Let me be upfront: I’m not a massive rugby fanatic. That is to say, I don’t ordinarily shout at the television hoping my voice will somehow carry over into the referee’s sphere of auditory processing and change the course of the game.
I am, however, an active adult. And I do enjoy sport – both as a participant and a spectator. More than that, I am a South African. A white South African, coming to terms with all the complexities of our past and present, in my own small way. In years gone by, I have watched rugby matches (and RWC finals) from a South African perspective with a certain courteous detachment.
This time, however, I was excited before kickoff. I was excited about Siya Kolisi leading the charge. I like him. I was excited about the prospect of our nation celebrating something after a long time. But on reflection, there were some uniquely South African things I really savoured after the Bok win.
Firstly, I liked British Prince Harry walking over to South African President Cyril Ramaphosa to congratulate him with a hug. Since when do the British hug?? Surely, in defeat, it’s stiff upper lip and all that? Maybe I’m wrong, but I was sure Brits didn’t cross over into each other’s physical space too much. And given the SA media headlines recently, you would be forgiven for thinking that no one in this nation touches each other if their skin colour is different. But the prince’s (dare I say it) South African gesture towards our nation’s leader was warm, gregarious and heartfelt. I liked that.
Secondly, Kolisi’s address to the crowd and on television recognised the outlanders looking in – from “people in the townships, people in the shebeens, people on farms… you know there were TVs for homeless people there, and people in rural areas. Thank you for your support South Africa, we really appreciate it! And we can achieve anything if we work together as one.”
What Kolisi did in that moment, by thanking those on the periphery for their support, was not only include and involve them in the team’s success and the nation’s celebrations, but reminded everyone who has a television and a roof over their head that, as a nation, we’re more than just a rugby game happening now. There are bigger things to work towards. How beautiful. I liked that too.
Thirdly, and possibly the biggest deal for me, was seeing Bok players fetching their children from the crowd and savouring the moment as dads on the field. That was a powerful visual. In a nation and a continent where “fatherlessness” is probably at the forefront of most of its societal problems, seeing these big, burly men holding their children around the field communicated a whole lot more than just a happy victory moment. I liked that a lot.
As the team arrives home for a victory tour, there’ll be plenty to celebrate. And yes, life will go on in all its highs and lows in South Africa. However, we’d benefit from holding on to the #strongertogether mantra and other really good stuff we’ve been reminded of from this RWC as we journey forward. Shosoloza.