Victor Kgomoeswana.
The euphoria of having qualified for the first time since 2013 for the African Cup of Nations 2019 (Afcon) in Egypt had hardly worn off and the headline hit me: President rewards Taifa Stars players with land for their second Afcon qualification!

President John Magufuli was expressing gratitude to his national team, after their 3-0 victory over neighbouring Uganda.

“For the good work you have done to bring honour to Tanzania by qualifying for Afcon finals in Egypt, each player will get a parcel of land in Dodoma (the administrative capital),” he told the players and the technical team at State House in Dar es Salaam.

That is the potency of sport in uniting nations. Take South Africa, shortly after the 1994 elections; when our newly found freedom had us on tenterhooks. We faced the risk of relapse.

President Nelson Mandela turned a mere rugby tournament into the nation’s glue. Traditionally a white Afrikaner sport, rugby was resented by the majority of black sport lovers in South Africa. This was not because it was a lousy game, but because it had been associated with the racist establishment before independence.

Madiba risked his political career to allow the Springboks to keep the hated emblem. He then made it his business to understand the basics of the game and become the number one fan of Francois Pienaar’s team.

By the time the 1995 Rugby World Cup was under way, South Africans were united around the green and gold of Amaboko.

Where most of us saw 15 players tossing a funny-looking ball, Madiba wanted the tens of millions of people to watch us go all the way. He was not about to forego the precious chance to heal our historical racial divisions.

2019 is somewhat like 1995. South Africa just turned the corner, entering a rebuilding phase to reclaim its glory.

So, when the final whistle blew in Sfax, Tunisia, where our national soccer team had beaten Libya to earn their slot among the 24 nations that will compete for continental honours in Egypt in June, it was shocking to find South Africans happy to still haggle over petty club-versus-club gimmicks. If there is something South African soccer fans can do, especially those of Orlando Pirates against their Kaizer Chiefs rivals, it is trolling each other. Bordering on haughtiness, their mutual hatred and disrespect soured what should have been a national celebration and sullied the momentum in the Bafana Bafana camp.

If Brand South Africa is out there selling us as a united nation, we cannot be fighting over which team has how many players in the squad. What our national team craves now is our unqualified faith and support. The players on that squad are us - not Pirates, Sundowns or Arrows, but South Africa.

In fact, for Brand South Africa, citizens ought to be hard at work forming a human shield around Bafana Bafana - and, by extension, our quest to rekindle our country’s greatness.

Kgomoeswana is a media commentator and public speaker on African business affairs.