|MONKEY BUSINESS: BafanaBafana coach Shakes Mashaba|
TODAY I am a monkey. A footballing guerrilla. One who sits on the back of our national coach, awaiting eviction. This is my tail.
As South Africa basks in the glory of a come-from-behind 3-1 win over Angola, Ephraim "Shakes" Mashaba did the talking for himself this weekend rather than relying on a series of questions from his son, as he did during a run of eight competitive defeats in charge of BafanaBafana.
To recap: There was the epic 2-2 draw in Nigeria, followed by three failures at AFCON 2015, then COSAFA penalty shoot-out defeats on home soil against Botswana and Malawi, followed by 0-0 against Gambia and 1-3 in Mauritania to kick-off AFCON 2017 qualifying. Tough times, by any standards.
There’s almost no point in mentioning CHAN, the competition for home-based players, where we crashed out to Angola last month, despite an away win in the second leg.
Clearly though, nothing is going to change. Selection will be eccentric, team talks will be confusing, flights to and from Bafana games will continue to be chaotic with barely an independent journalist making the trip to tell us what's really going on.
With SAFA president Danny Jordaan ruling Port Elizabeth and Technical Director Neil Tovey limiting his involvement to critical television performances, I decided to change tack.
I spent last week in #shakysupport mode (though I could never quite get it trending on twitter) despite the inexplicable absence of Kermit Erasmus and Keagan Dolly on the trip to Benguela and the inclusion of four injured players.
I stuck to #shakysupport even when Brilliant Khuzwayo refused to replace Itumeleng Khune in the squad (the Sunday Sun suggests he was partying in Umlazi rather than attending to family matters, but that’s another story) and wished Wayne Sandilands well when he was called up as the third goalkeeper.
When Jackson Mabokgwane of Mpumalanga Black Aces was named as captain, again, a public pat on the back. When Andile Jali got sent off after scoring from the penalty spot, there was no need to slam the man. Job done. The Moses Mabhida Stadium on Tuesday night should be one long celebration, Angola need a 3-0 win and they’re NOT going to get it.
No need for monkey business. So here’s what Ephraim Mashaba said when Bafana returned (on the same flight, remarkably) from Angola to the Maharani Hotel in Durban on Sunday: “I want those monkeys to sit on my back and I don't want them to jump off, please.
“The weight that they’re putting on me, it keeps me on my toes, because I'm also saying 'I've got to feed them, these monkeys' and how do I feed them? I deliver, that's all. Feed them by delivering.”
And of course, he’s right. No national coach deserves to escape criticism. Early on in his reign, the Sunday Times Sports Editor Dr BBK Shortarse claimed Mashaba was under scrutiny because of his “levels of melanin”. He has since been nominated for journalist of the year.
Mashaba did the same, claiming he is discriminated against because of his skin colour. Utter bunkum of course. Gordon Igesund has low melanin levels but got so tired of this monkey he tried to sue.
But hey, we beat Angola, and we’ll probably beat them again on Tuesday night. But hold on, Mr Mashaba, the monkeys won’t be going anywhere. Next up? The group stages of the 2018 World Cup. And because we have the disadvantage of being a CAF nation, only the winners go through from the five groups of four. At least, unlike 2014, there will be no play-off against a seeded group winner to follow.
The road to Russia 2018 is a long one, a cold one... especially for Africa, where only FIVE out of 54 nations can qualify.
So too is the road to AFCON 2017 in Gabon, where one point from two games leaves Bafana needing to beat Cameroon TWICE to stand any chance of topping the group.
Braver primates will continue to plague Mashaba, even after this fantastic win in Angola. The yes men, and there are plenty of them, will say he’s evolved beyond gorilla warfare.
Me? I’ll just carry on pointing out the rights and wrongs, with a minimum of gibberish. That’s the job. Right on the monkey.