Bafana's super fan stays true
Freddie Maake, a colourful South African football supporter, tells a story of how his country was transformed and swept up in a feeling of euphoria after hosting and winning their maiden CAF Africa Cup of Nations in 1996.
Maake, popularly known as ‘Saddam', is the self-styled number-one supporter of one of South Africa's top clubs, Kaizer Chiefs, and one of the most recognisable faces in South African football.
It was more than 10 years ago, in 1996, when South Africa was handed a last minute invite by CAF to take over organising and hosting the 1996 Cup of Nations. It was a time when the country was still healing from the deep wounds of the notorious apartheid regime.
Maake is supremely qualified to tell the story, as one of the country's renowned football supporters for over two decades - following Bafana Bafana (The Boys) all over the world. He reflects on the past fondly, reminiscing about the ‘golden generation' of South African football.
One of his fondest memories, predictably, is a packed Soccer City (then FNB Stadium) in February 1996, when South Africa defied expectations by ascending to the summit of African footballing.
"Hosting that tournament in 1996 was unbelievable for us, it was a great moment for our country and it came at a time when we needed something to bring us joy, something to unite us and something to make the country proud," Maake says. "I have a strong feeling that is what will happen with the Confederations Cup and the World Cup too. People must realise that this is a big moment for us, for South Africa and for all of Africa."
Maake will be in the stands during the FIFA Confederations Cup this June and, although he is the first to declare his support for the hosts, he has a soft spot for some of the other teams taking part - especially Brazil.
"It's not our (South Africa's) tournament; this is a tournament where all major teams of the world will come to our country. They need our support and that is why I will make sure that I go to the other games even though my priority is Bafana Bafana matches," he went on. "We have to get fellow South Africans excited about the Confederations Cup, they have to embrace the tournament as an opportunity to promote our country. It doesn't matter whether you are black or white, we just need to unite and make our country proud."
Maake has been following the South African team since readmission and, in the last few years, he has been among the team's travelling supporters. He has watched the side's most glorious moments and has also witnessed agonising slumps in the FIFA/ Coca-Cola World Ranking and on the global football scene generally.
History, he argues, is a deceptive yardstick to gauge South Africa's prospects at the FIFA Confederations Cup and is banking on ‘home field advantage' to help Bafana's fortunes. Off the field, he plans to make the FIFA Confederations Cup a pedestal from where the country's football passion and culture can be offered up to the rest of the world.
Born in the dusty streets of Tembisa, east of Johannesburg, he got involved in football at an early age, following Kaizer Chiefs religiously. "We need to mobilise support, starting from the townships to the most affluent suburbs of South Africa," he concludes with a smile.