Banyana Banyana received a well-deserved hero’s welcome when they touched down at the OR Tambo carrying the Africa Cup of Nations trophy on Tuesday. South Africa’s senior women’s national team won the 2022 Women’s Africa Cup of Nations. It is quite imperative that the entire country takes note of exactly what contributed to this success.
Firstly, this should not be seen as taking the spotlight away from Banyana with Bafana’s failures. In fact, nothing can ever take away the spotlight from these talented Queens of Africa who have given the country that was beginning to doubt its footballing capabilities something to be proud of and use as reference.
Take a bow, ladies. You have made the country proud. You have restored pride in all of us. You are not just Banyana. You are the Queens of Africa!
Women, the architects of society…
As Harriet Beacher Stowe once wrote, “Women are the real architects of society” and it is on this basis that our women’s national team victory carries with it the opportunity to reflect and perhaps finally use it to “architect” the resurrection of men’s football.
More so, because this team is in a position Bafana Bafana were in, in 1996 before something terrible happened and it was completely downhill from then on until even qualifying for this men’s version of this biennial tournament became impossible.
Striking similarities between Banyana of 2022 and Bafana of 1996…
On a closer inspection, there are striking similarities between the successes of the Banyana Banyana team of 2022 and Bafana Bafana team of 1996.
Firstly, both teams had local coaches at the helm; Desiree Ellis for Banyana and Clive Barker for Bafana. The previous year in 1995 Orlando Pirates had conquered Africa winning the CAFChampions League. Banyana Banyana found themselves with the same circumstances going into Morocco with the Mamelodi Sundowns Ladies side having become the first club to win the CAF Women’s Champions League in 2021.
But crucially, when South Africa won the tournament in ’96, it had only been readmitted into international football four years earlier and in the following four years, the country had sought to establish itself in international football. Sponsorships were still very much limited in the game with players earning very little. Most professional clubs during that era did not train twice a day as is the case today and only trained in the afternoon or early evening, mostly because some players had other jobs elsewhere, treating football or the other jobs as side hustles.
It is important at this point, before we look at Banyana’s conditions, to reiterate that this is the era that produced CAF Champions League in 1995 in Orlando Pirates and Afcon Champions in 1996 in Bafana Bafana. This point is very key to this analysis!
Also, very critical to point out about this unstoppable group of players is the fact most of those players were not products of the so-called professional football academies or development structures that we have in abundance today. Those were players who had grown up playing football in their respective townships and villages without much coaching and their development was mostly guided by how they themselves felt comfortable playing this game. Another key point to underline!
Both the Orlando Pirates team that won the CAF Champions League in 1995 and the Bafana team that won the Afcon in 1996, played a football season in SA that followed the calendar year (February to November).
The Banyana team, which has come close on many occasions and finally won the Wafcon in Morocco, play in a February-to-November season.
Just like that Bafana team in 1996, Banyana also export their top players to the big clubs in big leagues abroad and they export mainly players who were developed by the local coaches in various townships and villages – something men’s football can no longer do since men’s development academies have sprung up all over the country since 1996.
Banyana is largely under-resourced just as the men’s game was in the 90s. Despite Hollywood Bet’s intervention, the female football players from national, to provincial and regional league clubs still train late in the afternoon and in the evenings with players who have to go to their respective jobs first, with many relying on stipends for the days they spend in camp and not receiving any salaries.
The majority of the players have grown up playing township and village football on dusty fields with little professional coaching.
In fact, before the tournament started in Morocco, in conversation with Banyana coach Desiree Ellis, she lamented, “We have a national league and it is not fully professional either, you know, players work, players study and they have to concentrate on that and most clubs train in the evenings, because players then have to work. If we can professionalise the sport, I think we really can compete because we have the talent on the African continent and we can make it better.”
Yet, it is under these conditions that Banyana were able to reach the finals of the Wafcon five times before they eventually won it in Morocco this past weekend and Mamelodi Sundowns Ladies, just like Pirates in 1995, won the CAF Champions League the year before the national team’s conquering of Africa. And it is under these conditions that Banyana are able to export talent abroad.
Things took a completely wrong turn for Bafana Bafana in the late 90s and the downward spiral was evident into the 2000s. This with a national team that was huffing and puffing, eventually failing to score a single goal at the 2006 Afcon. This was, four years later, followed by failure to qualify for the 2010 edition despite preparing to host the World Cup, which the team had qualified for as hosts, and going on to become the first-ever host country to be knocked out of the tournament.
