NKARENG MATSHE | Bafana didn’t deserve Kodwa’s disrespect

Nkareng Matshe Sports editor
Evidence Makgopa of South Africa tackled by Boubacar Kiki Kouyate of Mali during the Africa Cup of Nations match between Mali and South Africa on Tuesday
Evidence Makgopa of South Africa tackled by Boubacar Kiki Kouyate of Mali during the Africa Cup of Nations match between Mali and South Africa on Tuesday
Image: Samuel Shivambu/BackpagePix Staff

The disrespect meted out on Bafana Bafana went up a notch this week, and no, this time it didn’t come from the usual trolls who wait for the team’s slightest failure and mock them endlessly.

As if losing the opening Africa Cup of Nations finals match against Mali on Tuesday was not enough, Bafana had the misfortune of having to listen to sports minister Zizi Kodwa offering them advice, inside their dressing room, minutes after the match.

It must have been a weird feeling for the players, and worse for the coaching staff. Hugo Broos was pictured with a bowed head, his arm on his jaw, as if to say, ‘what the hell is this’!

Kodwa rumbled on about how the 0-2 defeat was “part of football which can be changed by a split second”.

He then told the players they inspired a lot of South Africans. But they must have been pressed to hold their laughter when he said “you defeated [Mali] in the first half”. Cringeworthy stuff.

Why did Kodwa feel the compulsion to enter Bafana’s dressing room after Tuesday’s match? He was accompanied by Safa president Danny Jordaan, so I assume he okayed the impromptu, but totally needless visit by the minister.

This wouldn’t have happened with any respected national team. Unfortunately, Bafana have known only disrespect – from fans, football administrators and now opportunistic politicians – despite making giant strides over the past two years under Broos.

One defeat heralded untold abuse on the players, Percy Tau bearing the brunt of it for his missed penalty. Supposed patriotic fans who woke up to news that the national team had lost – some without having bothered to watch the match – had a filled day, gleefully taking turns to ridicule them.

Others spoke of how Bafana were “useless” in comparison to the triumphant Springbok world champions, without the context of knowing there are no more than five nations playing rugby on the continent and probably fewer than 10 in the entire world who take it with the seriousness it merits.

It was a free-for-all, Bafana castigated for losing an opening match against a team ranked three places above them. An uninformed observer would have thought Bafana were headed out of the tournament after just one match. Yet they have two to go: against Namibia on Sunday and Tunisia on Wednesday.

A place in the knockout phase is still possible, but such is the pessimism that usually befalls Bafana, they needed a whole government minister to give a pep talk inside a dressing room, normally a very scared space in professional sports.

Kodwa could never have entered the Boks dressing room following their defeat to Ireland in Paris last year. He got away with it because it was Bafana in there – the most dissed of our national teams.

Bafana sure could have done with Kodwa’s support last month, when Broos called on the PSL to halt its programme to allow players to recuperate and rest ahead of travelling to Ivory Coast. The minister was nowhere to be seen or heard of.

Broos has spent the past two years trying to arrange a meeting with PSL coaches to harmonise relations which have deteriorated over the last decade. The meeting has not taken place. Kodwa could have used his powers and intervened by calling the PSL and Safa bosses to order, for the bigger benefit of Bafana. He didn’t.

But on Tuesday, he found courage to enter the Bafana dressing room, adding to the hyperbole that followed the defeat and inevitably piling more pressure on dejected players. We’ve become too accustomed to Bafana being disrespected, but when even the higher echelons of government circles add to their taunting, we have to draw the line. This must stop.

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