Thursday Sep 05, 2019. 15:00
South African football, and the country’s sporting sphere as a whole, must hope that the cancellation of an international friendly between Bafana Bafana and Zambia’s Chipolopolo is not the start of an ugly trend that harkens back to the dark days of Apartheid.
What’s the background?
The trauma of a divided and unequal society, such as South Africa’s, can manifest in violent and dangerous uprisings. This has certainly been the case in recent days, with the country’s economic hub, Johannesburg, being hit by a wave of xenophobic attacks.
Foreigners and their properties (such as homes, businesses and vehicles) have been attacked by groups of locals, who, for the most part, are hiding their blood lust and frustration behind the mask of vigilantism, claiming that many immigrants are guilty of illegal and criminal activity.
South African President Cyril Ramaphosa has spoken out in strong terms against these attacks: “We are facing another huge challenge,” he explained on Wednesday in a public forum, “the challenge of a number of our people taking the law into their own hands.”
He added, “As much as they have certain grievances, taking action against people from other nations is not justified and should never be allowed in our beautiful country. South Africa is a home for all.”
The effects of the attacks have been felt as far as Nigeria with Jidenna, an American musician of Nigerian origin, denouncing the xenophobic violence via his twitter feed.
“Just left Lagos this morning after speaking at a listening party about xenophobic attacks on Nigerians in South Africa. This apartheid trauma is rampant, cancerous and volatile. My heart is heavy,” said Jidenna.
These #xenophobicattacks and assaults on women in 🇿🇦 aren’t new. They‘re a direct symptom of apartheid & they‘ll only end once the attackers realize that women & Nigerians are not the enemy. Neo-colonialists made u feel castrated & worthless; tribalism & patriarchy are their guns
— Jidenna (@Jidenna) September 4, 2019
Zambia pull the plug
Ramaphosa’s call for an end to the violence came too late to stop Zambia pulling the plug on a scheduled friendly against South Africa in Lusaka this coming Saturday.
“The Football Association of Zambia (FAZ) regrets to inform members of the public that the international friendly match between Zambia and South Africa that was scheduled for National Heroes Stadium on Saturday, 7 September 2019 has been called off in view of the prevailing security concerns in South Africa,” read a statement from the country’s FA on Tuesday.
“FAZ General Secretary Adrian Kashala has relayed the message to the South African Football Association (SAFA) about the decision.”
What does this mean for both teams?
At the time of writing Zambia had yet to announce any intention or efforts to find a replacement opponent. As such, this is a major blow: Chipolopolo, who missed out on the last Africa Cup of Nations, have just over two months before they begin the qualifiers for the 2021 edition, where they find themselves in a heinously difficult group alongside champions Algeria as well as regional rivals Zimbabwe (against whom they have a fierce rivalry) and Botswana.
Their first game is away to Algeria in November and the loss of a crucial preparation match only makes that game an even tougher mountain to climb, not to mention the added complication of a governmental wrangle over the proposed appointment of coach Vaselin Jelusic.
As for Bafana Bafana, SAFA have moved quickly to secure a replacement match: they will tackle Madagascar (the impressive upstarts from the 2019 AFCON) at Orlando Stadium on Saturday evening, giving new coach Molefi Ntseki the opportunity to bed into the job as he gears the team up for their opening AFCON 2021 qualifier away to West African heavyweights Ghana in November.
On the surface, this is good news for SAFA, Bafana and South African sport as a whole, but in truth this only papers over a major crack.
The bigger picture
First of all, there is no suggestion that a boycott of matches against and in South Africa, such as Zambia announced yesterday, will become a trend. The fact that Madagascar agreed to send their team is a balm against this notion.
However, SA has a dark sporting past of isolation (in reaction to the racist government of the Apartheid era) and a failure to effectively deal with this ongoing aggression toward foreign peoples is a major concern on an international sporting front.
South Africa’s xenophobia can neither be ignored nor brushed under the carpet – or a cancelled football match will be the least of the country’s worries.