Since 1994 it’s been a losing game for SA, except in sport

Sport

Since 1994 it’s been a losing game for SA, except in sport

We had the Guptas, Zuma, Jooste, then Tshabalala, the Boks, Bafana and our Olympians. Let’s bet on them for the win

Sports reporter
Who could forget Siphiwe Tshabalala's opening goal for Bafana Bafana in the 2010 Soccer World Cup?
UNFORGETTABLE Who could forget Siphiwe Tshabalala's opening goal for Bafana Bafana in the 2010 Soccer World Cup?
Image: Sydney Seshibedi/Gallo Images

“You’re a dead man,” the Alexandra resident said to me as he aimed to take his shot. That was on April 27 1994, the day all South Africans voted for the first time, a day I’ll never forget.

Back then I was a news reporter for the now-defunct SA Press Association, better known by its Sapa acronym, and on that historic day I was assigned to cover the voting stations from the plush suburb of Bryanston through Sandton and Midrand to Alex, the small but volatile township.

That’s where my morning started, outside the polling station there. Two elderly men of the cloth were in a jubilant mood as they stood near the front of the queue waiting for the doors to open.

Carl Niehaus, who was on the ANC’s parliamentary list, was on party duty there and one of the robed ministers went over to him and asked: “If you were to get voted into parliament, would you represent Alexandra?”

Niehaus, clean-shaven and dressed in civvies,  smiled back. “Of course,” he replied. “Alexandra is close to my heart.”

We know now, of course, the value of Niehaus’ response, which would probably be best described by pages of crying-with-laughter emojis.

But we didn’t know that then. The priest, heartened by Niehaus’ reply, danced back to his place in the queue. “Now I know who I will vote for,” he proclaimed in such an excited tone he was almost singing. That is what that day meant to him.

From Alex I went to the stations in traditionally white areas, all characterised by long, snaking queues. I popped in to visit my uncle and aunt in Bryanston, where watching the TV news I realised the long queues were all over the country.

Wanting to find a fresh angle, I headed back to Alex, looking for a shebeen. If I couldn’t locate a story there I would at least find a refreshment. The search didn’t take long and within minutes I was in an establishment that looked remarkably like a regular backyard, just with a lot of quarts.

I spoke to a small group of men, one of whom was called Dennis. After a while the conversation turned to pool and then, obviously, boasting about who was the better player. The challenge was on.

We went off to another shebeen with a table. Dennis and a couple of his mates gave me directions as I drove us through the narrow streets. At one point I misunderstood an instruction and turned down the wrong road, heading straight towards the hostel.

“Turn around! Turn around!” they shouted in unison, ducking down for cover — the relaxed, jubilant atmosphere had switched to near panic. The years-long conflict fuelled by IFP-aligned hostel-dwellers across Gauteng townships had ended just a week earlier, but the hangover of that violence still hung heavily in the air.

I quickly did a U-turn and we arrived at the shebeen without further drama.

The pool table there seemed to have been modelled after an Augusta National green, full of slopes and unreadable breaks. The key was aiming anywhere except at the pockets.

It was a closely fought contest and each time I missed a shot Dennis teased me that my mistake had just cost me the game: “You’re a dead man.” And when he had his first shy on the black ball to win the game, it was the same thing as he leant over the table, cue at the ready: “You’re a dead man.”

For me, April 27 1994 was probably the greatest day in SA’s history; the start of a liberated nation that held so much hope and promise.

He was probably aiming straight at the pocket, so luckily for me he missed. After that I somehow managed to take the victory. As the ball disappeared, the onlookers all laughed and shouted at Dennis in unison: “You’re a dead man!”

Dennis laughed back. 

I bid my new friends farewell and continued on my way, discovering the queue at the Alexandra ballot station was still long when closing time struck that night, though by then voting had been extended to the next day. I returned on April 28 to cast my vote in Alex.

For me, April 27 1994 was probably the greatest day in SA’s history; the start of a liberated nation that held so much hope and promise.

There have not been many days to give South Africans widespread joy since, thanks to the Guptas; former president Jacob Zuma; Markus Jooste, former CEO of Steinhoff; Bosasa; and many others, including the hordes of bent parliamentarians supporting the kleptocracy.

But the few great days that we have had since then were pretty much all based on sport — when Siphiwe Tshabalala scored the opening goal of the 2010 Soccer World Cup; when Siya Kolisi’s Springboks thumped England in the 2019 Rugby World Cup final; when Bafana Bafana lifted the 1996 African Nations’ Cup trophy; the Boks winning the World Cup in 1995 and 2007; and many great Olympic moments, such as Penny Heyns landing SA’s first Games gold in 44 years; and a waving Josia Thugwane finishing first in the Olympic marathon.

Sport has unified this country more than any other endeavour; it probably deserves far greater investment.