The Springboks – Transcending Sport
By Lucky Ngwenya.
In life there are iconic moments that inspire entire generations and are tattooed into history books, many through speech and lots more through actions. A few spring to mind immediately, Martin Luther King’s “I have a dream” speech, Muhammad Ali suffering from Parkinson’s Disease, lighting the flame during the opening ceremony for the 1996 Olympic Games in Atlanta, Nelson Mandela handing the Webb Ellis Cup to South African rugby captain Francois Pienaar in Johannesburg in 1995.
These will forever remain iconic moments in history. We usually capture the climax of the events but historians do well to track back and unearth the missed origins of these iconic moments. This analysis evokes the question, perhaps we are living in a time where we are witnessing another iconic event that could culminate on Saturday, 2 November at the International Stadium Yokohama.
South African rugby seems to have spent over two decades attempting to achieve their promise of 1995 to show the world that the popular game that is dominated by the white minority can redefine itself as a national sport for all races in a country where over 90% of the population is either black, mixed race, or Indian.
Over the years black and mixed race players have emerged to form a minority of very important members of the squad. Some, like Bryan Habana have been hailed as some of the best to have ever played for the Springboks albeit others were being called quota players.
On 9 June 2018, Springbok 851, Siyamthanda Kolisi ran out as the first black test captain of the Springboks ironically against the same opponents that they will face on Saturday. This sparked widespread outrage as a large divide argued that this was a political appointment or quota token.
Suffice to say, the jury was out and the match got off to a torrid start with a flurry of tries from the English roses. The new Springboks captain had met his first trying moment but like a phoenix he led from the front as his team rose from the abyss to win in scintillating fashion.
After the match, a large portion of the doubters were silenced. A very important vote of confidence from a country bearing scars of an apartheid era, marking the culmination of this event we are witnessing today.
However, the journey to the world cup has not been one without its pitfalls. Controversy ensued when Springbok lock, Eben Etzebeth was accused of being part of an alleged race-based assault just days before the Springboks World Cup squad announcement.
As if this wasn’t enough, during the tournament, a video went viral showing certain Springbok players gathering to celebrate while fellow, black winger Makazole Mampimpi who initially looked to join the group walked away after being flagged away by replacement Frans Steyn. However, Mampimpi emphatically set the record straight explaining that it was a cultural ritual where the replacements huddle and do their call or chant.
Notwithstanding all that has happened recently and pre 1995, on Saturday the world could witness Siya Kolisi lifting the Webb Ellis trophy. The third Springbok captain to do so but this time it will mean much more. This would be the climax of this iconic event we have been witnessing from the day he ran out for his first game as the Springboks captain. This moment will transcend sports.
The epitome of the rainbow nation dream Nelson Mandela stood for. An iconic moment that will set the tone for national unity and transformation. Only in South Africa can rugby change a nation. #GoBokke #StrongerTogether.
Caption: Springbok captain Siya Kolisi got himself tangled in a transformation row this week.(Photograph by Phando Jikelo/African News Agency/ANA).