Win or lose, the Springboks have shown again that sport has the power to unite South Africa

Siya Kolisi’s Springboks have once again helped unite South Africa, win or lose in the Rugby World Cup final against New Zealand on Saturday. Picture: Pascal Pochard-Casabianca/AFP

Siya Kolisi’s Springboks have once again helped unite South Africa, win or lose in the Rugby World Cup final against New Zealand on Saturday. Picture: Pascal Pochard-Casabianca/AFP

Published Oct 27, 2023


As the Springboks prepare to defend their Rugby World Cup title against the old enemy, New Zealand, it is may be an opportune time to have a look at how the team has united South Africa and their contribution to nation-building.

To begin with, I was raised in an era where we swore by the mantra of “No normal sport in an abnormal society”.

We played under the banner of Sacos (SA Council on Sport), and we would never support the Boks because it represented white oppression. I have been anti-Springbok for years, but I am now fully behind the Boks and have buried the hatchet because the Bok team is a transformed and multiracial team.

Before we turn our attention to the current landscape, it is important to reflect on the past. People like Hassan Howa and other sports officials fought hard to keep South Africa isolated.

Dawn of a new era in 1992

However, in 1992 the Springboks were readmitted to international rugby after South Africa had established a unified, non-racial governing body for rugby (Sarfu). In 1992 the IRB awarded the 1995 Rugby World Cup to South Africa. President Nelson Mandela seized the opportunity to work toward racial reconciliation.

To the surprise of many, the Springboks won the 1995 World Cup under the slogan “One team, one country”.

South Africa also won the World Cup in 2007 and 2019. Mandela united the nation by wearing a Springbok Jersey with the number 6 on his back. This moment symbolised reconciliation and unity in post-apartheid South Africa.

After the end of apartheid, South Africa embarked on a journey to transform rugby and make it more inclusive. This included efforts to increase the representation of black players in the Springbok team. Initiatives like the South African Rugby Union's (Saru) quotas and targets aimed to create opportunities for talented players from previously disadvantaged communities. Saru implemented quotas at school level to provide young black players with opportunities.

Almost 30 years later, the Springbok rugby team is facing the All Blacks in what could be a fourth World Cup title for South Africa. What we must acknowledge is that rugby in South Africa has turned over a new leaf. The Boks have played a significant role in South Africa's history, particularly in the context of nation-building and transformation.

The current squad has several black players: Damian Willemse, Cheslin Kolbe, Kurtl-Lee Arendse, Damian de Allende, Siya Kolisi, Marvin Orie, Manie Libbok, Bongi Mbonambi, Trevor Nyakane, Grant Williams, Jaden Hendricks, Canan Moodyie, Ox Nche and Makazole Mapimpi.

It is also important to note the role that Rassie Erasmus has played in the process. Rassie was the first Bok coach who had the guts to appoint a black Springbok captain. This was a masterstroke from Rassie, because in essence this decision will affect future generations and it has brought the past and the future together.

Siya became the first black springbok captain to win a World Cup and this has inspired young rugby players from all communities to pursue rugby and other sports. The visibility of black players in the national team has created role models for aspiring players from previously disadvantaged backgrounds.

Grassroots development

The South African government and Saru have invested in grassroots rugby development, helping to identify and nurture talent from diverse communities. This has led to greater inclusivity and broader access to rugby. Rugby, symbolised by the Springboks, has been a vehicle for reconciliation and healing in South Africa. It has provided a platform for people from different racial and cultural backgrounds to come together and work towards a shared future.

The success of the Springbok rugby team has been a source of national pride in South Africa. This team has united people from different backgrounds, fostering a sense of shared identity and belonging. While there have been significant strides in transforming rugby and promoting nation-building in South Africa, challenges and debates about the pace and extent of transformation continue.

Most black schools don’t have the necessary sports infrastructure and the government and the South African rugby authorities will have to come up with a comprehensive strategic approach to provide much-needed sports infrastructure in townships.

Immediate action is needed, and authorities need to ensure that it becomes an integral part of the broader transformation and development goals aimed at creating a more inclusive and equitable sports landscape.

The legacy of apartheid and its impact on rugby takes time to fully address, but the sport remains a powerful force for unity and progress in the country. No matter what happens on Saturday, the Boks have shown that rugby does have the power to unite the country. I have no doubt we can retain the Rugby World Cup.

Doctor Kosie Haarhoff

Haarhoff has been involved in school sport administration since 1990. He first started as a teacher and coached rugby, cricket and athletics. In 1999, 2000 and 2001 he was the Craven Week Under-18 manager for Western Province Rugby and was involved at Kuilsriver Under-21 for a number of years as manager from 2004.

He has also been involved in rugby development for many years and is passionate about sport. He is currently helping Saldanha Bay Rugby Club in the Western Cape.

* The views expressed are not necessarily the views of IOL or Independent Media.

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