Saturday, 31 January 2015

BAFANA ARE HOME AFTER FOUR DAY DISAPPEARANCE; Shakes Mashaba produces a masterful performance in misleading the nation

Taken for Granted: Shakes Mashaba shares a
giggle with Ghana boss Avram Grant
BAFANA’S homecoming on Saturday lunch-time has set quite a benchmark for future Bafana Bafana coaches. In 35 long and sometimes tedious years of sporting press conferences – from Terror Mathebula to David Beckham, from Hansie Cronje to Muhammad Ali – I have NEVER seen such a performance.

Ephraim “Shakes” Mashaba, you are a master of spurious spin, of blatant bluster, of bent bonhomie. In an hour of schmooze and schmaltz, his attempt to mislead the nation failed on only one front. Fact. With one point and a minus three goal difference, his team was the worst at the tournament, level with Burkina Faso. FACT.

Having left Jozi promising success on a par with the 1996 AFCON winners, having said he would not return until after the final on February 8, there was Shakes oozing platitudes about his “heroes”, two of whom had already sloped off home to avoid the fall-out of a disastrous campaign.

He went through EACH ONE of his technical team, from the doctor to the physio, through both of his assistants: Thabo Senong (“He can tell you everything about young stars, even about their grandparents) and Owen da Gama (“He was always bringing the stats, I couldn’t understand all of them”) and on to the desperate media contingent, thanking them for “covering every game”, which surely is their primary task, given the some of them were subsidised by SAFA to be there.

SHAKES WITH LAUGHTER: Mashaba and Jordaan
Both Shakes and SAFA’s Rea Ledwaba brazenly behaved as if Bafana had actually returned home after their mysterious THREE DAY DELAY having won the tournament.

Shakes talked of “playing good football” and “not playing second fiddle to anybody” while Ledwaba, apologising for the absence of her president Danny Jordaan, assured us: “We are on track with our Vision 2022 programme”.

Incredible. Shakes told us Bafana should have scored five against Algeria, explained how he “didn’t bother too much about tactics” and told us: “South African players are unique. They achieve more than anybody would expect.”

Mashaba would have made a great politician. Preferably in North Korea, where truth and bluster are entirely unrelated.

Ledwaba’s fawning was outdone only by the journalists in a desperately short question and answer session at the end of the press conference. Every media man presaged his gentle query with “Well done on the tournament coach” or “Welcome home coach, congratulations”. At one point Mashaba grinned: “I keep getting these compliments from you journalists. You say nice things. Perhaps I should have a round of applause.”

The closest thing to a searching question was greeted with incredible spin. Asked why he used three different goalkeepers in Bafana’s three Group C matches, he suggested it was his plan all along. That a true No 1 would not emerge until after an unspecified future camp.

He said: "Three goalkeepers was our vision, we said let us play them individually in each game, that was our plan." THAT WAS HIS PLAN? What utter rubbish.

And worst of all, THIS: “One point comes in to mind: patriotism. Algeria’s French stars were all there, our players let us down.”

Lies. Misleading the nation. In truth, FC Twente's talented midfielder Kamahelo Mokotjo came for Shakes’ first qualifying fixtures, flew to Johannesburg, Khartoum and Cape Town but didn’t get ONE MINUTE on the field before being sent home with Mashaba calling him “heavy”.

Thulani Serero, Kermit Erasmus and Tefu Mashamaite, who featured in qualifying, were slung out without ceremony, older players like Thuso Phala, Bernard Parker and Jackson Mabokgwane appeared in the squad only for AFCON, yet Shakes seemed to feel he stuck with his qualifying heroes, lying even to himself.

In truth is was Shakes who axed vital, younger players after a qualifying success which saw AFCON champions Nigeria fall by the wayside. It was not the players who let him down.

There’s more, some nonsense about “if you don’t believe in my players after this, there must be something wrong with you” and “We are winning, don’t worry” after two defeats and a draw.

All he needed to say of course was "I got carried away before the tournament. We did our best but it wasn't good enough. Next time will be different. Nobody is barred from our squad in future."

Instead, surrounded by Yes Men (and the occasional Yes Woman), Shakes insisted we are going in the right direction, are on course for the next World Cup, thanked everyone who contributed to his “success”. It was, indeed, a masterful performance.

Worryingly, some people might even believe him.

BREAKING NEWS: Neal and Pray runner up in SA Blog Awards sports category. Thank you to all who voted!

