KICK THE MYTH OF ’95

CityPress - - Front Page - MONDLI MAKHANYA

T he cheesy pic­ture of the re­union of the vic­to­ri­ous 1995 Spring­boks, who be­came the first post-apartheid team to win a world tour­na­ment, said it all.

The equally cheesy cap­tion read: “Still one team. Still one coun­try.”

In remembering that vic­tory, then Spring­bok cap­tain Fran­cois Pien­aar was full of sug­ary com­ments.

“What hap­pened 20 years ago is what made this coun­try stand up for the first time and we be­came a na­tion for the first time. We did not know it would be that big. We had a sense that it was some­thing ex­tra­or­di­nary but in our wildest dreams we couldn’t have imag­ined what hap­pened 20 years ago,” he said.

SA Rugby Union pres­i­dent Ore­gan Hoskins threw in his 20 cents’ worth, say­ing “this team helped Nel­son Man­dela unite a coun­try”.

“It was a mo­ment that as­ton­ished a na­tion and pro­vided one of the foun­da­tion stones for the coun­try we were to be­come. Mr Man­dela to­gether with that Spring­bok team pointed a way for­ward for the fu­ture for peo­ple and 20 years later, that day still has mas­sive res­o­nance,” he gushed.

Un­der nor­mal cir­cum­stances, the scenes and words from El­lis Park (or what­ever they call it nowa­days) would re­sult in goose bumps. But it doesn’t. In­stead it is a re­minder of just how much we love myths in this coun­try.

In this group pic­ture sits Ch­ester Wil­liams, a lone black man among his pre­vi­ous team-mates. His lonely pres­ence in the 1995 team was ex­cus­able be­cause we were just one year into democ­racy and the trans­for­ma­tion process was in its in­fancy. So one could say he was a pi­o­neer in a Spring­bok team that would one day be truly rep­re­sen­ta­tive.

But then take a look at the team that won the 2007 rugby World Cup in France. Twelve years af­ter the “uni­fy­ing” 1995 vic­tory, the sport had taken a re­ally tremen­dous trans­for­ma­tion leap: there were now three black play­ers in the squad.

From the lone Wil­liams there was now the trio of Bryan Ha­bana, Akona Ndun­gane and Ashwin Willemse in the squad. Wow, what progress!

Fur­ther leaps were made in the 2011 squad. Four years later, there were now more black play­ers. Ndun­gane and Ha­bana were joined by Tendai Mtawarira, Ricky Jan­uarie, JP Pi­etersen and Chili­boy Rale­pelle, with three of them even get­ting some start­ing line-up ac­tion. But the team pic­ture looked much bet­ter.

Yesterday, Spring­bok coach Heyneke Meyer took another leap, adding maybe another darkie to the team pho­to­graph. This pic­ture will ba­si­cally be the same when the Bey­oncé-lov­ing min­is­ter of sport bids them farewell when they head off to Eng­land for the rugby World Cup.

I am sure that this lowly news­pa­per­man might be seen as a bit of a spoil­sport, but we re­ally need to get over the myth that 1995 was some mys­ti­cal mo­ment in the history of our na­tion.

What hap­pened on that day was that a pre­dom­i­nantly white na­tional team with a pre­dom­i­nantly white fan base won the World Cup in front of a sta­dium of mainly white peo­ple who over­whelm­ingly em­braced the na­tion’s black pres­i­dent. Pe­riod.

That day may have inched the na­tion for­ward ever so slightly in that blacks joined whites in cel­e­brat­ing a com­mon vic­tory, but that was it.

If that day had mas­sive res­o­nance, as Hoskins says, then why has rugby not em­braced this mean­ing? Why is the rugby com­mu­nity still liv­ing in a pre-1995 South Africa in which white is the norm and the in­clu­sion of blacks in the pic­ture is a de­par­ture from the norm.

The truth is that 1995 ac­tu­ally pro­vided a dis­trac­tion from the trans­for­ma­tion pro­ject. In the mushi­ness of the mul­tira­cial hugs and kisses of that day, we for­got that change was meant to be painful and not an ex­hil­a­rat­ing, or­gas­mic event.

And so we forged on, with whites be­liev­ing that their em­brace of Man­dela com­pleted the task of na­tion-build­ing.

Work­place trans­for­ma­tion con­tin­ued to be a tick-the-box ex­er­cise for cor­po­rates. As did the change in eco­nomic own­er­ship pat­terns, as com­pa­nies viewed eco­nomic em­pow­er­ment as an “argh, we have to do this thing” rather than an im­per­a­tive in nor­mal­is­ing so­ci­ety.

The black mid­dle class grew be­cause gov­ern­ment pol­icy forced a re­luc­tant pri­vate sec­tor to in­clude em­ploy­ment eq­uity and eco­nomic em­pow­er­ment on score­cards.

To­day, two decades af­ter that sup­posed mag­i­cal mo­ment, South Africa re­mains a di­vided na­tion.

Racism is rife. Rugby fran­chises have to be forced at gun­point to have trans­for­ma­tion as an ob­jec­tive. Coaches such as Meyer still find it strange that any­body would find it strange that the teams they pick do not look like the na­tion they rep­re­sent. The Bey­oncé-lov­ing min­is­ter eggs them on as if there is noth­ing wrong with the pic­ture.

It is time we stopped liv­ing the myth of 1995 and faced the re­al­ity that we are not yet one team and not yet one na­tion. Build­ing a na­tion is more than a beer ad­vert. It is very hard work.

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