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FEATURE Springboks unite South Africa to transcend a country beset by issues

Springboks unite South Africa to transcend a country beset by issues
7 months ago

Seven words defined the Springboks’ 2023 World Cup campaign, as well as the subsequent celebrations during a week-long trophy tour through the cities and townships of South Africa.

Hulle weet nie wat ons weet nie” translates to “They don’t know what we know”. It’s a mantra, as well as an answer to a much-asked question: How did the Boks beat France, England and New Zealand by a single point in three consecutive playoffs?

South Africa is a country beset by sociopolitical issues, and in the absence of a strong government with the nous and drive to tackle those issues, its citizens need all the inspiration they can get.

It’s fallen to individuals like Rassie Erasmus, Jacques Nienaber and Siya Kolisi to show the nation what real leadership looks like. It’s been left to Eben Etzebeth, Pieter-Steph du Toit, Cheslin Kolbe and others to provide examples of what can be achieved when you  commit to a cause and never give up.

Nobody really expects a group of rugby players and coaches to lead in this manner. And yet, this team has actively embraced that responsibility and made it central to their culture from day one.

The responsibility was assumed – and the connection with the fans established – shortly after Erasmus and Nienaber returned to South Africa to coach the team in 2018.

Springboks
The Springboks have shown off the Webb Ellis trophy to crowds all over South Africa (Photo by Marco Longari /Getty Images)

The 2019 World Cup campaign slogan of “Stronger Together “ referred to the unity of the most transformed South African side in history. That took on a deeper meaning when the victorious Boks returned home and insisted that fans from all walks of life share in the World Cup title celebrations.

“Look at how this team is different, and how we came together to make it happen for South Africa,” Kolisi told the thousands of fans that had gathered outside the Cape Town City Hall.

“Now take a look around you, how you’re all from different races and backgrounds. It’s time for South Africans to stop arguing and stop fighting… let’s put South Africa first and move forward as a country.”

The players and coaches insisted that the 2019 World Cup triumph was the end of the beginning for a special group. Erasmus and Nienaber pushed on with their plans to bolster the team and the game plan in the lead-up to the 2023 tournament.

It wasn’t enough for these players to inspire South Africa through the act of winning a trophy. They took it upon themselves to raise awareness through their respective foundations and charities, and in many cases to tackle the issues at the coalface.

Off the field, the players continued to set the example in the communities.

Kolisi launched a foundation during the Covid-19 pandemic. When travelling to rural and underprivileged areas, he was reminded of the challenges facing poverty-stricken South Africans on a daily basis.

Kolbe, Damian Willemse and others got involved with local charities, while Makazole Mapimpi joined the fight against gender-based violence.

It wasn’t enough for these players to inspire South Africa through the act of winning a trophy. They took it upon themselves to raise awareness through their respective foundations and charities, and in many cases to tackle the issues at the coalface.

Springbok World Champions
Cheslin Kolbe, Damian Willemse and Siya Kolisi have all thrown themselves into charity projects after their elevation in profile (Photo by RODGER BOSCH/Getty Images)

Those heart-wrenching experiences shaped their attitudes and strengthened their resolve ahead of the big series in tournaments. With a renewed appreciation of what’s at stake, they went into the British and Irish Lions series in 2021, and subsequently the 2023 World Cup, with even more motivation to succeed.

Over the past few weeks, many fans and critics have wondered how the Boks managed to beat France, England and New Zealand in the World Cup playoffs. The stats certainly suggest that they were, for long periods, the inferior side.

But in the big moments of those contests, the Boks showed superior will and composure to secure the results.

One moment in particular stands out. When Pollard lined up a penalty to clinch the quarter-final against France, team-mate Bongi Mbonambi didn’t offer any words of encouragement, but rather a timely reminder of the team’s cause.

“For South Africa,” Mbonambi told Pollard, who then proceeded to bisect the uprights.

When Erasmus himself arrived on the scene, he was visibly moved by the celebrations. The Boks had come together to win another World Cup title, and now the nation was coming together to celebrate. Mission accomplished.

It’s that sense of responsibility that has carried them through. And over the past week, as the players have taken the Webb Ellis Cup around the country, that unique connection between the team and the people has been plain to see.

