Magazine article New Internationalist

The Hero in All of Us

Magazine article New Internationalist

The Hero in All of Us

Article excerpt

I'm writing this the morning of 1 February. It may not seem like such an ominous day for most people, but for Botswana today is the day we redeem our pride. Every Motswana, football fan or not, is waiting. Tonight our national team will play against Mali in what will in all likelihood be their last match in the African Cup of Nations (AFCON) and, come 8pm, quiet will descend on the country as we wait to see if we remain the laughing stock of the continent, or walk away with our heads high.

The Botswana Zebras have spent years being the whipping boys of African football. Losing seemed to be all we knew. But then something shifted. A new local coach, Stan Tshoshane, took over the reins after foreign coaches failed to transform a team sourced from a small national population (1.8 million), full of primarily small players compared to their northern counterparts. Stan was a former soldier and football player himself. He grumbled about how the Botswana Football Association (BFA) only hired him because they ran out of funds for the foreign coaches they preferred, but he took the post anyway and got to work.

And slowly the Zebras started winning. They travelled to Tunisia in an African Cup qualifier and, against all odds, the Zebras came out on top 1-0. This was followed by two draws with Malawi, a win against Togo and another win against Tunisia in Gaborone. The Zebras, the underdogs of the continent, were through to AFCON 2012!

At AFCON, they stood out. A team with a local coach is rare. A local textile company, All Kasi, designed and produced the Zebras' kit for AFCON. No Puma, Nike or Adidas for our boys. And, unlike most of the teams, every player on the squad held a single passport - Botswana. It was a homegrown team, with a home-grown coach, wearing a home-grown kit, and the entire nation accompanied them, if in spirit only.

The first game against Ghana looked impossible. Ghana: the giants of the continent. But the Zebras stood up and Ghana had a hard-fought victory, 1-0. President Ian Khama was proud. We held our breath and at the back of our minds we let hope bloom - maybe we could do this.

The next game, Saturday, and the entire country buzzed. Cars were decorated with blue, black and white flags. I dropped blue food colouring into our celebratory wine. …

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