Defend Truth


Divided football club loyalties must not overshadow national pride in Bafana Bafana


Professor Dr Omphemetse S Sibanda is a Professor of Law and the Executive Dean of the Faculty of Management and Law at the University of Limpopo. He holds a Doctor of Laws (in International Economic Law) from North West University, a Master of Laws from Georgetown University Law Centre, US; and an LLB (Hon) and B Juris from the then Vista University, Soweto Campus.

Football, known for its ability to bridge divides and foster unity, is paradoxically becoming a source of discord in South Africa. The rivalry between clubs like Mamelodi Sundowns, Kaizer Chiefs and Orlando Pirates, historically fierce competitors, has spilled over into national team discussions.

In South Africa, football has always been more than just a game. It’s a unifying force that transcends boundaries, bringing people together from diverse backgrounds to rally behind a common cause.

However, recent events surrounding the national soccer team, affectionately called Bafana Bafana, have shed light on a troubling trend: the divisive nature of club loyalties overshadowing national pride.

The current incarnation of Bafana Bafana has seen a significant presence of players from Sundowns, leading to the emergence of the controversial “Bafana Ba Sundowns” narrative. While it is natural for fans to celebrate the success of their favourite club’s players on the national stage, it becomes problematic when this overshadowing allegiance undermines the essence of representing one’s country.

Football, known for its ability to bridge divides and foster unity, is paradoxically becoming a source of discord in South Africa. 

The rivalry between clubs like Mamelodi Sundowns, Kaizer Chiefs and Orlando Pirates, historically fierce competitors, has spilled over into national team discussions. Instead of rallying behind Bafana Bafana as a symbol of national pride, narrow-minded comments and criticisms have perpetuated a sense of division.

Comparatively, other football-loving nations, such as Spain, provide an insightful contrast. The Spanish national soccer team won the 2010 Fifa World Cup held in South Africa, with a team dominated by players from two dominant clubs: Barcelona and Real Madrid. 

The team, also known as La Roja, featured several key players from Barcelona, including Victor Valdes, Xavi Hernández, Andrés Iniesta, Sergio Busquets, Gerard Piqué, and Carles Puyol, among others. Additionally, players from Real Madrid such as Iker Casillas, Raul Albiol, Alvaro Arbeloa, Sergio Ramos, and Xabi Alonso were integral to the team.

The Spanish defence players were all Real Madrid.

Despite the historical rivalry between Barcelona and Real Madrid, the Spanish national team managed to transcend club allegiances and unite under the banner of national pride. Their collective talent and cohesion propelled them to victory, marking Spain’s first Fifa World Cup triumph.

The point I am making is that despite the intense rivalry between Real Madrid and Barcelona, the Spanish national team remains a unifying force. Supporters understand that national pride transcends club allegiances, allowing them to put aside differences and support the collective goal.

National cohesion

The South African Football Association (Safa) bears a crucial responsibility to address this divisive narrative surrounding Bafana Bafana. 

While acknowledging the achievements of Sundowns’ players, Safa must emphasise the importance of national cohesion and pride. Celebrating individual club successes is valid, but not at the expense of fostering a united front for the national team.

Patriotism should underline every national sporting team, with players representing the flag above all else. The success of Bafana Bafana should not be measured solely by the dominance of players from a single club, but by the collective effort and passion displayed on the field.

By refocusing the narrative on national unity, Safa can help rekindle the spirit of togetherness for which football is renowned. 

The divisive rhetoric perpetuated by some fans undermines the progress towards national cohesion that South Africa has strived for since the end of apartheid. 

Instead of fostering animosity between rival clubs, football should serve as a platform for building bridges and fostering understanding across communities.

It is time to put aside club rivalries and come together as one nation, united behind Bafana Bafana. 

Indeed, the talent of Mamelodi Sundowns is undeniable, but there is a unique pride and distinction that comes with representing one’s nation in any sport.

When players transition from representing their club to donning the national jersey adorned with the Protea, it signifies a higher level of responsibility and honour. 

Drawing parallels with the success of the South African national rugby team, the Springboks, can provide valuable insights for soccer lovers.

The Springboks’ recent achievements demonstrate the power of unity, determination and a deep-rooted sense of national pride. Their triumphs serve as a reminder of what can be accomplished when individuals come together as a cohesive unit, representing not only themselves or their respective teams but their entire nation.

The supporters of the Springbok rugby team primarily focus their praise and support on the national team itself rather than specific club or regional teams. National pride and loyalty supersede allegiance to individual teams.

In soccer, as in rugby, understanding and embracing the significance of playing for one’s country can elevate a player’s performance to new heights. As soccer lovers, appreciating the significance of national representation can deepen our enjoyment and understanding of the sport.

It must remind us that soccer is more than just a game; it is a platform for athletes to showcase their talent, unite their country, revive the support and love for the beautiful game, and inspire future generations in the same way the 1996 African winning team inspired the current Bafana Bafana team. DM


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  • Kanu Sukha says:

    Professor. While your argument is persuasive … could I suggest that ‘fans’ of teams or national teams lift their gaze a little higher to the interests of the ‘game’ ? It often happens that support of the ‘national’ interests become quite ‘parochial’ … which does not serve the interests of the ‘game’ . Nationalism of all kinds can become quite blind, corrosive or stunting.

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