More Than Just A Game: A Brief History of South Africa’s Finest Moment in Football


The 1996 Africa Cup of Nations will always hold a special place within the history of not only South African footballing history, but the history of football as a whole. To begin with, it was the first continental title to be hosted by the country of South Africa and it came at a unique time within their history as a nation. Between the late 1940s and the early 1990s, South Africa was subject to a horrifying system that saw the country divided at its core and removed from the footballing world in the process. The system being referred to is, of course, apartheid.

The apartheid system stopped black players from representing their national team, which naturally led to their exclusion from the very outset of the Africa Cup of Nations. With some minor exceptions and attempts at forming a working relationship, FIFA too took the same approach and South Africa were banned from taking part in their tournaments. As a result, South Africa went without both a team and a federation until after the system was abolished. In total, this meant that the nation of South Africa endured thirty years of suspensions and fifteen years of being completely excluded from the footballing world.

In 1991, following the formation of a brand new federation, FIFA were finally able to reinstate the country of South Africa back into its ranks. While they did fail to qualify for the 1994 FIFA World Cup, their opportunity to shine on a big stage was presented to them when they were selected to replace Kenya as the host of the 1996 Africa Cup of Nations. 

The South African national team, or Bafana Bafana as they are more commonly referred to as, were drawn into a tough group alongside Angola, Cameroon and Egypt. While the vast majority of the footballing world looked at South Africa hosting this tournament as more of a welcoming return to the beautiful game rather than a chance at victory, the players and fans of the team had other things on their minds. They wanted to show the world just how far they had come and were looking to make an impact.

The following tournament performance brought football into the mainstream of South African culture, resulting in a keen interest in a variety of domestic leagues and international tournaments around the world. One example of how this has transpired into the modern age is the fact that locals can log in at and have a go at predicting the outcome of a host of football games around the world whenever they feel. The popularity of football in South Africa has developed so much since the 1996 Africa Cup of Nations, with this set of players having sealed a place in footballing history forever.

They began as they planned on finishing, beating Cameroon by three goals to nil in their opening game. This was followed by a victory over Angola and a defeat to Egypt, which ultimately saw them go through as group winners. South Africa went from strength to strength, beating Algeria in the quarter finals before defeating Ghana, one of the tournament’s favourites by three goals to nil in the semi finals.

The final would see South Africa go head to head with Tunisia in front of a crowd of 80,000 people. This was more than a football game, and with their president Nelson Mandela watching on, Bafana Bafana reintroduced their football team to the world in style with a two nil victory. 

This was a moment for an entire nation to come together as one in the name of football and begin the healing process that they needed to go through, making it one of the finest examples of the power of sport in bringing people together!


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