No coaching better than bad coaching…
Interestingly, and central to this analysis, the downward spiral coincided with more investment that began streaming into football following the 90s successes. Paradoxically, in the early 2000s, the country saw the proliferation of soccer academies all over the country and the so-called professionalisation of the sport and many highly-paying competitions. It was during this era that there was an influx of foreign coaches that sat on different technical benches of South African clubs and national teams. And, as matter of fact, well-documented, down went the quality of the game! To this day, anyone from any part of Europe, as long as he calls himself a coach, continues to stand a better chance of being employed in the PSL ahead of any local coach that has proven himself.
This reflection is brought about by Banyana’s successful Moroccan expedition and it is that success that should be used to see our football for what it is. Two things can, and will, come out of Banyana’s success in Morocco – either they are going to awaken the men’s game to the mistakes they committed after 1996, or women’s football will attract the same problems the men’s game attracted when more money is pumped into it, more academies for girls spring up all over and local coaches are replaced with foreign coaches as the women’s football becomes more solid with fulltime players who train twice a day.
This analysis is by no means an attempt to suggest that professionalisation of the sport is problematic, that having football academies is the problem, neither it is to suggest that a foreign coach is an enemy of the local game by merely not having a South African ID.
This analysis is to categorically state that “no education at all” would seem to be better than “wrong education in the least” and the proliferation of football academies unguided by a strong national technical vision and football playing philosophy could do more harm than the intended good as we have seen with the men’s game. No coaching is better than bad coaching and this can be seen in developmental conditions that produced Bafana’s 1996 winners and Banyana’s 2022 winners.
It is an undisputed fact that the players who won the CAF Champions League in 1995 had received less football education than today’s players. They had been produced by the streets while today’s players who fail to qualify for the men’s Afcon are mainly produced by football academies, which are seemingly doing more harm than good to the development of our players. The players that conquered Africa in 1996 and reached the finals again in 1998 were largely coached by local coaches and the players who became the first host country to be knocked out of the World Cup in the group stages were largely coached by foreign coaches who architected how those players should play football contrary to their natural football playing qualities. Those are facts!
Today, which is a phenomenon that has not yet found its way into women’s game, men’s football is characterised by contrasting football playing styles and the it’s-all-about-results, as-long-as-we-win mentality, even though they don’t win! It is a mentality that didn’t exist when Pirates won in 1995 and Bafana in 1996 and Banyana in 2022, which clearly shows how you play is very important.
Making sure that women’s football continues to thrive will require that very quickly, Youth League Programs for girls are established and resourced. This is one way of ensuring that the attained success is sustained, and even enhanced and that a national playing philosophy, which is missing in the men’s game, is entrenched in women’s football.
Winning the Afcon 1996 without a technical plan could have been used to advance the men’s game in SA with a well-documented report towards achieving it. This time we have both a technical plan and hopefully, we will have a technical report to ensure that such success is sustained and that it can be used in the future for teams to come.
Women’s football fully under SAFA’s jurisdiction…
The poor relationship between SAFA and PSL cannot be overstated. One of the most important factors to Banyana’s success is the fact that they are fully under the jurisdiction of SAFA including the women’s national league and lower leagues. For any national camp, international tour, or official Cosafa, CAF, or FIFA Competitions, SAFA has full control and is able to adjust its fixtures to accommodate the women’s national team, as is the case anywhere in the world with both men and women national teams. Bayana Banyana are not competing with any local programs. Their only competition is outside the borders of SA. The same cannot be said for SAFA’s Bafana which relies on PSL players when both organisations can’t agree even on the most trivial of matters.
Player agents interference…
There seems to be very little, if any interest, in player agents in the SA Women’s football at the moment – a point that is consistently associated with some of the challenges facing Bafana Bafana. Whether this has any merit or not, it is worth mentioning that the 1996 Bafana team was not as exposed to player agents as it became the case later on. The allegations of agents’ interference in the selection of national teams, cannot be taken for granted. There seems to be a correlation between the interest of player agents in the national teams and the performance of such national teams.
Banyana Banyana, with its success, have provided us with an opportunity to reflect. If they deteriorate from here it would not be because we do not know what it is they should not do wrong, but because of our collective denial of facts and our penchant to look down on our own and worship whatever comes from Europe. If Bafana Bafana and the rest of the local men’s game continue to wallow at the bottom of the pit, it would not be because Banyana would not have laid it bare before their eyes, but because they choose to hold onto the mistakes they can still reverse. It is not too late!
By Sipho ‘King K’ Kekana @KingKAzania