How frail is our patriotism?

Wow, the media has been a buzz with reactions to Bafana Bafana’s 3-0 defeat at the hands of the sturdy Uruguayans last night. Radio talk shows, Twitter, Facebook and casual conversations have been saturated with a range of sentiment towards the local team and the supporters. The biggest topic, besides the team’s lackluster performance, has the been the walk-out of thousands of fans at Loftus last night.

Sam and I were at the game. Thousands of spectators literally stood up and started to file out of the stadium immediately after the second Uruguayan goal was scored late in the second half. We stayed behind. As the third goal was scored, many more thousands of spectators got up to leave. Were they supporters, or just spectators? Also, when I look at the negative sentiment directed towards those people who left early, I wonder how frail our patriotism is in South Africa?

The last few weeks have seen a steady swelling of national pride and patriotism. Ever second car is brandishing a flag or mirror socks. I even got my own car wrapped in the flag. The vibe in the country last Friday ahead of the Opening Ceremony was electric and on par in terms of the festivity I’ve witnessed in the country around some of our most significant points in recent history. By all accounts one could say that our patriotism was healthier and stronger than ever! Is this still the case less than a week later?

The things I’ve heard said today about Bafana Bafana, and the spectators who left Loftus early, make me wonder if our patriotism is as strong as it seems? Sure, we are disappointed. We are saddened. Some of us are even angry at the way our team played last night. But when one looks at how the pendulum of public sentiment has swung in 24 hours, I wonder if our patriotism is actually more frail and brittle than strong?

Now, about those spectators who left the game early …

Having been there myself, I can think of a few reasons why people would have left:

  • the majority of people who left were spectators, not Bafana Bafana fans, who thought the game was effectively over and took the chance to leave and miss the rush of exiting fans and long bus queues
  • maybe the cold really got to some people and seeing the game was a fait accompli, took the chance to get out (think of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs and how the need for warmth replaces the loftier desires of nationalism … it was about zero degrees last night)
  • maybe the leavers were supporters who were showing their disgust at the result with their feet i.e. as a form of protest

Are not all of these reasons valid?

What amazes me is the assumption that my third reason is generally accepted as the reason why the mass exodus happened AND how that it is not acceptable for fans to walk out in protest at a poor sporting performance? Why not? We are entitled to show disappointment. Does that make us less of a fan or supporter?

Now again, I stayed until the end of the match. I’m just looking at the issue from another perspective … and questioning how we measure support and patriotism.

I had coffee with a young black South African today who admitted to switching channels out of sheer disgust at Bafana’s performance. So, as thousands of fans were exiting Loftus, she was switching her channel out of protest. Are these not the same? Of course they are, but we don’t berate the channel hopping protesters do we?

The underlying problem here is in fact the brittleness of our patriotism at the moment. It’s all bravado really if we cannot tolerate some fans showing protest at was in fact a poor performance. The other issue underlying here is how being an all out patriot has become the dominant story/discourse in South African now. The problem with dominant discourses is the power they exert and how they marginalise any discourse that is not aligned to the dominant. Alternative discourses are rejected.

Come on South Africa! Realise that there are grades of support and patriotism. Someone said to me today that if you’re going to support, do it all the way. Um, tell me what “all the way” is exactly? I’m pretty sure though that the intent behind this statement is more about staying committed as a supporter and not abandoning your side after one poor performance. I agree, but also disagree … support of a team ebbs and flows. As does patriotism. I love my country differently depending on what it happening.

Let me now finish. My first point is this: supporters are entitled to show protest. We must accept that. Supporters are fickle. We must accept this. My second point is that we should be wary of pseudo-patriotism (all hype, but little true support through thick and thin).

Come on South Africa! Let us take the opportunity that is before us to develop a deeper love and commitment to our country, our sports team (even including the Lions rugby union) and each other, no matter how we display our patriotism or protest a poor performance.

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3 responses to “How frail is our patriotism?”

  1. Good sense – as usual. Now change ‘should be weary of pseudo’ to ‘wary’ and I’ll give it editorial approval. 😉

  2. aiden says:

    Done. Grateful for the editorial approval 😉

  3. Rob Hooper says:

    I might support a particular team but to link a nation’s pride to the results of a game is just a transference of sentiment. It is not about being South African. All the members of the team are South African so we do wish them well and good luck. We will always hope our team will do well, but with a dash of realism. We are a minnow side for goodness sake . We were NEVER going to topple the 1st rate sides. We never even qualified to play in this tournament. To pin our National Pride on Bafana Bafana was devious and short sighted. Who ever started that sentiment should be fired. At dawn. Tied to a post. With a blindfold on and a handkerchief pinned to his chest. Daft Clot.

    On the other hand I love South Africans. We are an awesome lot. Every last one of us has made a miracle of our society and we still do it every day. Our strength lies in our diversity. Patriotism was the refuge of the moribund Afrikaner State, let’s rather choose to stay away from that ideal and celebrate our differences and enrich each other by embracing each other’s cultures.

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