It's good in Gabon, but I miss Bafana
C'est bon. It's good. I have heard this phrase so much here that I now say it with so much confidence you would swear fluent French will follow it. Luckily for me, no-one has picked up on my deception. Then again, asking someone further questions after they said all is good is unAfrican, even if they aren't good. Uganda and Egypt probably used similar words in their languages to describe how they felt watching the Africa Cup of Nations (Afcon) in the past. The Cranes haven't been here in 39 years. It's a bit better for the seven-time African champions Egypt but no doubt equally painful because the three editions they missed must have felt like 30 years. It was interesting observing the media from these countries of Stade de Port-Gentil on Saturday night. The Egyptians boss every press box they are in. They speak loudly and brashly, wanting to be in charge even if they are in foreign place. But who would blame them. Their teams are African football royalty. Every major continental
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Members of the Egyptian press could hardly sit down, shouting in Arabic as the Ugandans made their team sweat. They would sit ,only to angrily punch their keyboards before stranding up to shout some more.
In contrast, the Ugandan media was meek but not silent. One shouted occasionally but the most watched anxiously. A few of them were clad in the colours of their national team. In the international arena, sport journalists can be openly biased and wear their colours.
I remember in the first Afcon I covered, the 2013 edition, I was based in Durban. Bafana Bafana played their last two matches there. Their third match was against Morocco. They needed just a draw to make it into the last eight for the first time in over a decade.
The goals weren’t forthcoming from the strikers. Siyabonga Sangweni took the responsibility, brilliantly beating two defenders before curling a goal that would make any striker envious. I screamed like I was the one who had scored, jumping to celebrate with Neil Greig who was sitting next to me.
I hadn’t spoken much with Neil before that goal but that moment was too good to experience alone. Sadly, I haven’t experienced such moments in Gabon because Bafana Bafana aren’t here. Zimbabwe were our hope and they got clobbered by Senegal. But still, they are here and we aren’t. I have been mistaken for a Ghanaian. I didn’t bother to correct them, especially during a scramble for interviews in the mixed zone.
“Please speak to these journalists, they are your people,” Ghana’s media officer implored Jordan and Andre Ayew right after the Black Stars qualified for the quarter-finals. My ‘Ghanaian’ behind stuck with that group and didn’t budge.
Watching a major tournament without your country hurts. I have lost count at how many times I have been asked why Bafana aren’t here after people realised that I am South African. One volunteer asked with a concerned look. He told me that his uncle named his truck Bafana Bafana because of how much he liked the team that reached the final back-to-back in 1996 and 1998.
I forgot to ask how his uncle’s truck looks now. It’s probably run down like Bafana Bafana, or dead. We desperately need a Mr. Fixer to take us back in the days that saw a Gabonese name his truck Bafana Bafana without even understanding what that word meant.