How S’busiso Mseleku kicked Bafana Bafana into play
The legendary soccer writer, who died on Monday, and a crack Sowetan team were behind the side’s nickname
S’busiso Mseleku‚ the legendary football writer who died on Monday night‚ was part of a crack Sowetan sports team that coined the nickname Bafana Bafana for the national team.
The name originated in a weekly column written alternately by three famous Sowetan football reporters‚ in a week when it was penned by then sports editor Molefi Mika and endorsed by his co-writers‚ Mseleku and Sello Rabothata.
Former City Press sports editor Mseleku‚ who also wrote for Drum magazine‚ died at Vereeniging’s Midvaal Private Hospital this week, aged 59, from a short Covid-19-related illness.
“The little things that S’bu impacted on our football were the nicknames‚” Mika recalled.
“He‚ and some of us‚ believed that when we covered football we should be part of the passion and start it in the newsroom. We should sing along with the fans if need be.
“He was the one who coined the names ‘Legs of Thunder’ for Jerry Sikhosana and‚ because he had dark skin‚ Helman Mkhalele was ‘Midnight Express’.”
He‚ and some of us‚ believed that when we covered football we should be part of the passion and start it in the newsroom.Molefi Mika
The former Sowetan sports editor said Mseleku was out on assignment when Mika drafted a column using the name “Bafana Bafana”. It was at the time of the first international matches in a series against Cameroon in 1992. This was after “Bafana Bafana” had first been used as a nickname for the newspaper’s football team‚ Sowetan Dazzlers.
“The three of us would write that column‚ alternating‚ with the others going through it‚” Mika said.
“I used the name ‘Bafana Bafana’ ...
“Because the nicknames — your ‘Crocodiles’ and your ‘Elephants’ — were all gone, S’bu and Sello endorsed it.
“The ‘Bafana Bafana’ was ... about the rhythm. If it had just been Bafana‚ it would not have been the way I wanted it to sound. It’s Bafana Bafana.”
We realised there was no nickname for this national team and, being township boys‚ football was in our blood.Sello Rabothata
Rabothata recalled how then Sowetan editor Aggrey Klaaste wanted members of his team to be closer to the communities they were writing about.
“That’s when I thought we should start a football team. Sowetan being a daily paper‚ Fridays were always off days. We formed a team that would be around the townships‚ for the people to know us.
“The team was called Sowetan Dazzlers. There was a friend of Molefi’s who would always accompany us wherever we played — I think his name was Jerry — who was our Celtic kind of fan. He would be on the touchline shouting‚ ‘Come on Bafana Bafana’. So that became Dazzlers’ nickname.
“When the national squad was formed ... we realised there was no nickname for this national team and, being township boys‚ football was in our blood. And as much as we were giving players nicknames we thought we can’t keep calling this side ‘the national team’.”
That is how the name Bafana Bafana first appeared in their column.
Rabothata dispelled the myth that “Bafana” referred to the national team being young boys on an international stage.
“That’s not what it actually means. In the townships people talk about their teams‚ whether it’s Pirates or Sundowns‚ as abafana bami balahlekile — my boys have lost.”
Rabothata and Mika said Mseleku was known for his bravery as a journalist‚ for telling things the way they were, even if it meant clashes with intimidating administrators.
“Nothing would stop him when S’bu was out to get a story‚” Rabothata said.
Mseleku left City Press last year to form his own company‚ S’busiso Mseleku Sports.