A giant flip at Madiba
In 1995, Mondli Makhanya booed them, only to cheer them on in 2007, but now he has decided that the Springboks genuinely don’t represent black hopes
One of my indelible memories of the 1995 rugby World Cup is that in the group of 15 to 20 people who crammed into a friend’s lounge to watch the democratic republic’s first global cup final, there was only one person supporting the Springboks. He was the only one who jumped for joy when the home team did something spectacular or clasped his head with both hands when they fluffed it. When the final whistle blew to signal that Joel Stransky’s drop kick had sealed the Webb Ellis Cup, he was a lonely soul among countrymen who could not appreciate the historic moment.
So hostile was the group to the home team that, during the singing of the anthems, one among our number suggested that if you locked the starting line-up in a room and beat the hell out of them one would reveal the whereabouts of Stanza Bopape, the anti-apartheid activist who disappeared in the 1980s.
Like many fellow South Africans, I just could not bring myself to support a team that reflected our past rather than the future we wanted to build.
With the exit of Louis Luyt from the rugby scene and the promise of transformation over the years, I worked hard to get with the programme. I did eventually come round and, when Jake White and John Smit led the Boks to victory in 2007, I, too, gyrated. But a more hard-headed friend, who shall remain nameless, decided to coincide an overseas trip with that final so that he would be guaranteed avoiding, in his words, the nauseating sight of blacks celebrating a Springbok victory.
By 2011, I was a full convert to the Bok cause, and so I felt the crushing emotion of that semifinal exit.
Call me schizophrenic, but I have now gone full circle and am back to 1995. As the Springboks head off to England to do battle with the world’s best, I will not be able to summon an iota of patriotic fervour. Not even the bombastic Beyoncé adorer will be able to rouse me to hum “Hier kom die Bokke”.
I will take in as much rugby as I can over the coming weeks, but I will do so as a fan of the sport rather than as a South African. And as I watch the passage of the Springboks, I will be openly cheering for whichever opponent they are facing and wishing them humiliation.
As treacherous as this may sound, the team Jean de Villiers will be leading will not be my team. It will not be a South African team. Rather, it will be a team that represents the stubborn refusal by some sections of our society to change.
The almost snow-white team Heyneke Meyer and his coterie have chosen to take to England is a big F-you to the man who donned Francois Pienaar’s Number 6 jersey and the Springbok cap at Ellis Park in 1995. It is a spitting of thick phlegm at his nation-building efforts.
Sure, there will be the now-tired ripostes about how you cannot make a Springbok overnight and how transformation is a process and cannot be achieved by the waving of a magic wand. That is true.
But the real truth is that there has been active resistance to transformation. The careers of promising young black players have been crushed by a system that wishes to remain white and primarily Afrikaans. Over the past 20 years, we have seen talented black youngsters, many from fine rugby schools, who shone at Easter festivals and Craven Weeks only to vanish into thin air once the time to turn professional came along.
The resilient few who make it through are a novelty and, even when they get there on merit, are displayed as proof that there is commitment to transformation.
Then there is the stupid argument that Bafana Bafana is also untransformed, as its demographics represent only the other side of the population. Well, as I said, that argument is just plain dof and does not require serious engagement. Save to say that the accompanying illustration belies this. As does the fact that Bafana teams have been captained by at least two white players.
The lack of transformation in rugby is as much a fault of the rugby establishment, which is led by a captured black man, as it is of a government that does not see it as an imperative. At election time, the politicians make a big noise about transformation and then forget about it immediately after they have been sworn in for another term.
The Beyoncé disciple has even gone as far as saying we should shelve talk of transformation for now and get behind the Boks. When the team leaves for England, you will see him making an idiot of himself, screaming and jumping about like a Cartoon Network character as he tries to rally the nation behind the Boks.
Personally, I will just laugh.