Wednesday, 28 January 2015

ONE POINT AND NO HOPE: The Bafana Bafana verdict. Warning: contains criticism.

ONE POINT: Shakes Mashaba promised FIVE
The sickness that lies at the heart of South African football can no longer be ignored. Bafana Bafana’s epic failure in Equatorial Guinea has reduced the proud diski nation to a laughing stock, a model for rival African nations to ignore.

Ephraim Mashaba, a coach tried several times before at the pinnacle of our game, epitomises the failings, the blind spots, the weaknesses. After a strong performance in qualifying where AFCON 2013 champions Nigeria were left behind by unbeaten Shakes and his new model army, we were just starting to believe.

Then the arrogance crept in. The arrogance that makes South Africa the team to beat all over the continent. And boy, do we take a beating up north. And not just on the football pitch.

Rather than pushing on with SAFA’s vision of a new, young Bafana Bafana, Mashaba led us straight up the garden path and in to the rickety shed marked “Same old mistakes”. Or is it “Same old Shakes”?

He said he’d win it. He shrugged off the Group of Death. He promised us success, like a punch-drunk boxer trying to extend a canvas-licking career. Laughable really, from a man who complained about being described as the “cheap but sensible” option by this writer (quoting SAFA president Danny Jordaan) from the outset.

Going in to a distinctly dodgy tournament where the banned hosts were offered the easiest of draws and South Africa were pooled with three of the toughest nations on the continent, Shakes sneered: “This is not the Group of Death, this is the Group of Life. It’s not about "will we go through?" but who will go through with us.”

He said we would pick up five points and remain unbeaten against Algeria, Senegal and Ghana. When he departed Oliver Tambo International, he told us: “I’ve packed for six weeks, I’m not coming back early, no way.”

And here we are, on a bleak morning lightened only by the blessed relief of Eskom load shedding in many areas and obscuring our view. We ended with ONE POINT. We ended BOTTOM OF THE GROUP. We ended WITH THE SAME OLD EXCUSES.

The Mashaba explanation this morning: "We want to win, we just don't know how to."

Shakes went to the tournament defying all conventions. In his arrogance, those who, like me, asked questions about his bizarre 34-man provisional squad found themselves blocked by SAFA and Bafana Bafana on twitter. He picked nine players belonging to one agent, several of whom weren’t even playing regularly for their clubs in the PSL.

At a loss: how South Africans feel this morning
Time and again he refused to listen to reasonable pleas for sanity. May Mahlangu was banned for being fatigued. FC Twente’s Kamehelo Mokotjo had already been dumped and told he “looked heavy” after travelling 12000 miles and not making an appearance early in his reign. The final straw? Thulani Serero, our only Champions League star, was booted out when he “didn’t report to camp”. Thing was, SAFA had told him to report on January 4. He was axed on December 30. Work that one out.

And then, of course, the ridiculous hype before the tournament. The dodgy friendly wins so reminiscent of the pre-World Cup era in 2010. Zambia, Cameroon, Mali all too comfortably dealt with, encouraging a tidal wave of Shakes-mania with no questions asked. For a nation still living under the shadow of unpunished match-fixing the naivety was – is – astonishing.

By the time Sports Minister Fikile Mbalula arrived to assume his role as sport’s least attractive – and loudest – cheerleader, Bafana had already thrown away the opening game against Algeria. Mbalula was allowed to strut around the camp, with no questions asked. He was “calming the nerves” and “entertaining our troops” according to one of our top broadcasters. What a joke.

Criticism, even at that point, was condemned as unpatriotic. Inaccurate reports from within the camp, where only “approved” journalists dared to tread, gave us hilarious tales: Rivaldo Coetzee was “too mentally weak to recover from his knee problem”; Brilliant Khuzwayo was “aloof and arrogant”; Oupa Manyisa was “dropped after a late afternoon training injury”.

All utter balderdash. With lickspittle assistants Owen Da Gama and Thabo Senong (and the SAFA media men) egging him on, Shakes could do no wrong. Refusing to confirm his captain until the last possible minute, changing goalkeepers for all three games (and the preceding friendlies), playing Manyisa on the left, calling up Ayanda Gcaba, a THIRD Orlando Pirates right back, when Patrick Phungwayo’s injury struck.

These were the actions of a man out of control, unable to contain his enthusiasm for his own voice, his own bizarre views on football. He acts like Sir Alex Ferguson but has the talent of Vladimir Vermecovic.

