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Reaction to Takuma the Hippo, the official mascot of the 29th Africa Cup of Nations football tournament in South Africa, has been generally favorable, judging by my mailbag.
Dominic Esifa, writing from Katsina, Nigeria, describes Takuma as “very South African in nature.”
The huge hippopotamus is found in South Africa and other parts of sub-Saharan Africa. And while Takuma looks friendly, the hippo is regarded as one of the most aggressive and dangerous animals in Africa.
Kephers Gichana, writing from Kisii, Kenya, says Takuma is “a fine mascot,” while Terry Okomor in Benin City, Nigeria, says Takuma is “kind of cool.” Charles Jacob Kuria, writing from Nakuru, Kenya, says Takuma might even be responsible for the “lack of goals” in the tournament.
Through the first eight matches, a total of 13 goals have been scored, an average of 1.6 per match.
Takuma was designed by Tumelo Nkoana, an elementary school student in Hammanskraal, a small town in South Africa’s northern province of Gauteng. Officials like Tumelo’s design so much they say after the Nations Cup, Takuma will become the mascot for all South African sports.
Hosts South Africa kick off the 29th Africa Cup of Nations against tournament debutants Cape Verde. Bafana Bafana coach Gordon Igesund rotated his players in recent friendlies to make it difficult to predict his starting line-up. Neither side has any injury problems, as South Africa’s Kagisho Digacoi has recovered from a knee problem.
Cape Verde are without three of their most experienced players, Lito, Dady and Ricardo, in their squad.
The group of islands, with a population of just over 500,000 are ranked higher than their opponents in the Fifa world rankings (69 compared to 87). Their three goalkeepers play in Africa but all of their outfield players play in European leagues.
South Africa coach Gordon Igesund:
“We’re well prepared and ready for this tournament. The players, when they play in front of 90,000 people, they’re very excited about that. “The guys are all fighting now and ready for this. We’ve got information on all the Cape Verde players and we’re aware of them.
“Our mindset has always been very positive. The players around me are very positive.”
Cape Verde coach Lucio Antunes:
“The pressure will be on South Africa. We are here, we are happy to be here. There is no pressure to play good football.
“We qualified for this tournament. It’s totally different for Bafana Bafana because they are the host country and the fans will put pressure on them. They are a big team, there are expectations on them.
“We have worked very hard to be here. We don’t have any top players in our team, we play as a team. We work hard, the players are determined to write history.”
Africa Cup of Nations groups
Angola, Cape Verde Islands, Morocco, South Africa.
DR Congo, Ghana, Mali, Niger.
Burkina Faso, Ethiopia, Nigeria, Zambia.
Algeria, Ivory Coast, Togo, Tunisia.
Saturday 19 January
South Africa v Cape Verde Islands; Angola v Morocco
Sunday 20 January
Ghana v Congo DR; Mali v Niger
Monday 21 January
Zambia v Ethiopia; Nigeria v Burkina Faso
Tuesday 22 January
Ivory Coast v Togo; Tunisia v Algeria
Wednesday 23 January
South Africa v Angola; Morocco v Cape Verde Islands
Thursday 24 January
Ghana v Mali; Niger v DR Congo
Friday 25 January
Zambia v Nigeria; Burkina Faso v Ethiopia
Saturday 26 January
Ivory Coast v Tunisia; Algeria v Togo
Sunday 27 January
Cape Verde Islands v Angola; Morocco v South Africa
Monday 28 January
DR Congo v Mali; Niger v Ghana
Tuesday 29 January
Burkina Faso v Zambia; Ethiopia v Nigeria
Wednesday 30 January
Algeria v Ivory Coast; Togo v Tunisia
Saturday 2 February
Winner Group B v Runner-up Group A; Winner Group A v Runner-up Group B
Sunday 3 February
Winner Group D v Runner-up Group C; Winner Group C v Runner-up Group D
Wednesday 6 February
Winner QF 3 v Winner QF 2; Winner QF1 v Winner QF4
Saturday 9 February
Loser SF1 v Loser SF2
Sunday 10 February
Winner SF1 v Winner SF2
Remember the scenes from the last World Cup, the country that world wide fame to the Vuvuzela will be graced by thousands of soccer crazy fans this coming week. And its all in the name of football, African football. And just days to go before the biggest continental soccer tournament kicks off in South Africa, which will see Africa’s best teams and Africa’s most decorated players fight for the coveted trophy.
Recently, a young African man led a demonstration against a particularly annoying incident of racial abuse. Prince Boateng took offence after some soccer fans engaged in racist chants against him during a lower division match in Italy.
His fellow teammates followed Prince off the pitch in a powerful demo that has sent a strong message to football chiefs and the general public and prompted action.
It has for long been customary for Black players to be treated to various forms of racial insults, including so-called monkey chants and bananas thrown onto the pitch.
In other incidents, particular players and even officials have been accused of actually verbalising their insults against Black players. Although generally fewer, there have been incidents of anti-Semitism directed at Jewish players.
Action against such offenders, when clearly identified, has taken the form of cash fines and suspensions for a certain period, and when it has been hard to pinpoint the culprits (like when a whole section of a crowd seems to partake) group punishment has been imposed, such as making teams play to empty terraces.
There can be no doubt that racism is the mental affliction of the lowest stratum of humans, those who seem to believe that a person’s skin colour somehow determines their ability to be human and that the darker one’s pigment is the less one can be considered a member of the homo sapiens.
Still, I suspect that African players plying their trade outside the continent have been set up for abuse by their brethren back home.
The rest of the world is hard pressed to explain to itself how African countries can continue to do what they have been doing without realising that they are not making any sense, not to themselves, not to those observing them.
The world Googles Africa and sees a continent covered in gold, diamonds, oil and gas, rainforest and irrigated verdures, generally clement weather unlike the harsh winters of elsewhere.. but the world looks on in wonderment at the staggering inability of these Africans to leverage these advantages to reduce poverty and improve their livelihoods instead of going round the world begging.
It need not take the illiterate, poor and unemployed European hooligans that monkey chant at African players to be dismayed at Africa’s short memory span that allows a whole continent to forget the humiliation, dehumanisation and spoliation which it suffered at the hands of foreigners not so long ago, so that it sees nothing wrong with the all too evident signs of a new Scramble.
Races have been abused in the past, and they will be abused in the future, but a lot of times people bring onto themselves the abuse they suffer.
A defeated Japan limped out of World War II a vilified and humbled place, producing what were considered shoddy, substandard goods.
It did not take long for the world’s view of Japan to change, precisely because the Japanese demonstrated the ability to pick themselves up, roll up their sleeves and get to work.
Who is laughing at Japan today, and who will be laughing at China, for that matter? They are still laughing at Africa because we just do not make sense, and those young men in Europe — the finest athletes you could wish to have — will continue to suffer because their place of origin is full of too much nonsense.
If we want Prince and others to play soccer with a tranquil mind, this is my plan: Stop begging; use your abundant resources intelligently; feed yourselves and produce to feed the world, because you can; invest in the brains of your people, stop giving them Bantu education; manufacture, innovate, create; punish corruption and evolve proper governance systems and processes…. make sense.
In his Little Green Book, the late Muammar Gaddafi predicted that it was “the turn of the Black race to prevail in the world.” Obviously those racist hooligans in Europe, being illiterate, have not read this. Nor have our rulers.