Kolisi looked every bit the superhero as he raced through the arrivals hall at OR Tambo Airport in Johannesburg with a South African flag flowing behind him like a cape. Thousands of fans cheered him on as he thrust the trophy into the air.

“Zombie” by the Cranberries blasted from the PA, with fans substituting the original chorus with “Rassie! Rassie! Rassie!”.

When Erasmus himself arrived on the scene, he was visibly moved by the celebrations. The Boks had come together to win another World Cup title, and now the nation was coming together to celebrate. Mission accomplished.

Rassie Erasmus
Rassie Erasmus has taken almost mythical status amongst Springbok fans after masterminding two World Cups (Photo by WIKUS DE WET/Getty Images)

That’s not to say that the Boks didn’t enjoy a few lighter moments on the trophy tour, which took them through Pretoria, Johannesburg, Cape Town, Durban and East London.

“I’m scared if I take it off the magic will go away,” Kolbe said, when asked why he hadn’t removed his strapping after the final in Paris.

Damian Willemse went one better by wearing his mud-caked jersey and grass-stained shorts for five consecutive days after the decider. The fullback eventually opted for a change of kit when the tour moved to Cape Town.

The kits done now, it got too stinky for me, I just couldnt wear it anymore,” the 25-year-old said with a laugh. The two-time World Cup-winner later revealed a new tattoo, which acknowledged the Boks’ triumphs in 2019 and 2023.

The party played out in the streets and townships over the course of the week. But the trophy tour also served as an opportunity to spread a more significant message.

“I believe you can use that amongst the country and everybody that you work with at parliament. We want to be servants of this country and we serve the country as best as we can by playing rugby. We hope to see this unity continuing going forward. We appreciate and we see you.

Siya Kolisi to South African President Cyril Ramaphosa

When Kolisi and Cyril Ramaphosa shared a podium outside the Union Buildings in the capital of Pretoria, it was the Bok skipper who made the more powerful statement.

“We come from different backgrounds with different challenges, and we see life very differently, but we share the same strength and diversity, and we work for South Africa,” Kolisi said.

“Everything that I do is focused on South Africa, which is what we also do as Springbok players, and we deliver by playing rugby.”

Kolisi then addressed the president directly.

“I believe you can use that amongst the country and everybody that you work with at parliament. We want to be servants of this country and we serve the country as best as we can by playing rugby. We hope to see this unity continuing going forward. We appreciate and we see you.

Cyril Ramaphosa
South African president Cyril Ramaphosa has basked in the adulation gained by the World Cup win but there remains huge social and economic problems in the Rainbow Nation (Photo by Lefty Shivambu/Gallo Images)

“That you came as far as you did to give us the support and the words meant a lot to us, but, most importantly, thank you, South Africans. We chose to dedicate this World Cup to you.

You are the reason we are where we are today. The way that you dont give up … other countries cant understand.

“Your support really kept us going and we wanted to show that diversity is our strength, and we need to use our diversity a bit more.

“Its a powerful force that other countries dont have and cant understand, and we hope these celebrations and this trophy dont end this week.”

What we took from the last few days will continue to drive us as a team. Thank you, South Africa. We love you.”

Siya Kolisi

Kolisi approached every engagement of the trophy tour with the same level of energy and enthusiasm. Each leg of the tour would start with the Bok captain pumping the trophy up and down, and asking the crowd to scream louder.

According to Kolisi, the players gained as much as the fans from the experience.

What we took from the last few days will continue to drive us as a team,” he said, after the celebrations concluded in East London. Thank you, South Africa. We love you.”

The reaction of the fans this past week would suggest that the feeling is entirely mutual.

Comments

15 Comments
m
mjp89 217 days ago

They’ve claimed the win will unite the country every time they've won it over the past 28 years.

I don't think it's working, lads.

S
Snash 218 days ago

Cyril should have been banned from the podium - a corrupt thug trying to extract political capital - shameful and a good example of how brazen the plundering of South Africa by the political ‘elite’ has become.

M
Mike 218 days ago

Definitely not deserved champions.Not in the same league as the All Blacks.

J
Jon 219 days ago

Back to back champs on 3 1-point knockout round wins —Hollywood ending

J
JJGhost 219 days ago

Others will never understand just what this means to South Africa and South Africans…

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