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First things First

There are many times when it’s great to be number one. The first.

When you win a race – you have beaten everyone else and you are the winner. When you conquer all before you in an exam or a test, you are the winner or the best. That feeling is incredible as you hold aloft a trophy or a medal – as an athlete at the Olympics you hear a national anthem being played and you beam with pride as you soak in the occasion. It’s great. You came first.

But, there are times when being first is not that great. How can this be you ask?

There are two fairly recent stories that came out of France that I felt made the ‘firsts’ feel a bit hollow. One involved a new mayor elected in Paris and the other a new manager for French second division football team, Clermont Foot 63.

Nothing particularly ground-breaking about either announcement, until one studies the headlines for both appointments which make reference to the first “female” mayor and the first “female” professional football manager. Personally, I don’t see how the fact that both appointments are female is relevant to the news story. The two ladies involved will not be judged on whether or not they they are women, but only on how they perform their duties and whether or not they achieve their objectives.

Closer to home, Pretoria-based football team Mamelodi Sundowns recently clinched the South African Premier Soccer League title. The manager who led them to victory was former Bafana Bafana manager, Pitso Mosimane, who has rightly won plaudits for guiding the team to success. However, once again there seemed to a lot of chatter around the fact that Mr Mosimane was the first black coach to win the PSL title since the league’s inception in 1996. Surely Mr Mosimane deserves credit and recognition for his leadership, man-management and tactical knowledge? Why should his skin colour have anything to do with his achievements?

On a related note, actor Idris Elba has often been rumoured to be one of the favourites to take on the mantle of James Bond. Elba has been asked on numerous occasions about how he would feel if he were to take on the role of the first black Bond, and the question evidently irked him as he replied:

He replied: “I’ve always detested the phrase ‘Black Bond,’ I just don’t understand it.

“We don’t say ‘White Bond’, we just say ‘Bond’ so it suddenly becomes a black man and he’s a ‘Black Bond,’ so I hate that phrase and it’s a rumour that’s gotten out of control basically, but that’s all it is.

“There’s no truth in it whatsoever.”

Elba’s statement cuts to the heart of my problem with the way in which certain firsts are celebrated. Let’s celebrate and acknowledge people for excellence in their lives without referring to their gender, skin colour, sexuality or religious affiliation.


About Ticha Pfupajena

I'm beginning to get the sense that my career as a professional footballer may not happen. As a result, I'll try write about football and sports instead....


2 thoughts on “First things First

  1. My FIRST thought was to agree with you. I don’t dispute the dark side of this kind of reporting and I do understand Idris Elba’s annoyance. Over emphasis on a person’s gender or race (as we saw in some of the discourse that shaped Obama’s election) detracts from the achievement and all deserving merit.

    However, as a black woman, when I read about the appointment of a new CEO or new chairperson of a multinational company I won’t pay as much attention as if I were to read that she is black. This is inspiring. I read, not merely to learn about her new appointment, but also about her journey to where she is. We might like to think of ourselves and our achievements as equal (indeed we are equal), but in a lot of ways the playing field is far from level.

    The thing about emphasizing ‘black’ or ‘female’ is that – I feel – these stories need to be told. We live in a multicultural, multiracial, multi-everything society where surely it should be odd to emphasize ‘black’ or ‘female’ as an aspect of a candidate’s identity when reporting on their achievement. But the reality is that for all our progress and social advancement, for all our talk about multi-this and post-that, we are also a society where white and/or males are the norm for definitions of success. In a lot of things, except perhaps beauty pageants (just saying).

    Maybe I am too cynical. But I truly believe, not reporting these things would only serve to hide the gross inequality that is very much alive in our society. As much as ‘first’ can sometimes not be that great, there’s something about the word ‘first’ that suggests a forerunner paving the way for the rest, so that one day we can get to the point where we stop counting the number of black or female faces on any winners list. So I think I do want to read about that first black-man/woman invalidating the norms of who is deemed legible for success in a particular field. I hope this kind of discourse won’t be necessary when my son is older and trying to forge his own way in the world. But if it is, sorry Idris, but I do want my kid to read about the ‘first BLACK Bond’ and know that he too can be a Bond (okay… I’d rather Bear be an aeronautical engineer).

    Posted by Xoli | 21/05/2014, 14:08
  2. I totally understand the rationale and logic behind the importance of the achievement. I guess what didn’t come through clearly in my post is that I feel that the race/gender tends to become the key focus of the new story. That I don’t like – let us acknowledge and celebrate, yes but not as the primary objective.

    I don’t think you are cynical at all – unfortunately this is the way the world works. Transformation is such a sticky issue worldwide and especially in South Africa. Whenever the Springbok rugby team is announced and black players are included, the discussion always seems to veer towards whether or not the black player deserves to be in the team or has been included purely for ‘transformation’ purposes. That frustrates me immensely in that the player’s achievements and skill levels are not the primary focus of the discussion – it’s just about his skin colour.

    Posted by Ticha Pfupajena | 21/05/2014, 16:11

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