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The Case Of Bafana Bafana

Cultural and Education Section of the British Embassy - British Council
 This article was generously provided to ClubFootball by the British Council, which operates in China as the Cultural and Education Section of the British Embassy.


A battle in the courts of South Africa has led to its football association (SAFA) being unable to cash in on their national team's nickname, Bafana Bafana, after originally trying to disown it. Mark Gleeson reports on the power of public sentiment over the authorities.
In Africa, the fans like nicknames and almost all of the continent's 52 countries have some tag or the other - the Lions, Crocodiles, Elephants, Zebras and Scorpions, among them. When South Africa returned to the international scene 10 years ago, the football association was keen to use this naming exercise as a marketing and moneymaking opportunity and set about a competition for the public to enter.
But a journalist at the Sowetan newspaper, S'bu Mseleku, previewing South Africa's first international against Cameroon in 1992, called the side 'Bafana Bafana', the Zulu term for young or small boys, a reference to their inexperience in the international arena at the time.
It had a resonant tone and quickly became popular. SAFA did not like it however, they had wanted a more formalised process and, of course, to be in charge. The association remained tone deaf to the growing popularity of the nickname but a clothing manufacturer, Stanton Woodrush, did not. He registered the trademark for clothing, boots, shoes and slippers he intended putting out into the market place.
It was only after the team's success at the 1996 African Nations Cup finals that the South African Football Association finally got around to doing something about, seeking to register a trademark so they could get on the merchandising bandwagon too.
They felt Woodrush, no friend to football, had no right to be trading on the team's nickname. In the build-up to South Africa's first-ever World Cup appearance in 1998, SAFA wanted to cash in on it, their enthusiasm knowing no bounds. There was going to be Bafana Bafana fertiliser, artificial limbs, glass eyes, dentures, a range of cosmetics and even legal aid under the trademark.
But when they took the matter to court, the high court found the term was not the sole property of the football association and threw out their protest.
Now SAFA have again lost an appeal with a panel of five judges pointing out hey had previously disowned the name and only sought to cash in when the public enthusiasm presented soccer officials with a chance to make some money.
"The mere fact that the name Bafana Bafana printed on clothes would remind the public of national soccer team and encourage soccer fans' sentiments towards there product, does not mean that Stanton is misrepresenting the name," the Appeals Court said.
It all goes to show that the force of public sentiment cannot ever be discounted, even if the footballers never wanted to be known as 'boys' in the beginning.



Mark Gleeson, February 2003

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