The AFCON is a whirlwind of passion, drama, and…well, sometimes, pure comedy. Covering Bafana Bafana at the 2023 tournament in Ivory Coast, I experienced my fair share of both the expected and the unexpected, leaving me with memories beyond just the football.
My journey began with losing my wallet with all my bank cards, driver’s licence and identity documents. And then there was a transportation mix-up. A fellow journalist, Moustapha Ismaila, who lives in Abidjan and speaks some good English, led us on a merry chase through three different bus stations, searching for the elusive ride to Korhogo.
The idea was to meet with two other journalists travelling to Korhogo, but Moustapha directed us to three different bus stations. Anyway, during the nine-hour bus trip to Korhogo, north of Ivory Coast, even nature called. One particularly memorable thing was the stop in the middle of the bush, not for a scenic vista, but for passengers to, shall we say, “water the trees.” It wasn’t the most glamorous pit stop but added a dash of the unexpected to our journey.
However, the unglamorous pit stop paled compared to the friendly banter from a Namibian journalist, Hesron Kapanga. “Don’t worry,” he chuckled, “we’ll make Bafana Bafana run!” His confidence stemmed from Namibia’s shock 1-0 win against Tunisia and Bafana’s Mali loss that left our hopes dangling by a thread. And then Bafana gave Peter Shalulile & Co a nice 4-0 drubbing. Hesron was well-behaved after that football lesson.
OFFERING ME DOG MEAT?
Food, too, offered its own brand of amusement. While exploring local cuisine, I found myself face-to-face with the hotel manager’s phone screen. The primary issue was the language barrier. I asked for recommendations for local cuisine, but she wanted to know what time I wanted to eat. And she showed me the clock on her mobile phone whose screen saver was a dog. Confused, I initially thought she was offering me dog meat [not precisely on my menu!]. Luckily, it was a harmless misunderstanding – just a furry friend she adored.
And then, this one day, I’d just finished watching Bafana Bafana train, and there were no taxis in sight to go to the Amadou Gon Coulibaly Stadium to watch a Group E fixture. The game I was desperate to catch was slipping further away with each passing minute. A motorbike, my last hope, materialised – a gamble I had to take.
But deep in the belly of the unknown, far from the roar of the crowd, our luck sputtered out. The bike coughed, spluttered, and died – out of fuel. But just across the dusty road was a beacon of hope: a lone service station.
Except, communication became a wall thicker than any language barrier. My English, his French, a frustrating exchange of gestures and half-understood phrases. He pointed at the empty tank. Minutes ticked by, and after pushing the motorbike to the service station, the engine roared back to life. A handshake, wider than our linguistic gap, sealed the deal.
THE SPEAKER INCIDENT
Back on the road, the wind whipped through my hair, carrying not just the dust of Korhogo but the sweet scent of victory. I might have missed the pre-game buzz, but arriving just as the whistle blew, the roar of the crowd washing over me, made it all the more thrilling.
As they say, news travels fast, but sometimes with inaccurate twists. A Kick Off news report claiming a brawl between South African and Moroccan journalists caused quite a stir. The truth, thankfully, was less dramatic – a misunderstanding between a Moroccan journalist and our national team’s support staff. CAF had issued a strong-worded statement warning against misbehaving by journalists.
Finally, there was the ‘speaker incident.’ A journalist, eager to record Hugo Broos’ press conference proceedings after Bafana’s bronze medal win, demanded I move from the front of the speaker. While his dedication was admirable, I didn’t understand how standing in front of the speaker would affect the quality of his recording. After a brief, not-so-good-natured debate, the gentleman told me I was aggressive.
These are just a few moments that made my AFCON experience unique. While the games provided thrills and spills, the off-field encounters, the cultural quirks, and the unexpected humour truly left a lasting impression. AFCON, it turned out, was more than just a football tournament – it was an adventure filled with laughter, understanding and memories that would stay with me long after the final whistle.