Three times at AFCON 2015, Bafana went 1-0 up. Three times Mashaba failed to adjust to the situation, hold on to a lead, show even an ounce of modern tactical acumen. He went in to the tournament with two-and-a-half centre-backs and no left-footed talent.

SAFA president Jordaan promised me Mashaba’s appointment would be followed by the naming of a “fully-qualified, big-name” Technical Director. Danny said Shakes would have sessions with FIFA’s guru Gerard Houllier, the former Liverpool boss. Instead, Mashaba was left to do his own thing, have his own way.

Instead, fuelled by the growing crowd of yes-men surrounding him, Shakes completely lost the plot. Any advantages gained in a qualifying campaign which defied the loss of Senzo Meyiwa and Itumeleng Khune are lost. The youngsters – apart from Rivaldo Coetzee, who isn’t half the man Tefu Mashamaite is – have faded from view.

While his beloved AmaJita blossomed at the Commonwealth Cup in Russia under caretaker David Ntoane, Mashaba was fiddling with players who have simply passed their best-by date. In the end, the average age in Equatorial Guinea was barely a year younger than Gordon Igesund’s squad in 2013, who surged through their AFCON group and went out in the quarter-finals on penalties.

There are no signs of improvement from the dark days of #ingordwetrust. #shakesknowsbest reveals no real crusade for youth, no departure from the agent collusion confirmed by PSL chairman Irvin Khoza before Christmas.

All I see is a repeat of 2003, when Mashaba was fired for refusing to pick our overseas stars for a friendly against England. Speak to those lads today, ask them about Shakes and his methods. Or have an off-the-record chat with most of the top PSL coaches. What was it Mark Fish said to me the day Shakes got the job? “This is a massive step backwards”.

After the disastrous failure against Ghana, Shakes emerged with this: “I think we need to go back to our basics of playing football, knowing when to do things, how to do things, and where to do them.

"Why rush when you're one goal up? Why were we were knocking it back to them? That's where the problems lie."

The problem lies of course with Mashaba himself. Our top European stars, playing at a level far better than you’ll ever see in the PSL, aren’t just absent. They are banished.

The heart of South Africa’s brave new world – Serero, Mokotjo and Mahlangu with Siyanda Xulu and others barely mentioned – has been torn out. They’re all under 25 and on the Bafana scrapheap.

We have no idea who our best goalkeeper is this morning. Neither does Shakes. We have no idea why Kermit Erasmus and Lehlohonolo Majoro were left behind. Does Shakes?

We will cling on to Mandla Masango’s cracking volley last night but in truth: how many shots did we have? I have yet to see a nation capable of taking this AFCON by the scruff of the neck but we’re going home with the sniggers of the continent ringing in our ears.

Then this from Mashaba: "Thanks to the people back home, they are sad today. But next time they will be happy." Really? Next time?

Shakes, of course, is going nowhere. The yes men and chubby cheerleaders will see to that.

So we look forward to what? A PSL, resuming on February 10, racked by dodgy agents and “club managers”; a domestic game with falling attendances and academies closed by age cheating. A transfer window dominated by a failure to extend contracts rather than a search for new talent. A top flight where the unbeaten leaders are 18 points clear without the need for a real striker.

Our only hope of reclaiming respectability? Strong performances from Mamelodi Sundowns and Kaizer Chiefs in the African Champions League.

I won’t be holding my breath.

Saturday, 24 January 2015

The Bafana Bafana verdict: disappointing but not disastrous. AFCON 2015 is not over. Yet. KEEP HOPE ALIVE!

Ace in the pack: Oupa Manyisa after scoring in the 1-1 draw against Senegal
LET’S GET THIS STRAIGHT. The 1-1 draw against Senegal on Friday night was NOT a disaster for South African football. It was just another disappointment for the football-speaking nation to swallow.

It could yet prove to be a mere blip on the road to the AFCON final, though the Senegal equaliser felt more like a barricade to progress in a tournament which is there for the taking.

Having been told by then-unbeaten coach Ephraim Mashaba that the Group of Death was not a problem, things haven’t quite gone according to plan. Shakes targeted a five-point haul but already that is beyond us and when he insisted on packing “for six weeks” we were fooled in to thinking qualifying from Group C was a mere formality.

It’s not. It never was. Let’s get those qualifying permutations out of the way to start with, to avoid a repeat of the dancing at Mbombela four years ago:

South Africa need to beat Ghana, or they go OUT. That much is set in stone. SAFA, on their official facebook page, claim “a big win in the final game” on Tuesday could still see Shakes top the group. That, I’m afraid, is simple misinformation which went uncorrected for hours after I pointed it out.

