather support a European team than one from our own continent. Since the beginning of the game, It would seem that the only people supporting an AFRICAN win were Africans – from outside South Africa. In the downtown bar last night I was the only one shouting for a Ghana victory! Everyone else in the place (all locals) were somehow, madly supporting Germany! Flags, scarves, Rammstein at half time. Even the (South Afircan) barman gave me a dirty look when I walked in wearing my Ghana shirt (the fact that I wasn’t wearing any trousers had nothing to do with it!)
    Should Ghana make it thru and win this thing, what then? Can we expect a(nother) wave of indignant xenophobic attacks on anyone (besides the germans) NOT waving an SA flag? (probably), sure, we are rightfully sad that we never won, but that we would rather see a first world country trump one of Africa’s own for the mere justification that in South Africa, we are in fact, not African.
    Go Ghafana Ghafana!

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  31. Andrea says:

    I hope we can sustain the warm, fuzzy feelings and continue to smile at each other in the traffic. A lovely piece of writing. Thank you.

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  32. Anon says:

    Wonderful piece…cant wait to read your next one about the win against France!!!! Yay!!!

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  33. pauly says:

    Deserved approbation and acknowledgement Roger. For me the ww2 analogy though poignant fails because we had the time and resource to prepare them properly we just didn’t.It wasn’t just us who might have failed them but the arrogant incompetent and uncaring SAFA generals.

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  34. Jackie says:

    Hold your heads up high – as South Africans, you should all be proud of your football team. Even when they were losing, they played with honour, dignity and forever hopeful of a more positive outcome – and they didn’t give up. It’s virtually impossible to prepare for such an onslaught of the best of the best but Bafana Bafana gave an excellent account of themselves. I’m about to watch England being slaughtered by Germany this afternoon. Like you for your team, I am hoping against hope that we conquer. No matter which way it goes, I am still proud of my country’s soccer team.

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  35. Nana Simposon says:

    There will never be a truly nationalt soccer team unless it stops being racialist! Why is it that White onn black is bad, but black on white is acceptable?
    S.A people should listen to their ancients – Madiba and the Bishop Tutu.

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  36. Nataliya says:

    Help, I’ve been informed and I can’t become ignrnaot.

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