NKARENG MATSHE | Banyana's protest brought required shock to SA sport

‘Safa paid lip service to equality in the game’

Nkareng Matshe Sports editor
Banyana Banyana protest over bonuses at Tsakani Stadium.
Banyana Banyana protest over bonuses at Tsakani Stadium.
Image: Antonio Muchave

It was always going to take something momentous for Banyana Banyana to be finally noticed.

They have for years overcome obstacles to claim their place in the sun, like qualifying for two World Cups in succession, and winning the Women Africa Cup of Nations for the first time. But that, evidently, was not enough for them to get their deserved recognition.

Last weekend, however, they finally grabbed the headlines and attention of the authorities by staging a protest which, while not violent, was loud enough to shake SA football.

Previously, threats of expulsion from the national team – as the SA Football Association did when Banyana asked that their demands be met before they faced Botswana in a friendly at Tsakane Stadium – would have worked.

Hearing intimidating voices of members of the Safa NEC, whose mission has always been self-servient, tell you to go home and not return to camp because this is ‘their’ national team, would have sent previous Banyana teams shivering with fear.

Not this lot. They stood their ground after drafting a letter of their clear demands, which ranged from poor pay to inadequate uniform. They did it with grace and discipline, which is highly commendable in the age of social media. They even welcomed the SA Football Players Union (Safpu) to take their fight to Safa, to confront the establishment on their behalf, without accusing the union of populism.

In the end, almost all Banyana’s key demands were met. They didn’t set a foot inside the Tsakane Stadium pitch, except to support those women who were unfortunate to have been called up as late replacements on spurious grounds. They could easily have stormed the pitch after having been frustrated by some Safa lackeys who initially prevented them from entering the stadium. But our team were fighting for a bigger cause. They didn’t exhibit hooliganism so prevalent in ‘normal’ SA protests. Instead it was some Safa NEC members who did in a desperate attempt to bully them into silence. Thankfully, Safpu leadership was there to take them on.

Banyana’s more pressing demand, of a better remuneration for partaking in the World Cup, was also realised when the Motsepe Foundation and national lottery came to Safa’s rescue this week. While the intervention is highly commendable, it is definitely not sustainable. There must be a more lasting solution to closing the pay gap between women and men sporting codes, and this is not merely a Safa problem. It could also start with a society which walks the talk on supporting women football, rather than just one that jumps on the bandwagon when the fire has already been lit.

Where Safa have been blundering however, is to think a day like last Sunday wouldn’t arrive. For far too long the association paid lip service to equality in the game. It explains why not even a single of their executives saw wrong with taking Banyana’s final home fixture before departing to the World Cup, to the below par Tsakane Stadium. To resort to firing the entire team when they had put valid complaints in writing reeked of oppression – Safa would not dare sack a World Cup-bound Bafana team at one go (that’s if they ever qualify for a World Cup again).

Why should Banyana fight over basics such as proper apparel from the sponsors? It is a battle they have fought for years in silence and, fortunately, it finally came to the public last week, just at an opportune time when even Safa’s notorious bullying couldn’t pass.

For what, we have to salute this group of Banyana players as a courageous bunch who, just in one Sunday, took an action which went a long way in redressing perpetual inequality in local football.

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