Football in South Africa

Football – or soccer, as many of us call it – is the most widely played sport in South Africa, with its traditional support base in the black community. South Africans can point to many sporting moments, but winning the African Nations Cup on home turf in 1996 and hosting the Fifa 2010 World Cup are among our proudest.

The vuvuzela is identified forever with South African soccer after 2010. (Image: Andrew Moore)

Brand South Africa reporter

Soccer is intensely followed, and the quality of the local game keeps improving – as demonstrated by the increasing number of South African players-in-exile among the glamorous European clubs.

Local teams, organised in a national league plus a plethora of knock-out cups, are followed with passion by paint-daubed, costumed, whistling and cheering fans. Mercifully, the country has been spared the spectre of football hooliganism.

There’s probably no quicker way to “break the ice” with the South African on the street than to demonstrate some knowledge of local soccer. To help you improve your conversational skills, here’s a crash course on the country’s most important teams and competitions.


One of the gifts that democracy brought South Africa was its first truly representative national soccer team.

In 1992, two years before the country’s first democratic election, the united South African team came into being, playing Cameroon in its first match in Durban on 9 July. It was a triumphant occasion for the side that came to be known as Bafana Bafana – “The Boys” – as they edged the West African powerhouse by a goal to nil.

However, the win concealed the negative effect that apartheid-enforced isolation had had on local soccer. This lack of international experience showed as South Africa lost four matches in a row – to Cameroon, Zambia, Nigeria and Zambia – in failing to qualify for the 1994 African Nations Cup.

When South Africa hosted the 1996 African Nations Cup, however, South Africa proved they belonged in the finals by defeating Tunisia 2-0 in the final. It was during the team’s run to the title that its nickname, “Bafana Bafana”, became known around the world.


South Africa’s senior women’s team, Banyana Banyana – “The Girls” – have traditionally been the strongest team in southern Africa and one of the best in Africa.

For many years, Nigeria were their stumbling block, but that barrier was finally broken down in 2012 in the semi-finals of the Caf African Women’s Championship. Like Nigeria, though, Equatorial Guinea has twice beaten Banyana in the final of African Women’s Championship.

The team finished runner-up to Nigeria in 1995 and 2000, and runner-up to Equatorial Guinea in 2008 and 2012. There were also second place finishes at the All Africa Games in 2003 and 2007. One of their biggest achievements was qualifying for the Olympic Games in 2012 in London. In a very tough pool, up against three teams ranked in the top 10 in the world, Banyana went down 1-4 to Sweden, lost 0-3 to Canada, but then held World Cup champions Japan to a goalless draw.


Kaizer Chiefs

South Africa’s favourite soccer club never seems to play an away match. “The Amakhozi” often draw more supporters at away games than their opposition.

Founded in 1970 by Kaizer Motaung – who made his name in the United States when the American league was drawing such superstars as Pele, Johan Cruyff and Franz Beckenbauer – Kaizer Chiefs are one of South Africa’s most successful teams.

Thrice the winners of South Africa’s Premier Soccer League since its launch in 1997, the Soweto, Johannesburg-based team secured their first African title in 2002 when they won the Cup Winners Cup – renamed after Nelson Mandela – by defeating Inter Luanda of Angola in the final.

The most imporatnt derby in South African soccer. Kaizer Chiefs vs Orlando Pirates. (Image: John Karwoski)

Orlando Pirates

Formed in 1937, Orlando Pirates has a support base extending across the country’s borders.

Four-time winners of SA’s Premier Soccer League since its launch in 1997, “The Buccaneers” are the only South African team so far to have won Africa’s premier club competition, the Champions League, a feat they achieved in 1995.

Like Kaizer Chiefs, Orlando Pirates – who are also based in Soweto, Johannesburg – are seldom disadvantaged when they play away from home, with fanatical supporters spread throughout South Africa.

The fierce traditional rivalry between Pirates and Chiefs makes for one of the biggest derby matches in the world. In November 2007, on the day preceding the 2010 Fifa World Cup™ draw in Durban, the Chiefs-Pirates derby was broadcast throughout Africa and 43 European countries, a first for South African football.

Mamelodi Sundowns and SuperSport United

While Chiefs and Pirates have long battled for the title of South Africa’s most popular club, other outfits have emerged to challenge for the position, among them two Tshwane/Pretoria-based clubs: Mamelodi Sundowns and SuperSport United.

