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Mabenaism has got hold of us as SA fumbles on all fronts

S'thembiso Msomi Without the Gang
Mabena the soldier has South Africans in stitches, lifting the mood of a nation grappling with broad-ranging mediocrity.
Mabena the soldier has South Africans in stitches, lifting the mood of a nation grappling with broad-ranging mediocrity.
Image: Getty Images

Mabena is all the rage these days. And bless, the hapless soldier whose disappointing performances during a South African National Defence Force training session gave a depressed nation something to laugh about.

Since the videos of the soldier we came to know only as Mabena started trending, the surname has acquired a whole new meaning.

When the Proteas dished out one poor performance after another at the Cricket World Cup currently going on in the UK, the response from local followers of the sport was to refer to some of the players as Mabenas.

Even before Bafana Bafana played their first game at the Africa Cup of Nations tournament in Egypt, there were already fans sending the team the message similar to the one barked down at the soldier by his instructor in the video: "Mabena, please disappoint me again..."

And Bafana did just that in their first game, losing to the Ivory Coast without firing a single convincing shot at goal in anger.

"I knew it, Mabena," was the collective public response to Bafana.

Even though they have not played a game since the Moses Mabhida Stadium calamity at the hands of amateurs called TS Galaxy in May, Kaizer Chiefs has also not escaped the Mabena label, with some calling the once mighty club of Patrick "Ace" Ntsoelengoe, Nelson "Teenage" Dladla and Doctor Khumalo, Mabena FC.

The Mabena phenomenon has not been confined to sports though. President Cyril Ramaphosa, the political Messiah who was to liberate us from state capturers and deliver us to the land of milk and honey - where jobs are abundant and the corrupt rot in jail - earned himself the Mabena label when he delivered a below par performance during his State of the Nation Address last Thursday.

Entertaining as all of this has been, it raises a serious question: Have we entered the age of Mabenaism as a country, where our performance disappoints whether it is in sports, politics, economics and elsewhere?

On the sporting front, SA used to be among the powerhouses of the world when it came to cricket and rugby. All of that seems to be slipping away.

We may have not won any major international soccer tournament since the 1996 Africa Cup of Nations, but at least for years we were feared as one of the continent's giants.

Today you watch Mauritius and Uganda and wonder if Bafana can compete with them.

Being the most industrialised country on the continent often meant that our neighbours and the rest of Africa looked up to us for economic models to grow their economies.

We were industry leaders in many of the fields that needed innovation.

But today everybody is studying Ethiopia, Rwanda, Kenya, Ghana and several other countries whose economies are growing at a pace much faster than ours.

A senior civil servant once told me that every year, technocrats and broadcasting and telecommunications industry players used to flock into SA for an indaba on how digital migration was going to be implemented.

Our technology was far ahead of anyone else on the continent and the assumption was that we will lead the way when it comes to migrating television sets from analogue to digital.

But petty political squabbles, driven by a fight over who would get state tenders related to the project, saw SA being surpassed by a number of smaller markets.

Apparently the largest annual digital migration conference now takes place in Kenya, not here.

There was also a time when no major international development happened without SA's voice.

We were punching above our weight, granted, but even the most powerful nations in the world always felt the need to sound out SA before taking any action.

We are a country in decline, performing far below its potential - a Mabena nation.

So, as we laugh at the unfortunate soldier we ought to be asking ourselves what we need to do to help us stop being a Mabena nation on all these fronts.

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