National pride or jingoism

The ‘Proudly South African’ campaign has been a great success judging by the number of products on the shelves of our shops – hopefully, it is making a material difference to the country’s industry and infrastructure. Hopefully, people make a conscious choice to buy South African goods – provided they are of satisfactory quality.

Being proud of one’s country must be a good thing. Even nations in decline are loved by their citizens. When the Soviet Union was falling to pieces the citizens of its many and varied nations had never been more proud of their various cultures and identities. Just speak to an average American today for an example of blind patriotism towards a country which is well and truly stuffed.

Having just spent two months in New Zealand and Australia, however, there was plenty of evidence to suggest that South African sport veers towards jingoism rather than healthy patriotism. South Africans are not just satisfied with the right result; we want our national teams to win with the blood of a Springbok or the pollen of a Protea running through their veins. South Africans are, by and large, very suspicious on ‘non-nationals’ playing for their teams.

The exceptions to this phenomenon prove the rule. Beast Mtawarira is a popular Springbok and we couldn’t wait to make Imran Tahir a Protea. But not only does this bias extend towards foreigners playing in our teams, it even makes us suspicious/resentful about our players playing overseas! (How long did the Springboks refuse to select overseas-based players?) Johan Botha’s decision to forsake a national contract in favour of a two-year deal to captain South Australia attracted more scorn than admiration despite the potential benefits to the Proteas when he returns a wiser cricketer.

This was brought home to me all too clearly last week when a couple of ‘patriotic’ Proteas supporters complained about the fact that Gary Kirsten was in India – spotted at an IPL match between Delhi Daredevils and Mumbai Indians. The suspicious assumption was that he was still riding the wave of his World Cup triumph. And so what if he was? Thousands of companies and even individuals are prepared to pay him a great deal of money to come and talk to them.

But it turns out he wasn’t doing that at all. In fact, he was working for just one company – a South African one, too. The national coach is a brand ambassador for First Rand which is in the process of launching in the biggest domestic market on earth. Kirsten was just doing his bit.

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