Ex-Safa president Nematandani defends decision to parade Bafana in Sandton on eve of the 2010 World Cup

Former South African Football Association (SAFA) President Kirsten Nematandani.
Former South African Football Association (SAFA) President Kirsten Nematandani.

Former South African Football Association (Safa) president Kirsten Nematandani has defended the decision to parade Bafana Bafana before the public in Sandton on the eve of the 2010 World Cup in an euphoric event normally reserved for champions and insisted that the ceremony was necessary.

The SA players‚ the technical team and the backroom staff were paraded like champions in an open top bus in the streets of Sandton in a move that alarmed Bafana's Brazil coach Carlos Alberto Parreira.

Many critics viewed the decision as ill-timed as Bafana later suffered the ignominy of becoming the first World Cup hosts to bomb out in the group stages of the showpiece after a 1-1 draw with Mexico at FNB Stadium in the opening match‚ a 3-0 defeat to Uruguay at Loftus and a 2-1 win over France at the Free State Stadium.

But the Safa president at the time Nematandani insisted that the event was necessary.

“It was really befitting and that’s why people went out in numbers.

"If it didn’t mean anything‚ then people would not have came out there in their numbers‚” said Nematandani‚ who served as Safa president between 2009 and 2013.

“The entire Sandton City was barricaded and there were people on rooftops waiting to see the boys. It was amazing to see so many people gathered to motivate the boys before they went to play the first game.

"To me it was a reminder of when former President Nelson Mandela was released from prison. You remember how excited we were around the country and it was also a reminder of our first democratic elections in 2004.

"I must also add that we are a fortunate generation and we must be thankful for having seen all these things happen in front of our eyes.”

Nematandani's sentiments were echoed by former Bafana midfielder Reneilwe Letsholonyane.

“I think it was a good‚ as players we got the feeling of the people because we were in camp‚" he said.

"It gave us the opportunity to be closer to the people and experience their support first-hand. We interacted with the people we were going to represent.

"In my view it was not a celebration before the tournament but it was about the connection between the players and the people‚” said Letsholonyane.

Nematandani admitted that Bafana’s failure to qualify for the knockout stages was disappointing.

“We were under no illusions and numbers don’t lie‚" he said.

"There were gaps between us and other teams that qualified for the World Cup. Surely we would have loved to go to the next round but it was not to be.

"Going to the next round could have gone a long way and one take that as a low point. We really wanted to go through for the sake of our country that put up a lot of money to make sure that we hosted the tournament.

“Remember we went into this World Cup as underdogs with a lowly ranked team. We should never be ashamed with the steps we took and that moment of the parade was very important for social cohesion and to say to the people that this tournament is going to take in our country.

"Remember the main parade happened in Sandton but there were many others around the country. You needed to lift people up and that happened to be the way.”

Nematandani said it was a humbling experience to be the president of the association when South Africa was on top of the world as hosts.

“Time is a gentleman‚ it keeps on moving‚" he said.

"Here we are ten years down the line and looking back as if it was yesterday. It was a humbling experience and a priceless opportunity that the country offered us as leaders.

"It was not because we were the best that was out there. It was an opportunity that was available at the time and God ensured that we were the ones who were out there on behalf of everyone.

"It was a humbling experience and with great humility we will continue to thank the people of our country‚ our government and every other person who was involved in the process.”