In truth, the best we can do is second – if Senegal beat Algeria. If they draw, South Africa are out on head-to-head with the Desert Foxes as both will have four points. If Algeria win their final game – also played at 8pm on Tuesday – it goes down to goal difference with Senegal, who will also have 4 points. I suspect 2-0 might do it.

It’s never a good thing to go in to the final group matches in a tournament with the other two teams just needing to draw but Shakes remains upbeat: “We still have a chance, we are not out of the tournament yet,” he said “If we’d taken our chances we could have scored six in both games. We have played well in this tournament, we can still surprise you with our last game.”

Captain Dean Furman, faultless on the night, said much the same: “We go in to every match believing until the final whistle. That’s the way we’ve played this tournament.

"We take a lot of confidence from the two games, results didn't go our way but other teams struggled to live with us."

That’s true. At times Bafana have looked capable of competing with the best on the continent. Friday night was very similar to the opening 3-1 collapse against Algeria in Mongomo. Just as Rivaldo Coetzee went off injured after 23 minutes against the Desert Foxes, so Thulani Hlatshwayo went off complaining of double vision against Senegal after 25 minutes.

Then came the South African goal and huge hope just after half-time. A lovely finish from Oupa Manyisa just inside the far post made it 1-0 after 46 minutes – Ace’s first goal in 23 games for Bafana had the nation believing.

But once more – influenced perhaps by the loss of another centre-back - Mashaba failed to make changes as the Lions of Teranga came roaring back. Goalkeeper Jackson Mabokgwane came for a deep cross… then changed his mind. Tower Mathoho, otherwise faultless, could only look on as the huge Kara Mbodji, Anele Ngcongca’s Belgian club-mate, headed home. If Mabokgwane had stayed on his line, it would have been a comfortable save.

At 1-1, South Africa should have thrown everything forward, looking for the win. Risky? Sure. Mabokgwane made a lovely save in the dying minutes to emphasise the nature of that gamble. Mashaba, making text-book changes just after the hour-mark, turned to Bernard Parker for that final push.

And that was the alarming part. Bafana looked happy with a point for those final, edgy minutes. Tokelo Rantie never changed pace. Furman and the struggling Jali stayed fairly deep. The urgency, the desperation to win it, just didn’t happen, which is unusual for a Mashaba outfit. Senegal looked happy to settle for the draw, understandably.

Shakes, as the legend Linda Buthelezi said last week, is an old-fashioned coach. Africa’s Sir Alex Ferguson perhaps, with his goalkeeper shuffling and refusal to bow to public opinion, that classic refusal to slap down big name players like Thulani Serero – our only Champions League star – and Kamahelo Mokotjo, who picked up yet another assist for FC Twente in the Ere Divisie last night.

WORTH A LOOK: Moses Nku, offers THIS Bafana "forgotten eleven": Khune (capt), Mphahlele, Jele, Mashamaite, Masilela, Mokotjo, Mahlangu, Claasen, Patosi, Erasmus, Serero. I'd add Orlando Pirates' Lehlohonolo Majoro, Rostov's Siyanda Xulu and Buhle Makhwanazi of Wits to that list.

Shakes, who clearly hadn’t been briefed on what has to be done on Tuesday night to qualify, issued the normal platitudes: "Well done to the boys. We have created more chances than our opposition in both games. In the first game we lost in the dying minutes. Today we scored and couldn't consolidate - we gave it away.

"I think our biggest problems are regaining possession when we've lost the ball - we find ourselves wanting - and not scoring with the chances we've created. We should be top and the top scorers. We'll work on that. I'm happy and proud of the team."

Sadly, the nation will struggle to be proud of a team with one point at the six-foot-under end of the Group of Death. What Shakes needs is what Danny Jordaan promised me six months ago. A modern, well-qualified Technical Director. Somebody to push possession football, assess goalkeeping methods and smooth over rifts with big-name foreign players, Mashaba’s glaring weakness when he was fired from the same job a decade ago.

The SAFA president also claimed Mashaba would spend time with FIFA’s top man Gerard Houllier, the former Liverpool boss who is now the world’s top technical advisor. There is no evidence of that as he rushes about assisted by inexperienced Thabo Senong, 34, and yes-man Owen Da Gama. There are times when the Bafana bench doesn’t appear to be watching the game, they’re so busy rubbing heads and gesticulating.

