“Asambeni siyobona iBafana yenu,” one kwaMashu resident said to the other. Loosely translated, it meant “let’s go and watch this Bafana of yours play”.
Durban, like so many other cities in this country, has an abusive relationship with the senior national team. Yours when it plays, and ours when it wins. That has always been the unwritten rule, the premise for cautiously investing emotions upon the chosen few.
It is less bipolar than that dalliance which the South African public endures with the Springboks. And that, too, is understandable.
The Boks have touched the ultimate heights, been the best in the world. More is expected from them. Demanded, even.
The Boks’ ambitions have never dipped from the eternal goal of beating the All Blacks and, then, becoming world champions again. Which is why their offering in Brisbane will stay on the public lips and social media into the next week.
Truth be told, the Boks hurt the man on the street more because, by their very nature, they divide and unite this land every time their squad is announced.
The expectations on Bafana have deteriorated consistently since the turn of the century. As they have slipped down the rankings, so too has their fans’ immunity to the pain of each letdown and loss.
Their wins are celebrated like a Streetwise Five brought home for supper on payday. It is a rare treat, a carbilicious glimmer of hope which reinforces the dream that they might once again become a decent challenger in international competition.
Ahead of their Africa Cup of Nations qualifier against Libya yesterday, Bafana held a few of their practice sessions in the township of kwaMashu. In brilliant sunshine, their brightly decorated team bus snaking its way through the very heart of their fan-base. Little kids chased the wheels of dreams all the way to the Princess Magogo Stadium, and all the way out towards the city again.
A stray hand chucked out a half-guzzled energy drink from a window, and the edible souvenir sparked a fracas befitting a replica jersey.
For Bafana, eternally blessed with the largest following of all the national teams, it doesn’t take much to make the masses’ hearts flutter. Most of those little boys gasped as Itumeleng Khune copied and pasted half a dozen of his trademark passes on the training field.
When a player waved to the gathered gaggle, the delight was genuine and gushing.
That is the impact of Bafana, because most of those players represent the end of the dream path that those little boys are still at the beginning of. Started at the bottom, and all that.
That dream, that reality, is the reason why several thousand die-hards hardly blinked at the Springbok game, as they caught a couple of taxis in the rain, trudged through the deluge to a soaked Moses Mabhida Stadium, and proceeded to sing and sigh and boo, and ‘Mlunguuuuu’ their way into Saturday night.
After years of hurt, it seems most Bafana fans have decided to treat important matches like exhibitions. They have won before a ball has even been kicked. They dance, they jump, they ‘selfie’, they salute... they even celebrate the occasional moment of joy on the field.
When you have little hope invested, it is easy to cope with whatever the Gods throw your way. You would hope, sincerely, that Bafana dig themselves out of that comfort zone at some point.
The different parts that make up their team – and their fans – deserve infinitely better. And, more to the point, you would hope that the Springboks – and any other national team, for that matter – never slip to the point where they are referred to as ‘your team’, instead of ‘ours’.