CAPE TOWN, SOUTH AFRICA - JANUARY 19: South Africa during the 2014 African Nations Championship match between South Africa and Nigeria at Cape Town Stadium on January 19, 2014 in Cape Town, South Africa. (Photo by Manus van Dyk/Gallo Images)

It was always going to happen sooner or later. That a Bafana Bafana star returns Fikile Mbalula’s obnoxious insults directed at the team for their early African Nations Championship (CHAN) exit was no surprise at all.

Lerato Chabangu’s tirade against the sports minister is understandable, however.

Here’s a minister tasked with leading a key ministry, yet he saw fit to mislead the nation with not-so-thoughtful comments in the aftermath of Bafana’s failure. Branding fellow human beings “useless”, “unbearable” and “a bunch of losers” is no way to provide leadership.

It is worse coming from a person entrusted with a position of authority.

Some of us, outraged at the minister’s comments even as we knew the bulk of what he said was the truth, put ourselves in the players’ shoes and felt a sense of helplessness and hurt, which Chabangu exuded this week.

Like surely most of his national teammates, Chabangu is still hurting, two weeks after Mbalula let rip.

But was the Moroka Swallows man correct to respond with the same venom? Microphones and recorders thrust under his nose at the Swallows training this week, Chabangu said, among other things: “You can’t call your sons a bunch of losers. It affects your family … he is a loser, he must call himself a bunch of losers (sic).

“I was frustrated (by his comments), because we were disappointed coming from the tournament, and then another person comes and calls you such (names).

“How are you going to get respect on the street from your fans? But what can you say, life goes on, I am not dead, I am still alive.”

Of course, just as Mbalula’s comments drew applause from certain quarters, Chabangu’s equally uncouth response will find resonance with those who feel Bafana’s immense problems could not possibly be laid squarely at the players’ door.

But the very fact that Chabangu felt the compulsion to respond to the minister highlights the kind of country we live in.

The level of debate has, sadly, deteriorated to the point that we debate through insults. Whoever comes up with what is seen as the “best” insults makes headline news, or, as in the case of Mbalula, is feted as some hero.

I always believed sport would survive being drawn into this pitiable level of poor thought, except when emotive matters such as transformation are concerned. But Mbalula has opened a tap which has run unattended for two weeks. It is polluting our national psyche. It is not enhancing debate and responses from the likes of Chabangu will not make the situation any better.

No matter how angry we may have been with Bafana’s abject performance in the Chan, nobody deserved to be subjected to the kind of vitriol spewed by Mbalula.

His subsequent refusal to apologise served to confirm that he refuses absolutely to lead. We must be worried that he sees nothing wrong with his comments. Having said that, it is of no help for Bafana players to add fuel to the fire, as Chabangu did this week. But where no one defended them, what choice do they have other than defend themselves? Mbalula said all those things while sharing the podium with Danny Jordaan, the Safa president who, to this day, has not stated where he stands on this matter.

The football players’ union showed they lack leadership by responding with a terse statement supposedly in defence of the players, instead of calling for a meeting with Mbalula to explain his comments against their members.

Bafana captain Itumeleng Khune, as a leader of the players, has himself said nothing on the matter, but how could he when even his coach Gordon Igesund has gone underground? Not one of the Safa executive has taken a stance on this matter either, leaving a void for the likes of Chabangu to defend themselves.

Had there been a clear directive, perhaps a situation where a national team player responds directly to a national minister would be avoided.

There’s such a paucity of leadership – and debates have degenerated to the banal almost in all spheres of our society – that it would be hypocritical to act surprised. Now who wants to bet how Mbalula will respond to Chabangu calling him a loser ... - The Star

l Follow Matshe on Twitter @Nkareng