But these are the normal problems. Nothing new. Much the same could be said of previous South African coaches, who progressed beyond the AFCON group stages in 2013 but failed to get past Ethiopia and in to the World Cup play offs.

Shakes, beaten just once in 12 games, will point to an impressive record in his latest spell in charge of Bafana. His quest to fulfil SAFA’s “Vision 2022” has been put on the back-burner with older players dragged in to the squad for Equatorial Guinea. But he has certainly revived Bafana’s fortunes and his passion cannot be questioned. His team talks, as I’ve said before, are terrifying and generally useful.

If the magic happens and Bafana make it to the quarter-final, anything could happen. Shakes, beset by Itumeleng Khune’s injury on the first day of his reign and Senzo Meyiwa’s tragic murder, could thrive in the knock-out stages. The man has always had the ability to confound the critics.

And for all that has been said and done about selection, four goalkeeping changes in four games and a lack of tactical acumen, we can - must - still hope for a brighter future for Bafana. Starting on Tuesday night at 8pm in Mongomo.

And as for the “sack Shakes” campaign? Forget it. He’s the cheap but sensible option. As I’ve said all along. Now where’s that Technical Director, Danny?

Tuesday, 20 January 2015

South Africa lick their AFCON wounds, but the Bafana battle-cry has to be: IT AIN'T OVER YET

NOT QUITE ON POINT: Shakes Mashaba and Bafana
EVERYTHING THAT COULD GO WRONG DID GO WRONG. Emphraim Mashaba, after 10 games unbeaten in the run-up to AFCON 2015, finally lost the invincible tag on Monday night as a series of unfortunate blunders left South Africa with a 3-1 defeat to show for their notable efforts.

When Thuso Phala of SuperSport United put Bafana Bafana ahead just after half-time, the nation was ready to hit the bar. Seconds later Bournemouth’s Tokelo Rantie did just that. He hit the bar from 12 yards after Man of the Match Sbu Vilakazi was brought down in the box.

For a few precious micro-seconds, South Africa stood astride the African continent. At 1-0 up against Algeria’s French-born, French-raised superstars ranked 15th in the world and No 1 by CAF, Shakes knew best.

But from the moment Rantie’s adrenaline-fuelled penalty hit the woodwork our maverick coach, who will go down in history as the only man to insist on an international football press conference in isiZulu, simply froze.

As Algeria shuffled their pack and moved to a 4-4-2, Shakes dithered, perhaps worried about the earlier injury to young centre-back Rivaldo Coetzee.

And boy, did Algeria take advantage. Thulani Hlatshwayo, in for the suspended Tower Mathoho, did the initial damage. Ironic that, given Dean Furman had hit the bar in the first half and South Africa had squandered a series of chances. Yes, the Bafana centre-back known as Tyson scored the desperately-needed Algerian equaliser, flicking his defensive header over Belgian-based goalkeeper Darren Keet, who should have made the call and completed a simple claim.

There was worse to come. Napoli’s Faouzi Ghoulam blasted a second for Algeria before Islam Slimani poked a shot under the unfortunate Keet, an effort most grandmothers could have blocked. From what should have been 2-0 up to 1-3 down in the space of 25 miserable minutes. Anybody who has ever played the game knows how that feels.

Bafana never really showed signs of a revival after the penalty miss. Mashaba failed to counter the Algerian tactical changes and as captain Dean Furman said afterwards: “When they went to 4-4-2 we didn’t react well. They went two up. We didn’t respond. It’s something we have to look at.”

Shakes insisted (in English), the better side had been beaten. He said: “I know you are all disappointed. This was a match we should not have lost, our first defeat in 11 games. But we have to move forward. We gave the game away, the best team lost after creating so many chances. We allowed them back in to the match and we got punished.”

With Senegal – last-gasp 2-1 winners over Avram Grant’s Ghana  - to come on Friday, true Bafana fans know it ain’t over until Benni McCarthy sings. Shakes put it this way: “Lift your heads up today, there are still six pints to play for. It’s a mountain oclimb but I’m confident we’ll do well in our next match.”

A missed penalty, an own goal, a glaring goalkeeping error. Three horrific blows. As Shakes said: “Algeria were lucky to comeback. They had lost focus. They clawed their way back in to it.

“We lost our way at crucial times. We conceded soft goals. Our last two games against Senegal and Ghana are now must-win.”

I had Kaizer Chiefs boss Stuart Baxter on my new Fish And Chips football show after the game on Jacaranda FM. Unbeaten his season and with NO AmaKhosi players in the Bafana starting XI, the man who has taken his club 18 points clear in the PSL said: “Mashaba has to get the players back up after that. He has to tell them to man up, there are still two games to play. Stop feeling sorry for yourselves.

