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Embracing Ghana’s Black Stars smacks of hypocrisy

Brendah works for a management consultancy during the day, you know, one of those companies that no-one really knows what they do. Before she defected and went uber-corporate she worked for UpperCase Media and the Mail & Guardian and now does her writing on a freelance basis. She has dreams of being the change Zimbabwe needs. And did we mention she is female? Black female?

There is a questionable tendency to want to “South African-ise” other African states that do well, and calling the Ghanaian soccer team, BaGhana BaGhana, underlines an inability to support Ghana for its own sake. That’s Afro-pessimism at its worst.

If something doesn’t work, we don’t figure out what is wrong with it and try to repair it – we replace it with something better. So, ladies and gentlemen, I bring you… BaGhana BaGhana!

Anyone who has been watching the World Cup will bear testimony of the amazing skill the Ghana Black Stars have shown. All their games were a pleasure to watch. They showed passion and determination that won the hearts of many.  It was exactly what South Africans were hoping Bafana Bafana would demonstrate.

Ghana came into the World Cup as underdogs, a relatively young team no-one thought would progress further than the second round, but they quickly became a force to be reckoned with. Now they are in the quarter finals and the whole continent is rallying behind them. South Africans have been urged to support Ghana as they are “the last hope of the continent”. The support is such that former president Thabo Mbeki came out of hiding (and possibly writing long-winded memoirs) to pen the Black Stars a letter of congratulations.  News has it he then urged them to consider changing their names from “Ghana Black Stars” to “Africa Black Stars”. Soon after that, the phrase “BaGhana BaGhana” started being thrown about.  My gripes are many (channelling Ivo Vegter).

I have no problem with South Africans supporting Ghana, in fact, I applaud it. It’s great that South Africa is looking beyond its borders to support another African country. It’s a proud moment for Africa. But this is Ghana’s victory. Not South Africa’s.

Last week I spoke about how it’s important for other African countries to have their own victories to shout about, of and not ride the coattails of South Africa’s successes. Now I am deliberately stepping over the fence, and saying the same to South Africa. Let Ghana have its moment without wanting to hi-jack it and make it your own.

This makes it seem that South Africa has an inability to understand another African country’s victory. For any victory to be palatable to a South African mind, it has to have elements of South Africa in it – hence the birth of “BaGhana BaGhana”.  South Africa shows signs of feeling superior to an extent that it wants Africans to be “South African-ised” before they can accept or relate to them. Unlike every other country that has flunked out of the World Cup and is now supporting Ghana Black Stars as they are, South Africa is subtly showing an unwillingness to accept them as Ghanaians. Instead of supporting Ghana for Ghana’s sake, they will support Ghana for Africa’s sake – on the condition they take on elements of SA.

If you are going to support Ghana, support Ghana Black Stars, not BaGhana BaGhana or Africa Black Stars, because Ghana is not a replacement for Bafana Bafana or any other African country that failed. For Thabo Mbeki to suggest the team change its name was totally condescending. If roles were reversed, and Bafana Bafana were to surpass expectations to qualify for the quarter finals, would President Jakaya Kikwete of Tanzania have made the same request for them to be called “Africa’s Young Boys”? I have no doubt he would have been shot down and it wouldn’t even have made the news.

It’s a serious case of Afro-pessimism, the same with which we have been struggling from the European media. Quick to separate themselves from the failures of Africa, but want to share in its success, only if they can claim it.  This Afro-pessimism also shows in a lack of knowledge and interest. Before Ghana stepped on the scene in this World Cup, how many South Africans knew where Ghana was on a map? Was their knowledge of Ghana not limited to ridiculing their accents and films on African Magic? How many South Africans see themselves as Africans?  How many times does one hear South Africans say “I am going to Africa” as if it’s another continent? But now they want to be African and foreigners are good enough because of their success. 

Were I a Ghanaian, I would say, “Yes, we are all African, but many a time you have not seen me as a fellow African and I think its shallow that now you appreciate me because I have proven myself worthy.  Being brothers is about being supportive and cheering each other on in good and bad situations.” This sudden love and acceptance of Ghana smacks of hypocrisy and “two-facedness” because the Afro-pessimism is still clear. It’s this Afro-pessimism that breeds black-on-black violence. Like everyone else I am keenly aware of the looming threat of xenophobic attacks after the World Cup and the optimistic part of me would like to believe that this wave of African unity could be a turning point and could, maybe, unite us to an extent that it will all be just an empty threat and, before we know it, we are all standing around the campfire holding hands and singing Kumbaya. But then I close my eyes and all I can see is Ernesto Nhamuave … burning.


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