A tough road to be­ing a Bok

CityPress - - Voices - At the age of 16, a de­ter­mined be­gan his jour­ney as a rugby player. Within two years, he rep­re­sented Eastern Prov­ince at Craven Week, and by 2000 he was a Spring­bok. In this ex­tract from his sports bi­og­ra­phy, Manana re­counts his tour to Namibia with the t

When we ar­rived in Walvis Bay, we thought we would stay at a ho­tel but, boy, were we mis­taken. In­stead, we were taken straight to the grounds where the matches were to take place; we, of course, as­sumed we were there to view the play­ing fa­cil­i­ties. The club we were vis­it­ing was run ex­clu­sively by white Afrikan­ers and when we got to the sta­dium they told us our sleep­ing quar­ters would be the chang­ing room be­neath the grand­stand.

This wasn’t even a hos­tel. There were no beds or any­thing even re­sem­bling sleep­ing quar­ters ex­cept the slabs of con­crete that made up the sta­dium chang­ing fa­cil­i­ties. We were like pris­on­ers stuffed in an over­crowded pen­i­ten­tiary. It didn’t help ei­ther that the guys would light up cig­a­rettes in the chang­ing room if they felt like a smoke.

We were stunned. Pre­dictably, the tour took a rather rough turn. We quickly ran short of money and had to sur­vive on meals of tinned food, such as canned pilchards, tuna or bully beef. We ate a lot of bread as well, vir­tu­ally liv­ing off it while we were there. For lunch we had bread with polony slices in the mid­dle. Or dry slices of bread washed down with sugar wa­ter.

There were guys who brought cooked meat that had gone off dur­ing the two-day bus trip from Port El­iz­a­beth. The lads couldn’t throw the food away, for fear of dy­ing from star­va­tion, so they washed the fungi off the rot­ten meat un­der the sta­dium taps and ate it. Rins­ing the fungi with wa­ter took away some of the rot­ten smell but there was noth­ing ap­petis­ing about it. Some of the meat was so bad that some blokes even used soap to wash the meat. One morn­ing, my­self and three other guys went for a jog. We kept run­ning for quite a num­ber of ex­haust­ing kilo­me­tres, only for me to find out that the other three were only jog­ging so that they could find a place to buy mar­i­juana. I wasn’t pleased be­cause I didn’t smoke pot and I had been duped into go­ing for a run that sapped my en­ergy.

We played three match days dur­ing our time there, plus a day in be­tween when we held coach­ing clin­ics at some of the black town­ships. On match days we had to fold all our cloth­ing and blan­kets and stuff them in the bus to clear some of the clut­ter be­fore we were able to change into our match gear. We played against some tough Afrikan­ers on that tour. I re­mem­ber get­ting a punch in the ster­num that winded me so badly that I needed a bit of a time-out to drink sugar wa­ter and com­pose my­self.

We were dom­i­nated phys­i­cally and bul­lied in the scrums. And be­cause we were go­ing back­wards phys­i­cally, it was in­evitable that we lost a num­ber of our games; two of the First XV and all the Sec­ond XV games.

The funny thing, though, was that the guys still had the en­ergy to go out drink­ing at night and search for women. Oth­ers used the search for women as a chance to get swept home by a stranger and sleep on a proper bed. Some got lucky, but the ma­jor­ity of us crawled back to the sta­dium with our tails be­tween our legs.

The owner of one night­club let us in be­cause we were vis­it­ing from South Africa. I re­mem­ber that the boys went wild that night. Some were happy just to have a woman’s num­ber they could take back home and brag about. Oth­ers wanted to ‘seal the deal’, which was tricky be­cause we were sleep­ing in the chang­ing rooms that were sit­u­ated un­der the grand­stand. The only other op­tion was to hook up with your woman in the bus for the night, but know­ing how child­ish men can be, there was a dis­tinct pos­si­bil­ity that they would try to peek through the win­dows to watch as you went about your busi­ness. One of the older guys, Sonic, who had a proper job and some rands to rub to­gether, did man­age to get lucky, though, and was taken home by an older woman.

We had mis­cal­cu­lated ev­ery­thing about that trip and, as it turned out, the club we vis­ited hadn’t catered for us in any way. All the hosts did for us was to take us to some sand dunes and treat us an oys­ter buf­fet, but be­cause I didn’t like seafood, I didn’t en­joy the oysters.

By the time we needed to go home, there was a hint of re­gret be­cause we had noth­ing in our pock­ets on the drive back and the bus was silent most of the way. The guys were tired, bruised and hun­gry, and sim­ply weren’t in the mood for team-build­ing chats we had so en­joyed on our way to Namibia.

But no one re­ally com­plained and we still laugh about the trip when we talk about it now. We joke about how we never even came back with sou­venirs or any­thing to show that we were in Namibia. There was no mem­o­ra­bilia or track­suits branded “Spring Rose Namibia Tour” or any­thing to that ef­fect. But we had the mem­o­ries. We were town­ship guys and we were just happy to have gone to a dif­fer­ent coun­try.

Dur­ing the writ­ing of this book I had a ca­sual chat with one of my for­mer team-mates, Lin­coln Lewis, and he was un­equiv­o­cal that the Namibia tour was a great ex­pe­ri­ence, de­spite all the strug­gles we faced. That just shows you how ev­ery­thing in this world is rel­a­tive.

I don’t think there has ever been a tour in the pro­fes­sional era where the vis­it­ing team has had to sleep in the chang­ing room un­der­neath the grand­stand. If it were to hap­pen in sub­ur­ban clubs or for­mer Model C schools, there would be an out­cry.

Be­ing a Black Spring­bok The Thando Manana Story by Sibusiso Mjike­liso will be launched on Thurs­day, July 20, at Ex­clu­sive Books in the Kil­lar­ney Mall, Jo­han­nes­burg, at 6pm

PHOTO: GETTY IM­AGES

Thando Manana in ac­tion for the Bulls

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