Backed by billionaire mining magnate Patrice Motsepe, Mamelodi Sundowns have the finances to ensure a squad with depth and quality. The club is often compared to England’s Chelsea, which rose to prominence partly through the backing of Russian billionaire Roman Abramovich.

Sundowns fans have been spoilt by the clubs history. (Image: Mamelodi Sundowns)

“The Brazilians” have been the most successful team since the formation of the Premier Soccer League in 1997, winning the title on seven occasions, most recently in 2016.

Supersport United, a “youngster” among South African football clubs was formed in 1994, when pay-television company M-Net bought Pretoria City and renamed the club after its popular sports channel. They lifted the PSL title in three successive years, from 2008 to 2010.


South Africa’s top soccer league, featuring the country’s best 16 clubs, came into being in 1997.

The Premier Soccer League (PSL) has helped raise the standard of club football in South Africa, providing the sport with better media coverage and much-improved revenue through strong sponsorship deals. It has also provided a platform for local players to make their mark and catch the eye of overseas clubs.

Sponsorship boom

In June 2007, the PSL pulled off an astounding coup when it signed a R1.6-billion broadcast deal with SuperSport International.

In August 2007, corporate heavyweights South African Breweries (SAB) and Absa Bank announced a joint sponsorship of more than R500-million over five years for South African football. SAB is behind Bafana Bafana, while Absa sponsors the PSL’s Premier Division.

In February 2008, Nedbank announced that it would be putting up R20-million in prize money for the Nedbank Cup knockout competition as part of a five-year, R400- million sponsorship of the local game.

And in August 2008, cellular giant MTN committed the same amount – R400- million over five years – to the local game, while taking over the title sponsorship of the Top 8 knockout tournament.

These deals combined have made South Africa’s Premier Soccer League the seventh biggest earner of sponsorship revenue among football leagues worldwide.

Premier Soccer League champions:

  • 2016/17: Bidvest Wits
  • 2015/16: Mamelodi Sundowns
  • 2014/15: Kaizer Chiefs
  • 2013/14: Mamelodi Sundowns
  • 2012/13: Kaizer Chiefs
  • 2011/12: Orlando Pirates
  • 2010/11: Orlando Pirates
  • 2009/10: SuperSport United
  • 2008/09: SuperSport United
  • 2007/08: SuperSport United
  • 2006/07: Mamelodi Sundowns
  • 2005/06: Mamelodi Sundowns
  • 2004/05: Kaizer Chiefs
  • 2003/04: Kaizer Chiefs
  • 2002/03: Orlando Pirates
  • 2001/02: Santos
  • 2000/01: Orlando Pirates
  • 1999/00: Mamelodi Sundowns
  • 1998/99: Mamelodi Sundowns
  • 1997/98: Mamelodi Sundowns
  • 1996/97: Manning Rangers
Bivest Wits – The Clever Boys = are the reigning PSL champions. (Image: Bidvest Wits)


A number of knockout competitions are played alongside the league fixtures in South African soccer.

Nedbank Cup

A knockout competition modelled on England’s famous FA Cup, giving lower league teams the chance to do battle with premier league clubs, has been in existence since 1978, under various names: the Mainstay Cup (1978-1987), Bobsave Superbowl (1988-2002), Absa Cup (2003-07) and, from 2008, the Nedbank Cup.

With a total prize purse of R19.3-million, including R6-million for the winners, R2.5-million for the runners-up and R1-million for the losing semi-finalists, the Nedbank Cup is the most lucrative domestic soccer competition in Africa.

Nedbank Cup champions:

  • 2017: Supersport United
  • 2016: Supersport United
  • 2015: Mamelodi Sundowns
  • 2014: Orlando Pirates
  • 2013: Kaizer Chiefs
  • 2012: SuperSport United
  • 2011: Orlando Pirates
  • 2010: Bidvest Wits
  • 2009: Moroka Swallows
  • 2008: Mamelodi Sundowns
  • 2007: Ajax Cape Town
  • 2006: Kaizer Chiefs
  • 2005: SuperSport United
  • 2004: Moroka Swallows
  • 2003: Santos
  • 2002: not played
  • 2001: Santos
  • 2000: Kaizer Chiefs
  • 1999: SuperSport United
  • 1998: Mamelodi Sundowns
  • 1997: not played
  • 1996: Orlando Pirates
  • 1995: Cape Town Spurs
  • 1994: Vaal Professionals
  • 1993: Witbank Aces
  • 1992: Kaizer Chiefs
  • 1991: Moroka Swallows
  • 1990: Jomo Cosmos
  • 1989: Moroka Swallows
  • 1988: Orlando Pirates
  • 1987: Kaizer Chiefs
  • 1986: Sundowns
  • 1985: Bloemfontein Celtic
  • 1984: Kaizer Chiefs
  • 1983: Moroka Swallows
  • 1982: Kaizer Chiefs
  • 1981: Kaizer Chiefs
  • 1980: Orlando Pirates
  • 1979: Kaizer Chiefs
  • 1978: Wits University

