Kiwis hailed as heroes at Newlands
NEW Zealand rugby teams have long regarded games at Newlands as the next best thing to playing on their home grounds – and when the All Blacks run on to the field this evening, they will see why some local fans regard Cape Town as “Little New Zealand”.
Kieran Read and his team will receive a welcome reserved for returning heroes.
Their army of black-clad local supporters will stand up as one when the announcer asks spectators to “please rise for the playing of the New Zealand national anthem”. Thousands of right fists will be placed over hearts as the first strains of God Defend New Zealand”sweep across the ground”. Then they’ll start singing God of Nations at thy feet, in the bonds of love we meet, with all the passion of New Zealand supporters in Waikato, Wellington, Wanganui and a host of other cities and towns of the small Pacific nation.
During the match, they’ll cheer every All Black manoeuvre and jeer every Springbok mistake. The question is: Why? There are three main reasons for this. Some South African fans support the New Zealanders for playing rugby that is fast, skilful and exciting – and because they know how to win.
A second group support the All Blacks and teams from other countries because they have never forgotten and, indeed, they never want to forget, what so-called international rugby meant to them during the apartheid era.
To them, these “test” matches were played by white supremacists. And for this reason, they held – and continue to hold – the Springboks in utter contempt, even though national teams have no longer been all-white for a number of years.
Strangely enough, during the apartheid era, these fans supported visiting teams, even though these visitors were more than happy to play against allwhite Springboks.
The third group believe that black players and, in fact, black South Africans were betrayed by the politicians during the run-up to the first democratic elections in 1994 – and even more so since.
They have been able to back up their views with compelling arguments.
Their premise is that the South African Rugby Union (Saru) can never be a credible agent for the promotion of non-racial sport, and particularly non-racial rugby, in this country.
They point out that South African rugby in the era of democracy has a sad history of promises made… and quickly and casually broken.
They argue that, despite the by-now tiresomely regular hands-on-heart commitment to transformation and the promise of new opportunities for black players, far too few black players have been given these opportunities.
Of course, Saru is not exclusively to blame for this.
Government – at national, provincial and local level – are the biggest culprits for sporting codes such as rugby not having gone through a genuine process of transformation.
The ANC, which became the governing party in 1994, dragged, especially, the non-racial sporting codes to the negotiating table – even before one-personone-vote elections.
Far too many issues that were of genuine concern to the non-racial sports fraternity were blithely ignored. These were matters, it was said, that could be discussed at another time. Far too much was given up by those representing the non-racial codes in these negotiations.
The racist sports codes, represented in many cases by apartheid supporters, sat back – and with very little effort were allowed almost immediate entry into international sport.
It was far too easy for them. They gave up nothing. They made no real effort to help build a new South Africa via sport.
Due mainly to the commitment of the “Father of the Nation”, Nelson Mandela, to reconciliation, the national rugby body, the SA Rugby Football Union (Sarfu), which later became Saru, was allowed to keep the Springbok as its national symbol.
During South African democracy’s honeymoon period, a massive feelgood factor, coupled with what some people described as “Madiba Magic”, saw the Springboks sweep to victory in the 1995 Rugby World Cup in South Africa.
But even then, ominous warning signs were emerging.
The most significant of these was that just one black player – Chester Williams – was deemed good enough for the Springbok run-on team.
Over the years, the administration of the game in South Africa has proved to be hugely problematic.
Because of political and social issues, which have seen the yawning gap between rich and poor – and in this context, see it as the gap between “white and black” – grow even wider, it has become difficult to build a reservoir of black players to play at the highest level.
What needs to be done – urgently – is the creation of a level playing field for all players.
How can this be achieved? At a rugby level, the Springbok symbol should be put out to pasture. It has become so divisive that it serves no useful purpose.
Also, the records of apartheid Springboks should be purged from official statistics. These should be placed in an apartheid museum. They are certainly not needed in a rugby museum.
Records should begin in 1994 – and there should be a commitment from Saru to work out of the box, to work harder and to strive to create proper opportunities for every youngster who is interested in playing the game.
Oakes is the Op-Ed editor for Independent Media.
New Zealand perform the Haka during the 2015 Castle Rugby Championship rugby match between South Africa and New Zealand at Ellis Park. The writer says much more needs to be done to make rugby a sport all South Africans can back.