Should Bafana Bafana change their name? This is the debate that was sparked by an interview on a radio station in South Africa by President Thabo Mbeki.
In his interview, Mbeki spoke about the recent success of the South African national rugby union team, the Springboks, who won the IRB Rugby World Cup. "The Springboks' victory must say that we have a similar responsibility to produce a national team that must also do us proud in the 2010 FIFA World Cup™," Mbeki told listeners.
He said he also felt that perhaps the South African national football team should reconsider their nickname. "These are young people who carry the national colours, the pride and hopes of the nation. I really think we need to revisit names like that. The nation must feel proud, that we identify with these names. Bafana Bafana cannot have such meaning."
Bafana Bafana literally means 'The Boys', and Mbeki feels that the moniker does not have the correct message for a side carrying the pride of a nation. "We need to mobilise the nation to think together to say: 'What is this name we can give to our soccer team that would respond to certain symbols which unite the nation and point for all of us the way forward?'"
Not everyone agrees with Mbeki. Former Bafana Bafana star, Neil Tovey, was the captain of his country's CAF Africa Cup of Nations 1996 side that produced arguably one of South African football's finest moments. He believes that Bafana has become a brand that is associated with the team just as much as Super Eagles is with Nigeria, the Indomitable Lions is with Cameroon or the Black Stars is with Ghana.
"I was part of the earlier transition in 1992 when we got the name," Tovey told FIFA.com (South Africa was only accepted as a CAF member in 1992.). "We were doing well and we were rookies in football, and that's what it means. Personally, as a name, I will always relate it to our success in 1996."
The CEO of the Local Organising Committee, Danny Jordaan, said that such debate was very healthy and important. Jordaan told FIFA.com that "in a new democracy, we must never shy away from review and debate. We may decide Bafana Bafana is a name we will use or not use. But we must not be defensive and engage."
The other football nicknames also under debate are of the national women's team, Banyana Banyana (The Girls) and the U-23's moniker of Amaglug-glug, a relic of an advertisement made by the team's sponsors. The name change, however, hinges on the pride instilled by the men's football team.
While Mbeki and Tovey debate this subject, South Africa coach Carlos Alberto Parreira will have his mind on the more significant matter of a COSAFA Cup final against Zambia.