Telkom Knockout Cup

The Telkom Knockout Cup, which features all 16 Premier Soccer League teams on a knockout basis, is African football’s second most lucrative domestic competition after the Nedbank Cup.

The competition was first held in 1992 and has existed under a number of different names, including the Coca-Cola Cup and the Rothmans Cup.

Telkom became the new sponsors in 2006, and in 2007 paid out R14.2-million in prize money, including R4.25-million to the winners.

Telkom Cup champions:

  • 2016: Cape Town City
  • 2015: Mamelodi Sundowns
  • 2014: Supersport United
  • 2013: Platinum Stars
  • 2012: Bloemfontein Celtic
  • 2011: Orlando Pirates
  • 2010: Kaizer Chiefs
  • 2009: Kaizer Chiefs
  • 2008: Ajax Cape Town
  • 2007: Kaizer Chiefs
  • 2006: Silver Stars
  • 2005: Jomo Cosmos
  • 2004: Kaizer Chiefs
  • 2003: Kaizer Chiefs
  • 2002: Jomo Cosmos
  • 2001: Kaizer Chiefs
  • 2000: Ajax Cape Town
  • 1999: Sundowns
  • 1998: Kaizer Chiefs
  • 1997: Kaizer Chiefs
  • 1996: Umtata Bucks
  • 1995: Wits University
  • 1994: Qwa Qwa Stars
  • 1993: Umtata Bucks
  • 1992: Amazulu


The MTN 8 – formerly the Top 8 and Supa 8 – is contested at the beginning of each Premier Soccer League season by the top eight finishers of the previous season.

Now known as the MTN 8 Knockout, after cellular operator MTN took over the title sponsorship, the tournament boasts a R8-million winner-takes-all prize – while guaranteeing each team R800 000 simply for participating.

Top 8 champions:

  • 2013: Platinum Stars
  • 2012: Moroka Swallows
  • 2011: Orlando Pirates
  • 2010: Orlando Pirates
  • 2009: Lamontville Golden Arrows
  • 2008: Kaizer Chiefs
  • 2007: Mamelodi Sundowns
  • 2006: Kaizer Chiefs
  • 2005: Bloemfontein Celtic
  • 2004: SuperSport United
  • 2003: Jomo Cosmos
  • 2002: Santos
  • 2001: Kaizer Chiefs
  • 2000: Orlando Pirates
  • 1996: Orlando Pirates
  • 1995: Wits University
  • 1994: Kaizer Chiefs
  • 1993: Orlando Pirates
  • 1992: Kaizer Chiefs
  • 1991: Kaizer Chiefs
  • 1990: Mamelodi Sundowns
  • 1989: Kaizer Chiefs
  • 1988: Mamelodi Sundowns
  • 1987: Kaizer Chiefs
  • 1986: Arcadia
  • 1985: Kaizer Chiefs
  • 1984: Wits University
  • 1983: Orlando Pirates
  • 1982: Kaizer Chiefs
  • 1981: Kaizer Chiefs
  • 1980: Witbank Black Aces
  • 1979: Moroka Swallows
  • 1978: Orlando Pirates
  • 1977: Kaizer Chiefs
  • 1976: Kaizer Chiefs
  • 1975: Moroka Swallows
  • 1974: Kaizer Chiefs
  • 1973: Orlando Pirates
  • 1972: Orlando Pirates


Below the Premier Soccer League, South African football’s First Division features 16 clubs.

At the end of each season, the winner of the league earns promotion to the PSL. The teams in second and third place have an opportunity to earn a place in the PSL through playoffs.

They face the team that finished second last in the PSL in a mini-tournament, with the winner earning a place in the top league.

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