EDITORIAL: Boks show SA ‘it is possible to work together’
As a nation we have shown time and again that we thrive on adversity and taking it to the brink
The Springboks’ first World Cup victory in 1995 inspired a nation — and Invictus, a movie starring Morgan Freeman as Nelson Mandela and Matt Damon as team captain Francois Pienaar. The national men’s rugby team’s most recent victory in France on Saturday — the Boks’ fourth Rugby World Cup, a world record — has the potential to do the same.
In both cases the tournament came as a welcome distraction for many South Africans from political turmoil, violent crime and economic hardship. And in both cases the Boks’ gritty determination inspired and united, symbolising what is possible when we all pull together, even against the odds.
As a nation we have shown time and again that we thrive on adversity and taking it to the brink — three single-point wins in a row — before snatching salvation from the jaws of disaster. We did it in 1994/95, and we can only hope 2023/24 will see a repeat.
Judging by his enthusiastic participation in the awards ceremony on Saturday evening, President Cyril Ramaphosa seems to value the positive national sentiment after a tough couple of years for his administration. Or is it the potential political capital going into an election where the polls do not augur well for the governing party?
It remains to be seen whether his popularity among South Africans will benefit from emulating Mandela and donning the iconic green and gold jersey to hold the William Webb Ellis trophy aloft. If the comments on social media are anything to go by — they frequently aren’t — South Africans are somewhat more jaded now than they were almost 30 years ago.
Even so, it is hard to argue with the president’s assertion that “the journey of the Springboks to the historic victory in the 2023 Rugby World Cup is as much about our journey towards nationhood as it is about sporting excellence”, and that “perhaps as never before, the Springboks have well and truly been embraced by all races as their own”.
The Springboks’ seemingly universally respected captain, Siya Kolisi, sums it up, both in his personal backstory and in his emotional interview immediately after the final whistle. “There’s so much that’s going wrong [in SA], we are basically the last line of defence. There’s so much division ... but we show, as people with different backgrounds, that it is possible to work together in SA, not just on the rugby field but in life in general.”
This week and next will be given over to celebration as the triumphant Springboks undertake a victory parade through the country, starting in Pretoria on Thursday, followed by Johannesburg, Soweto, Cape Town, Durban and East London. And rightly so — the players who put their bodies on the line deserve to savour the glory as much as the coaching staff and SA fans who hoped and believed and stressed for seven long weeks.
Rugby is a game, but as Rugby World Cup 2023 has illustrated so clearly, for South Africans it is so much more than that. If the president didn’t realise before, he must do by now. And he must also be aware that his comment that “we are all in this together as government, business, labour, civil society and citizens” cannot be mere lip-service; that when he says “we do not make light of SA’s challenges ... They cannot be forgotten or wished away by a fleeting moment such as a sporting victory”, South Africans expect him to follow through.
Otherwise, come 2024’s election Rassie Erasmus’s “disco lights” won’t be flashing green and gold for the governing ANC, or even amber. They will flash red.
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