“The difficult thing is, they had it won. They know that. It was in the bag. The job now is to focus on Senegal, a big, physical side, and produce an even better performance. It’s not over.”

Twitter erupted after the game with many expressing a curious mixture of glee and treason as they tore in to Rantie – who appeared to grab the ball in the absence of any designated penalty taker – and Keet, who made a series of fine saves before his embarrassing error for the third goal.

Changes will have to be made for Senegal. Coetzee was limping around the team hotel Bafana share with Ghana in Mongomo this morning. That means suspended Kaizer Chiefs centre-back Tower Mothoho has a natural opportunity to return next to Hlatshwayo.

Personally, I would stick with Keet. Remember, Shakes chose to use three different goalkeepers and three different captains in the build-up to AFCON, so epic stopping and grand leadership were always going to be hard to find.

I’d also look at Oupa Manyisa’s role wide on the left. One of South Africa’s best players – if you discount the Dutch-based Thulani Serero and Kamahelo Mokotjo – deserves to play central, in his natural position.

My team for Senegal on Friday would see old-fashioned Shakes finally forsaking the old 4-4-2, going to a five man midfield with Bernard Parker alone up front if Rantie hasn’t recovered from the penalty miss. Keet? I think Shakes will opt for his U20 favourite Khuzwayo this time.

My XI for Senegal? HERE IT IS: Khuzwayo; Ngcongca, Hlatshwayo, Mathoho, Matlaba; Vilakazi, Jali, Furman, Manyisa, Zungu; Parker.

Both Vilakazi, last year’s PSL player of the season, and Sundowns’ Zungu have been used wide by Gavin Hunt and Pitso Mosimane. We all know what Oupa can do ahead of Jali, they did it so often during those Orlando Pirates treble-winning seasons.

Thusa Phala can be used as an impact sub – he is developing a nose for goals – with Rantie and Bongani Ndulula of AmaZulu read to come on and challenge the Senegal giants if things get tough. Mandla Masango? He simply doesn’t look like an international class player to me.

To stick with 4-4-2 with Manyisa lost on the left, Jali anonymous and a serious lack of width would be to repeat previous mistakes against Senegal. But as we’ve said from the start. Shakes knows best.

And the message via three Bafana players on SMS today: It ain’t over yet.

Friday, 16 January 2015

SHAKES-PEARE: An ode to Bafana Bafana: AFCON 2015 here we come!

Shakes-peare analysis: Bafana squad for AFCON 2015

Behold the Jolly Green

Andile and Dean Machine

Welcome the dream

Bafana team and SCREAM

If it isn't broke

Don't fix it

Bafana don't choke

We'll mix it

No more fakes

In the hot-seat

Cheap bra Shakes?

We don't get beat

No more Sereros

Just the here ous 

No prima donas

Ten Maradonas

Beat every foe

In Mongomo

Too tall for Senegal

Roast the Bony Ivory Coast

And this is final:
We'll batter in Bata

All the way we'll go

Our promise to Senzo

Bring that trophy back

Let Avram get the sack

The Tower will not crack

Trainbow back on track

Tuesday, 13 January 2015

Humour or racism? David Kekana on SABC last night... "This umlungu uyadlisa" or "the white man is making us lose"

THIS is the moment - all poorly-filmed 12 seconds of it - when SABC analyst David Kekana put his foot in his mouth on Thomas Mlambo's otherwise excellent Monday night show SoccerZone.

The sound ain't great. But here's what happened. Asked about whether he preferred Kaizer Chiefs goalkeeper Brilliant Khuzwayo or Belgium-based Darren Keet to play in goal for South Africa during the AFCON 2015 tournament, Kekana made no bones about it. He said he preferred Itumeleng Khune's 24-year-old stand-in at the AmaKhosi and said: "This mlungu uyadlisa" or "the white man is costing us" when referring to Cape Town-born Keet, .

I have no problem with the use of the word umlungu. This very morning my t-shirt was emblazoned with the word, which means "white guy" and Bafana Bafana captain Dean Furman knows when that word is chanted around the stadium, it is not used in a derogatory sense.

ugly example of the race group Mlungu
But linked with the idea that Keet is in someway inferior - so far he has barely put a foot (or a hand) wrong in the national jersey - it comes across as deeply offensive. And as my twitter followers immediately pointed out last night, RACIST.

