Lucas Ledwaba

Boxing legend ‘Smokin’ Joe’ Frazier claimed in a documentary that US soldiers temporarily laid down their arms against the Vietnamese so they could watch one of his epic bouts with Muhammad Ali.

Frazier, may his soul rest in peace, may have been exaggerating – but such is the power and impact of sport, that it can lift or sour the mood of a nation and bring countries to a standstill.

Such was the general mood in the build up to Bafana Bafana’s Africa Cup of Nations quarter-final clash against Nigeria last night.

Not since the days of the all-conquering 1996 Bafana team that lifted the Afcon trophy, has the nation been so buoyed by the national football team’s exploits.

During that period leading up to and a few more years after the 1998 Fifa World Cup in France, families, communities, villages, townships and suburbs came to an almost virtual standstill when Bafana took to the field.

It was the best of times, before a barren period that saw Bafana plunge from continental beaters who could hold their own against the world’s best, to perennial whipping boys.

Bafana’s stock plummeted so badly, that even at regional level, economically suffocated neighbours Zimbabwe have been ruling the roost for years now.

Even after qualifying through CAF’s new system, that allows some third placed group stage finishers to proceed to the last 16 stages of the Afcon, there was still a glum atmosphere in Mzansi with many arguing Bafana didn’t earn a spot in the last 16 and, instead, crashed in via the backdoor.

Added to that feeling of inevitability, they were up against the hosts in the form of the mighty Pharaohs of Egypt.

The feeling was that they were just sitting ducks waiting to be plucked by the likes of Mo Salah who turns out for Liverpool in the English Premier League.

But victory against Egypt in their backyard at the weekend brought some respite to South Africans worn out by the never ending reports of corruption and crime.

In an instant, SA had a new hero and some reason to cheer.

Bafana Bafana and the goal scorer on the night, Thembinkosi Lorch had temporarily stolen the thunder from golden girl Caster Semenya.

Her series of victories on the international racing scene and the ongoing hounding she continues to endure at the hands of the IAAF have elevated Semenya to some sort of national team.

A South African public subjected to the daily gore of crime and horrors of corruption through the Zondo Commission needed some relief, some form of escape from this depressing reality.

A nation fresh from a string of poor performances by its national teams, the Proteas in the ICC World Cup, the annihilation of Banyana Banyana in the Fifa Women’s World Cup and the bundling out of the under-20 Fifa World Cup of the junior national football team, desperately needed a feel good factor.

And so came Thembinkosi Lorch’s goal against the Pharaohs.

Even politicians joined in, hoping to get some political mileage no doubt, issuing congratulatory messages whenever and wherever.

Those fans born in the early 2000s who had rarely seen a Bafana win in their lives, suddenly witnessed what amounted to a miracle and took to social media to laud the efforts of Bafana Bafana.

For at least four days, SA was in celebratory mode and Bafana Bafana were no longer chumps, but champs in the making.

Long forgotten Bafana replica shirts were hauled out of storage and worn with pride.

Bafana is back! – cried many. Bafana has turned the corner! Bafana can win the Afcon!

Even social media was taken over by a new frenzy – a creative form of the Ndebele greeting lotjhani, now twisted to Lorch-ani.

But last night, Nigeria’s Super Eagles ended all that, edging out Bafana 2-1 in a pulsating quarter final clash.

SA is now back to reality.

Dreams of a triumphant Bafana returning home hoisting the trophy have been quashed and South Africans are back to their daily grind, peppered with the usual doses of doom and gloom.


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