Archive for March, 2010

Bafana 101: Why the name Bafana Bafana?

March 12, 2010

Sticking to the nickname theme of my last post, I thought it would only be logical to write about the origination of the nickname of the South African soccer team, Bafana Bafana (Zulu for Boys Boys). Surely this bit of information is pre-requisite sporting knowledge for the thousands of South Africans who are going to witness not only their first South African soccer experience during the World Cup but probably their first live soccer game ever (my mom definitely falls into that category!)

However, what I thought would be simple research, discovering why the South African national soccer team is called Bafana Bafana, has evolved into an exercise of investigative journalism…

You would think that with the World Cup looming large, in 90 days 9 hours 35 min and 24 seconds to be exact, there would be a flood of information on the web about the team and the history of what will surely be the most popular phrase during the world cup “BAFANA BAFANA”

Apparently not!

Unbelievable really.

Every website tells you that the SA team is referred to as Bafana Bafana but none of them tells you why?

I first tried my source for all things info, Wikipedia*.  My trusty wiki tells me that: “The South Africa national football team or Bafana Bafana is the national team of South Africa and is controlled by the South African Football Association.


If wiki offered nothing, I knew I had a little challenge on my hands… So I rolled up my sleeves, warmed up my clicking fingers, and hit Google.

After opening up what seemed like countless websites linking to the name “Bafana Bafana” all I discovered was that the South African soccer team is referred to as “Bafana Bafana”. Some even went out of their way to translate that into “Boys Boys”.

Well done.

Now I regard myself as a pretty handy ‘Googler’ so I was not about to give up so easily…

I applied some logic and searched for the “bafana bafana homepage”, and got redirected to, the South African Football Association. And guess what? No information on the source of the nickname. Zilch. Nada. Big ups to Safa!

Entering bears the “This domain has been registered by Adams & Adams on behalf of its client.” If I call Adams & Adams they will probably charge me R4500 for 5 minutes of ‘legal’ advice. No luck here…

And proudly states that this site is “under construction”

There are some really progressive website owners out there.

Finally, as the heat of my overworked laptop was about to burn a hole through the pillow resting on my lap, I stumbled upon a link


“The nickname ‘Bafana Bafana’ was originated by a group of journalists – no-one has ever been able to verify their personal claim to this – and it was in 1992 after SA was readmitted into FIFA. Our National team had already played 6 games, winning 1, drawing 1 and losing 4. The excuse made for this poor start was that we were still ‘young’ in International football and still learning the game at this level, and so it also played a part in the nickname, because the ‘young boys’ were still learning”

Another explanation from the same link proffers “the origin is that the Sowetan newspaper journalists coined the name for the team after re-admittance, and it comes out of the fact that prior to re-admittance in the townships the teams were owned/managed by older men and the younger men played in the team. It was common for the older men to say “abafana bam ba dlala kahle” which means “my boys are playing well”.

Makes sense to me.

So there you have it – the origination of the name “Bafana Bafana”, a little bit of information every ‘Proudly South African’ supporter needs to know.


** Out of curiosity I searched Wiki to see if it revealed the source of the nickname for the SA rugby team, the Springboks. Wiki tells me that the name was first used in 1906 when the South African management,  days before the first tour match to the British Isles, coined the reference “Springboks” to avoid the witty London press from inventing some “funny name”.

my faith in wiki is restored!

Bafana 101: What’s in a (nick)name?

March 8, 2010

Going to the 1996 African Nations Cup Final was definitely one of my defining sporting experiences. Just being in the stadium in the newly post-apartheid South Africa was a. novelty within itself. Soccer through the apartheid years in South Africa had mostly become the domain of black South Africans (as rugby was to the whites), and the daunting FNB stadium was home to the big two of South African soccer, Soweto heavyweights Kaizer Chiefs and Orlando Pirates.

One of my favourite memories of that day was being one of over 110,000 soccer fans crammed into the 90,000 seater FNB Stadium in Soweto, all bellowing out in a passionate yet synchronised style “FEEEEEEEEESSSSHHHHHH” in reference to Mark Fish, the legendry South African central defender who at that moment had just expertly robbed the Tunisian player off the ball. What boggled my mind was that Fish was a white player, yet was just as adored by the fans as when John ‘Shoes’ Mosheou, the creative genius in the heart of the Bafana midfield got the ball and everyone chanted “SSSSSSSSSSHHHHHHHHHOOOOOOEEEESSS”, as more than a handful of supporters immediately pulled one shoe off and waved it in the air, almost in sacrifice to their hero. When Lucas Radebe slid in to make an important tackle it was the same story, “RRHHHHHHHHHHHHOOOOOOOOO”.

Fans of the local game in South Africa are well known for imparting nick names on their favourite players, almost as a term of endearment. Although most of the names are original and relate to the players’ physical appearance or style of play, some have been taken from popular culture such as movies or even the names of other famous footballers whom the local player reminds the fans of. In fact, nicknaming is probably an old township culture still around today. I remember my uncle telling me that the caddies at his golf club referred to him as ‘Mr. Experience’ because every time he came to the golf course he asked for a caddie with “experience”. To this day when I go back to my old golf course Kyalami, there are always caddies, some of whom I have never met before, who greet me as ‘Satch’ as one of the first caddies I ever used at the course mispronounced my name “Sacks”!