I've looked up "uyasidlisa". On google, the confusing response in English was "Iranians" (go on, try it) but most suggest it means "helping us to lose" with the "uya" suggesting defeat and "sidlisa" his role in the side.Scelo Nciki (@scubkae1 on twitter) and many others helped me with that.

Twitter on the whole blasted Kekana, not just for his utterance but for his on-screen performance generally, suggesting a lot of his "jokes" fall flat. When I retweeted some of those messages, Kekana stayed silent. The debate raged but generally the reaction was: Imagine if a white analyst had said: "The darkie is letting us down". Unthinkable.

Ultimately, that is the bottom-line. Using race to single a man out for criticism has long been a problem in South Africa.

The question is: in post-Aparthate South Africa how seriously should be take black racism against white folk, after those long years of pale oppression? Clearly white-on-black racism has always been the major problem. But are we now democratic enough to see both sides of this particularly ugly coin? After 21 years, I'd argue: It's time to stop judging on race, time to end the awful habit of declaring ANYTHING on the basis of skin colour.

Around 90% of the tweets agreed with me as we went to bed, only to wake up this morning with THESE tweets from @davidkekana:

"I was asked a comparative question about Keet and Khuzwayo I said he conceded 33 goals in 21 matches for club"

"In African terms someone with a white hue is referred to as Umlungu. Nothing racist about that."

"Well I am married to an Umlungu, so I get told every day when I walk the streets with my wife"

I pointed out that I know several white men who, though married across the colour-line, hold racist views. When I recommended a course in broadcasting, he responded: "Neil (sic) I have done media law and hold a bachelors degree. Please don't insult me."

I said no slight was intended and asked him to apologise, he responded: "To please you Neil?"

I said no, just to prove he was a decent bloke. That was followed by: "I did not judge him based on his colour! It's your interpretation and not a fact"

I pointed out that "umlungu" suggested he had immediately zoned in on to Keet's colour. Kekana, refusing to apologise or accept responsibility for his words, then tweeted: "Neil, I have better things to be concerned with than you. You are the list (sic) of my concern."

And then came the cracker. The response of all racists under fire: "Like all racist (sic) Neal has to point fingers. Does that sound like turning the wheel back to an era?"

By then Kekana was trending on South African twitter as the nation vented their feelings. You can read the tweets online now if you want. Some came to Kekana's defence, but most agreed: "Please apologise, it's the right thing to do". That is, in my view, still the dominant feeling.

Seconds ago, Kekana sent this: "I said Mlungu Oyadlisa, cause he conceded 33 goals in 21 games in Belgium. Get your Zulu interpreter to interpret that."

As I write, there has been no response from the national broadcaster nor Thomas Mlambo, the presenter of SoccerZone and a man who I consider a friend. We did Euro2012 together. Mlambo, as you can see in the video footage, attempted to put a sock in Kekana's mouth as the incident unfolded and after the ad break, he came close to an apology for his colleague's sentiments.

But there has been no apology from Kekana. It's not like we are asking for a pint of blood. Just a simple sorry. If a white man were to say such things of a black player - particularly on the rugby or cricket channels - all hell would break loose.

With Bafana preparing to play Mali in their final friendly tomorrow - and Keet ready to play after a lightning-quick trip home to see his new-born son Leighton - this story may linger. But I hope not. All it would take is a quick "sorry" and we could leave this all behind.

But to ignore it, to let it go, would be WRONG. Racism is NOT ACCEPTABLE. Especially on SABC1, our national broadcasters' flag-ship channel.

Or perhaps I'm wrong and I've been WRONG all my life. Perhaps it's acceptable. Perhaps racism is still okay in South Africa. You tell me, David Kekana.

I left South Africa in 1985 because I just couldn't stand Aparthate any more. I was a young sports writer appalled by what I came across every day working in Umlazi and KwaMashu. I abhor racism, I was arrested and had my telephone bugged for dating a black woman in Durban. I returned to this country in 2010 to cover the World Cup... and came back to look after my elderly father... and because I thought we'd moved beyond the crude divide-and-rule politics of the Boer.

I didn't raise this topic, ordinary South Africans did, the minute they saw you say it. Ask them what you should do, David. We are all South Africans. We are equal. Darren Keet. Even me.

If Kekana, whom I have only met briefly, has a problem with any of this, he has my telephone number. I'd love to hear a reasonable response.

