The President of South Africa Jacob Zuma was late, but in his absence, the sniffer dogs and the ramped-up police presence at Orlando Stadium were enough to give the game away.
Zuma has famously said that owning a dog is ‘not African’, but presumably this doesn’t stretch to South African Police Service dogs searching for explosives that might endanger his life.
Bag searching and pooch sniffing duly complete, the president eventually strode into Orlando to meet with Bafana Bafana, and wish them well ahead of their Africa Cup of Nations opener against Cape Verde on Saturday.
After a private meeting between Zuma and the team, Bafana’s players came out onto the field, followed closely by Zuma. Many of the players were singing Umshini Wami, the struggle song closely linked to Zuma.
Zuma hit out at Bafana’s critics, saying they had never touched a ball, and backed Gordon Igesund and his men to the hilt. Then again, he wasn’t going say he thought they had a snowball’s chance in hell of success, now was he?
It all, in fact, seemed a little perfunctory, full of pointless political pomp and circumstance. Zuma’s brand of charm appears unlikely to carry Bafana to glory in the way ‘Madiba Magic’ helped out in 1995 with the rugby and 1996 with Bafana.
Who knows whether Bafana’s players will have been given impetus by this political goodwill, but one can’t help but feel they would have been better off working on their on-field skills, just a few days before the start of Afcon.
Perhaps I am being over-cynical here, and lest I be a complete Scrooge, I do myself wish Bafana well at the upcoming Nations Cup.
I just do not share the optimism of either Zuma, or coach Gordon Igesund. There is always faint hope that, as host nation, we can rouse ourselves to repeat the heroics of 1996, but the facts do not point to such a reality.
Bafana are the lowest ranked team in their group, and have not won a game at an Nations Cup finals since 2004. They have not qualified for a major tournament, that they have not hosted, since 2008.
I believe wholeheartedly these players will give their all for the national cause. But I also believe they are not good enough to make ripples on the African continent. The best I can see is a place in the quarter-finals, which will satisfy me, though it may not be enough for Igesund to keep his job. Igesund believes otherwise, and good luck to him. He’s going to need it.