By Siki Dlanga
After winning the Rugby World Cup this weekend as the first rugby captain to win two world cups in succession, Captain Siya Kolisi made a statement that resonated with South Africans. He said, only South Africans will know what this win truly means. Search TikTok and you will find videos of South African children of all races in tears last weekend when they thought we were losing the semi-final. How can a game mean so much? The movie called Invictus will give you a glimpse of how Nelson Mandela inspired the Springboks to win our first World Cup to forge national unity. It was the first time South Africans rejoiced together over the same thing. Rugby was a symbol of racism and division. The Springboks were deeply hated by Black and coloured people who played the sport because regardless of their brilliance, they could never be Springboks because they were Black. Kolisi became the first Black Springbok captain. It was a brave decision by Coach Rassie Erasmus because Afrikaans still ruled the sport with racism. After winning the second World Cup Rassie recounted how angry the white community was at him for selecting a Black captain. He even lost friends. They insulted his children. Today they think he is a genius for making Kolisi captain. Kolisi’s popularity today surpasses the stature of any current leader. He, Rassie, and the Springboks have become a symbol of unity.
Think of Ukraine and Russia as one team. Think of Palestine and Israel as one team. Think of an Israeli picking a Palestinian as a captain. Think of that kind of hostility to understand what happened in South Africa. If you understand that, you will understand that the Springbok win was not merely a South African win as Kolisi described it. It is a picture of hope for those who yearn for a more peaceful world.
But how did we beat the best teams in the world in two World Cups in a row? We did not win the Rugby World Cup because we were more talented. We won because ours is a superior love. Love never fails. Love gets up when it falls and fights until it wins. This is the love of South Africa. This is the love Rassie has nurtured within the team members to break down the hostility of racial division and exclusion. This is the love that simply won’t quit because the nature of love inspires heroic actions. It goes beyond itself and sacrifices for something bigger to be born and won. This is a dream Madiba inspired. On Saturday, as we won our fourth rugby World Cup title, we saw the power of holding on to that dream and refusing to let go.
As the joy of South Africans erupted from our rugby team in Paris to every couch and corner of South Africa – elsewhere in the world is a devastating war. A stark reminder of what we could have been. We could have been unable to embrace one another. We could have been unable to watch a game together, we could have been unable to wear the same colours, raise the same flag or play with one another on rugby field. A Springbok win must act as a reminder to us and the world at war that there is another option.
The first thing Captain Kolisi did when the whistle blew was run towards Kolbe and embrace him because love is the engine of this team. Kolbe celebrated his 30th birthday with a 2nd World Cup win. Minutes before that hug from his captain his face had been buried in tears and prayers as he had given away a penalty and sent off the field. God must have heard his prayers because the All Blacks failed to capitalise on that penalty. He went from tears of devastation to tears of joy and his captain was the first to comfort and celebrate with him. What a story! What a nation!
Siya is Siyamthanda, a Xhosa name that means “we love him.” A man loved greatly by South Africans and beyond. Siyamthanda leads with love. He plays for the team, for the country but he mostly leads to give hope. He lives to save the unseen hungry South African child with little opportunities to make it in life. He was that child. Siya’s own story is miraculous but so is the South African story. England reminded us of the miracle that is South Africa when one of the players accused Bongi Mbonambi of using a ‘racist’ word. A word we do not use at all in South Africa unless you are possibly closer to being British. The word was *c*nt. The truth is that he used an Afrikaans word that is *kant. It means side. There is footage of them using it. This incident was blown completely out of proportion by the English media. South Africa thrives on turning such moments into national monuments of humour. Some even made money out of wit kant jokes through selling wit kant merchandise. Something miraculous happened. It was as surprising as the moment the largely white male stadium chanted to Mandela, “Nelson! Nelson! Nelson!” at the 1995 Rugby World Cup final. This time, we saw white Afrikaners defending a Black man’s name for the first time in the history of this country. The Tom Curry white kant moment put all the South Africans on one kant. It was the comic relief we needed and one we will continue to enjoy.
South Africa is not perfect. It is only 8% white for example, but white players dominate the Springbok numbers. This is synonymous with the inequality in our country. It is easier to turn a blind eye for a moment because we are desperate for hope. It is the failure of our government and its refusal to uplift Black communities. Township and rural schools have no capacity for extramural activities and no sports facilities. South Africa nonetheless won with the limited Black talent that could emerge out of grit and luck without government support. We are still inspired by the team. Whatever way the hope comes we will take it. We need new political power to break the cycle of this gross inequality. Next year is election year and this win must be translated into inspiring the victorious spirit of South Africa over every limitation. We need the love that Rassie and coach Nienaber inspired for the Springboks to succeed as a band of brothers to be the love that inspires South Africans across the spectrum to fight for this country to win. We want to see the big Afrikaner guy fight for the Black guy to win in everyday life. We need politicians who love South Africa enough to end corruption and crime.
South Africa is not perfect, but love perfects us. Love is what inspired the Springboks not to quit. We hope that the world leaders who are bent on war, will look at the Springboks and remember that South Africa showed that there is a better way than war. I once heard a quote that the nature of love is to save. You save what you love. South Africa is worth saving because we love it. The world is not perfect. It takes courage to end wars. I am no fan of Gandhi due to his racist remarks towards Black South Africans, but he did say something worth quoting. He said: “love is the prerogative of the brave.”