Saturday, 10 January 2015

THE CAMEROON GOAL THAT NEVER WAS: Unbeaten Shakes does it again, despite refereeing blunder in Libreville

NO GOAL! The referee clearly has his arm raised for Cameroon goal
GOOD OLD SHAKES! He’s done it again. A 1-1 draw against African footballing giants Cameroon in Gabon? That’s not bad. Not bad at all.

And as the picture above shows, the Cameroon goal should NEVER have been allowed. Porto’s 22-year-old Victor Aboubakar struck his sixth-minute free-kick brilliantly, but the referee clearly had his arm up indicating an indirect free-kick, having penalised Themba Zwane  - harshly I felt - for “foot-up” and dangerous play.

Though goalkeeper Brilliant Khuzwayo came under fire for not getting to Aboubakar’s effort, the Kaizer Chiefs stopper should have simply let the ball go in.

Khuzwayo, diving to his left, came under fire for letting the ball “go right through him” as SABC analyst Deshi Bhaktawer (a former Orlando Pirates goalkeeper just back from coaching Atletico Kolkota to India PSL glory) put it. But was he aware the free-kick was supposed to be indirect and moved late?

Despite that injustice, and a difficult first half in general (the SABC struggled too, losing the satellite signal for much of the first 45 minutes when an Outside Broadcast truck lost a generator), Mashaba’s half-time team-talk seemed to work wonders in Libreville.

And as they did in last Sunday’s farewell friendly against Zambia, the substitutions worked the magic. Though the SABC coverage lacked information on replacements, the anonymous Bernard Parker was taken off during the interval for Wits’ impact sub Sibusiso Vilakazi.

As last season’s PSL player of the year showed Sudan in Shakes’ opening Group A qualifier game: Vilakazi knows how to change a game.

SuperSport United’s Thuso Phala came on for Andile Jali, who took a knock in the first half, after 68 minutes and Kaizer Chiefs’ Mandla Masanga came on for Zwane after the equaliser, with ten minutes to go.

And suddenly the Les Lions Indomptables looked remarkably domitable. Captain Dean Furman appeared to have more room – he may play for Doncaster Rovers in England’s third division, but he is as fit as a fiddle – while Phala found width and gaps began to open up.

Vilakazi’s equaliser in the 76th minute was a thing of beauty, as he controlled on the edge of the box, beat one... then two... defender and fired home. BOOM! The unbeaten run was secure once more.

Phala nearly created a second, his left foot opening up the flank and unsettling the now-limp Lions. And by the time the final whistle blew, the crowd in Libreville – limited to 5000 by the Gabon FA – knew South Africa were the only likely winners.

Afterwards, Mashaba said: “We’d like to thank Cameroon for this training match, but as I’ve said, there are no friendlies between nations. They were determined. My boys did well. Now we just have to sort out first 10-20 minutes of the game.

The Unshaken: Bafana boss Ephraim Mashaba
"When we are in possession we look smart, running off the ball. We need to work on finishing. It’s going to be critical. After we got back to 1-1 we had two or three good chances to finish up. We need to work on that. We’ve got to compete."

Mashaba, who has a final pre-Afcon friendly to come on Wednesday against Mali, confirmed the suspension of Reneilwe Letsholonyane and Tower Mathoho for the opening game in Mongomo against Africa’s top-ranked side Algeria and said: “Tonight we had to try other players, new combinations."

With Belgian-based goalkeeper Darren Keet flying out after the game to visit his pregnant wife (he'll be back on Monday), Mashaba survived yet another test of his credentials with aplomb. But as we’ve said before, the man is a born survivor.

Captain Furman said: “We got off to the worst possible start but in the end we were disappointed not to win it. We showed terrific character.

“It was a good strike for their goal but we kept believing. We've got to believe. We’ve grown again today against a good team, we played some lovely stuff.”

Though Gloria Brown’s unorthodox commentary and the SABC’s signal failure might have ruined the game for some, Mashaba knows Cameroon – ranked 9th in Africa – were hanging in at the finish against South Africa, a modest 12th on the continent.

There are tough times ahead. Algeria are Africa’s No 1, Ghana are ranked 5th and Senegal 8th. But on this showing, with Rivaldo Coetzee and Tyson Hlatshwayo forming a reasonable centre-back pairing at the first attempt, Bafana won’t be easy to beat when the tournament kicks off next weekend.

Shakes set a target of 5 points from Group C and laughs off the “Group of Death” tag. He says he’s “not there to make up the numbers” and insists continental conquest is a possibility. Suddenly that healthy optimism is looking eminently reasonable.