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OPINION: What’s going on, Bra Shakes?

From being one of the most highly respected coaches in South Africa, a man with a no-nonsense approach to his coaching and an incredible pedigree, where the development of players is concerned, coach Ephraim 'Shakes' Mashaba has now become an enemy of South African football fans.

How did this shrewd football tactician go from being the darling of a nation and a beacon of hope for a sports-mad people starved of some kind of success, to being a man who can't seem to hold his nerve when addressing not only the media, but the country as a whole?

Before we look at what may have gone wrong for Bra Shakes, perhaps it's only fair that we look what's gone right for him in his time as a coach.

In 1997, Mashaba took over the South African under-20 team in his first involvement with the South African Football Association (Safa). It started off really well for him as he guided the young guns to the Africa Youth Championship finals as well as the under-20 World Cup in the same year.

The 65-year-old, who's always been an advocate for consistency, then promoted the same group of 20-year-olds to the under-23 squad and with that team, he guided South Africa's football team to their very first Olympic Games, at Sydney 2000.

Bra Shakes' heroics at junior levels eventually, and rightly so, earned him the then coveted Bafana Bafana head coach job when he took over from Jomo Sono in 2002.

South Africa's senior national team, under Mashaba, qualified for the 2004 Africa Cup of Nations tournament in Tunisia but just when the fairytale of his first Afcon was meant to start, Safa unceremoniously pulled the plug on his contract. Arguably the most controversial sacking of a South African coach, in any sporting code.

Fast forward to 2012 and the Orlando Pirates legend rekindled his relationship with Safa and took over the under-20 team who went on to win the Cosafa Youth Championships.

So, again I ask… what's going on, Bra Shakes?

With a relatively successful track record with national teams and a Bafana team in tatters, it seemed the only logical thing to do for Safa to go back to Bra Shakes, tails between their legs, and ask him to come save the day, and save the day he did… at least for five months.

Mashaba's second Bafana stint began like the proverbial house on fire, as he went on a nine-game winning streak, which notably included the team's qualification for the 2015 Afcon, without losing a single match and ensuring that 2013 champions Nigeria didn't qualify.

It would not be all rainbows and sunshine forever though, as slowly but surely the wheels began coming off, starting with South Africa's dismal performance at last year's Afcon. There they picked up just one point from a possible nine, crashing out of the competition in the group stages.

Bafana would then go on a six-game winless streak which included the disappointing draw against Gambia at home in the first match of the 2017 Afcon qualifiers. I'm honestly still not sure what exactly happened that day and why we didn't win that game.

Then, the biggest confusion to date was the team's shocking defeat to Mauritania (people didn't even know where they are on the map) - a 3-1 loss to them that got many a football lover signaling the possibility that Mashaba and his boys may actually not qualify for next year's African showpiece.

Jump to 2016 - because the other friendlies in 2015 aren't of any significance - and Bafana faced Cameroon, hoping to revive their qualification campaign, but unfortunately this would not be the case as they picked up a draw in Limbe, a result that effectively put the first few nails in the coffin.

A few days later, Bafana had what was likely their last chance of keeping their hopes alive, but once again they did their best to underperform, managing another draw, and all but sealing their fate and any realistic chance of booking their ticket to Gabon next year.

Now don't get me wrong, teams lose all the time, it's nothing new, even teams with a lot of financial muscle lose, but the way our boys have performed, it makes no sense.

Bra Shakes' behaviour in the media has also not helped his cause and if we're being frank, it's probably the biggest problem most people have with him, rather his ability to coach the national team.

It is, in my humble opinion, unwise to tell journalists who ask about your future as the national team mentor, "If I go and say to you 'is your job secure after this' it's not a good thing. I'm a human being and I've got blood, I've got a family, I've got kids ... imagine if they listen to the nonsense like that." The media has become desensitised to certain things and to play that card definitely won't work in your favour.

Bra Shakes, I don't know what's going, but as a football-loving South African, what I can say is something is wrong and someone needs to find a solution. Who that someone is and what solution is found, the answer won't come while you're waging war with the nation.

Morena Mothupi is sports reporter at Eyewitness News. Follow him on Twitter _ @_Mrena._

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