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In the Media

Lions Thrash Elephants - The World Of African Team Names

article:33191:2::0
By Peter auf der Heyde
Aug 24, 2001 in Lifestyle
Peter auf der Heyde.
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CAPE TOWN - Ten years ago, as South Africa readied a return to international football, it faced a huge problem that had nothing to do with team selection or tactics, yet was still crucial to millions of fans.
South Africa had just played a series of three friendlies against Cameroon's Indomitable Lions and were travelling to Zimbabwe to take on the Warriors in an African Cup of Nations qualifying match.
South Africa versus the Warriors was a game football fans looked forward to, but South African fans had a major problem. They felt they could not take on the Warriors without having a nickname for their own team. They couldn't identify with their team on those terms.
African football expert David Kekana wasn't surprised that football fans felt that way. "Africans like to identify with things by giving them special names. That name is often something that is very important to the society. Hence you will find a lot of things, or in this case football teams, being given names of animals," Kekana said.
"Animals play an important part in African folklore and tradition and you will find many fables which feature animals, often in a very strong way. It is thus not surprising that so many teams are given the names of animals.
"Some of the first games that African children learn are to fight with sticks and to stage mock hunts. These things remain important and they are reflected in the names that we give our teams," Kekana said.
It was much easier for African people to identify with something that shares the name of something that is important to them, he said. "It would be very dull to talk simply of the South African football team. Give it a nickname that has meaning and suddenly everybody develops pride and joy for the team."
If African football commentators were to only use the nicknames of the continent's football teams and they were all to play at the same time, the match commentary would sound like a visit to the zoo.
Nigeria's Super Eagles have taken the football world by storm, while Ivory Coast's Elephants won the Nations Cup in 1992. But elephants are by no means the only four-legged creatures to be parading on African football fields.
Just ask the Argentinians ­ who as defending world champions were beaten 2-1 by Cameroon's Indomitable Lions (Cameroon) at Italy 1990.
The Lions were not the first of the cat family to appear on the world football stage. The Zaire Leopards became the first sub-Saharan African country to qualify for the finals in 1974 in West Germany. On the field they were far less threatening than their animal namesakes - they were slaughtered 9-0 by Yugoslavia.
There are also the Stallions from Burkina Faso, or if a legless animal is preferred, the Mambas can be supported. The Mozambican team is named after this snake.
Other teams draw their names from statesmen - dead, as in the case of the Pharaohs (Egypt), or alive as in the KK XI (Zambia), who took their name from the then Zambian ruler Kenneth Kaunda. The Zambians changed their name to the Chipolopolo (bullets) in 1991.
Then there are the Congo Red Devils, the Desert Warriors from Algeria or the Leone Stars from Sierra Leone. The latter team is not to be confused with the Liberian Lone Stars, who presumably get their name from the fact that George Weah is the only footballer from Liberia anybody has ever heard about and as such they are really a lone star kind of team.
Given the importance of such nicknames, there was no way that a nameless South African team could take on the Zimbabwean Warriors.
The problem was solved when a journalist first used the term Bafana Bafana in an article about the team. The journalist, Sibusiso Mseleku, was working for a newspaper called Sowetan. He still remembers those days vividly.
"It was important that our team had a nickname. It is part of our tradition that we give terms of endearment to things that are close to us. Football teams are no exception," he says.
The name he gave the team proved to be prophetic, as the Bafana Bafana (young boys) went about their first competitive match with all the naivety displayed by young and inexperienced players.
The name has stuck nevertheless and since then, South Africa can proudly take their place amongst all other African countries who get their nicknames from continent's animals, warriors or politicians.
article:33191:2::0
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