“Most of the nicknames come from the supporters. The names reflect the way you relate to them and the way you display your skills. It creates great relationship between players and supporters,” says  ‘Shoes’ Moshoeu. Shoes himself cannot remember how he got his nickname – but he has had it since he was a child.  It appears that usually one or two people mention a nickname in a shebeen (a local pub) and fans familiarise themselves with that name. They go the stadium and start chanting that name and the next thing you know is that the newspapers use the name and it stays. Lucas Radebe was given the nickname “Rhoo” because of the echo it creates around the stadium – so every time he touches the ball the crowd would chant “Rhoo”.

Some of the more colourful nick names I remember include Helman “Midnight Express” Mkhalele, a skilful winger from the winning 1996 team who got his nickname from his dark complexion and pace; Jerry “Legs of Thunder” Sikhosana an Orlando Pirates legend who was part of the Bafana 1998 World Cup Squad; and the former Orlando Pirates defender Gavin Lane was given the nickname ‘Stability Unit’ because of his ability to organise the defence and sort things out; and the simple “Go Man Go” adorned to the prolific yet pacy Bafana striker Marks Maponyane. But my personal favourite is Thomas ‘Who’s Fooling Who’ Hlongwane!

Nicknames of the Bafana players expected to do duty during the 2010 World Cup include the current captain Aaron ‘Mbazo (the Axe)’ Mokoena for his tough tackling; Steven ‘the Mighty Peanut or Schillo’ Pienaar named after the Italian footballer Salvatore Schillaci; Thembinkosi ‘Terror’ Fanteni; Teko ‘Deco’ Modise; Siboniso ‘Nesta’ Gaxa; Benson ‘Mayanga’ Mhlongo; Surprise ‘Masterpieces’ Moriri; Siphiwe ‘Clipz’ Tshabalala; and Katlego ‘Killer’ Mphela

When you are sitting in the Soccer City stadium for the opening game of the World Cup for the Bafana vs. Mexico game and you can name Killer, Deco and Terror as they run onto the pitch you are fast becoming a true Bafana fan!

And just remember to chant for Matthew Booth ….. you can’t miss him – just look for the very tall, very skinny lily white defender. Whenever he gets the ball, you gotta shout out “BOOOOOOOOOOOOOTH!!!!”

Bafana Bafana! Boys Boys!

March 3, 2010

Itumeleng Khune, Siboniso Gaxa, Reneilwe Letsholonyane, Matthew Pattison, Siphiwe Tshabalala.

Recognise any of these names?

Probably not!

But what if I had to mention names such as Lucas Radebe, Neil Tovey, or Doctor Khumalo?

Somewhat more familiar, right!

The arbitrary names I first mentioned are some of the ‘star’ players whose young shoulders the hopes and dreams of many  Bafana Bafana supporters rest upon during the approaching World Cup 2010. Yet only those who are familiar with the local soccer league (PSL) will actually know who these players are or what they are capable of. But to the rest of us uninformed South Africans or even ardent soccer fans, who are most likely followers of the English Premiership, Spanish La Liga or Italian Serie A, and could name many players in these respective leagues, the names of our local star players are as ‘foreign’ to us as the street address of our favourite ‘foreign’ team!

I for one, am a massive soccer fan, or more specifically, for my troubles, I support Liverpool Football Club. I can name the majority of the current squad and most of the reserves, and I can remember who played right back in the 1994/95 campaign. I can amazingly even remember when they last won the league!

But don’t ask me who is the current leading scorer in the local South African league or which team last won the championship. I don’t even know where Kaizer Chiefs, most likely the biggest team in the land and one of the best supported clubs in the world, play their home games (actually I don’t think they know either!)

The World Cup Football is the biggest sporting even in the world, and it’s happening right on OUR DOORSTEP!! Many South Africans are already showing interest in the team, but sadly most of us only know the nickname of the South African team (…….. Bafana Bafana. Come on!) , and the circus that surrounded the appointment of Carlos Alberta Perriera (….most people probably don’t even know he is from Brazil but they do know he is earning R1.8 million a month!!)

The success of the 1996 African nations winning team cemented the names of those players in soccer folklore. Unfortunately many of us peripheral supporters only started getting behind our team as they successfully progressed through the tournament. This times its different, the interest is already there.

I definitely need to know at least the basics of our players and team if I am going to say that I am a true Bafana Bafana supporter at this World Cup!  I want to explore the faces behind the names, the clubs they play for, their nicknames (and there could be a few gems at that!)  and come the World Cup, hopefully names such as Teko “Deco” Modise and Katlego “Killer” Mphela will be as recognisable as Mark “FEEEESHH” Fish and John “Shoes” Moshoeu.

If you are a footy fan, local or foreign, perhaps you too will learn a bit more about the Boys! So when a Brazilian or German tourist sitting next to you at the Ellis Park game, which you naively won tickets for in the ticket lottery, asks you who Bafana’s best players are, not only will you know their names you might even know which positions they play too!

How can we fully get behind our team this World Cup if we don’t even know about the players who are going to do the duty and wear the Bafana jersey with pride, guts and hopefully glory!!

Mzansi fo sho!

%d bloggers like this: