NEWS & ANALYSIS

Lessons from the Springbok World Cup victory

Mugabe Ratshikuni says the result was an affirmation of the quota policy in sport

An epic victory by the Springboks in the Rugby World Cup final over the past weekend. It had traces of 1995 in how the whole country got behind the team and how it created a unique feeling of being proudly South African amongst all of us. It showed the capacity that we have as a country to achieve great things if we all pull together.

The Boks showed all the traits that are characteristic of South African rugby: brutal, uncompromising, punishing defence; set piece hegemony; dominating the collisions, excellent tactical kicking. These are some of the basic ingredients that contributed to the Springboks bringing the William Webb Ellis trophy home and the point to highlight is that this was the Springboks playing to their traditional strengths as opposed to trying to emulate the more open game of other nations, such as the All Blacks.

There is a lesson in that for us in how to become a winning nation in other areas, focus on what we are good at and perfect it, as opposed to trying to copy formulas that are foreign to us (we can learn from the best in other areas without necessary emulating them in everything).

Amidst all this euphoria for a country that was crying out for something positive to focus on, with so many negatives surrounding us, we can draw a few key lessons on how we can, together, build a better South Africa. A first reflection, is on the thorny issue of quotas.

Many people fallaciously claimed that the black players in the Springbok rugby team, who were deservedly part of the World Cup winning team, are a clear vindication of their stance against quotas in sport or if you want to spread it further into society, against BEE and EE policies, which they see as discriminatory (I can already see you saying, there goes that Mugabe with his racist diatribe once again, but just bear with me for a second, before insulting me again as is your wont, please).

My argument would be that, au contraire, the brilliant performance by the black players in the World Cup winning Springbok team (all the players contributed to a brilliant Bok performance but I highlight the black players for illustrative purposes within this particular context) are an affirmation of quotas in sport, of BEE and EE in the rest of society, because if it wasn’t for quotas in rugby, I can bet you that none of these players would have gotten an opportunity to showcase their talent to the point that they shine in a sparkling World Cup victory and are seen to be there meritoriously, because they would have been lost in the system somewhere along the way. So, their performances at the World Cup show us that merit and quotas are not necessarily two mutually exclusive contending concepts.

It is because of quotas that they were given opportunities within the system and as a result they were able to showcase their true talent and skill on the biggest stage of all, the Rugby World Cup, and help the Bokke bring the trophy home. So, quotas, BEE and EE, are more about opportunity within a system that innately excludes and overlooks the black majority, than they are about discriminating against the white population.

Hence quotas, EE and BEE are an integral part of moving towards a better South Africa, a non-racial, united, successful and winning South Africa, as we saw with the Springboks. These things are a means to an end, not the end itself.

Moving along from that, a post by a mate of mine on social media got me thinking even further about lessons that we should take from this stunning World Cup Victory. Here’s what my mate posted:

“The issue of unity and social cohesion.....sporting codes are but temporary aids to the agenda of nation building....you cannot expect a history of over 350 years.....to be forgotten because of an event.....! What matters more.....is what are we doing in between these events? Are we fostering a genuine national identity? Are we making initiatives to reach out to each other or we are waiting for another 4 or 5 years for another event....! The truth is that South Africa is a highly divided country.....we find ourselves within these imposed boundaries......imposed sense of nationalism......and fake patriotism.”

Forget any spelling, grammatical or errors of syntax in this social media post, but there is much food for thought here in terms of the Bok victory and what it means for our nation-building agenda.

Despite the outpourings of patriotism and sense of unity after the Boks pummelled England into submission last weekend, are we as South Africans truly a nation? Do we have a common national identity? Being such a diverse people, are there any commonalities in terms of language, culture or economic life that genuinely bring us together, as opposed to dividing us?

French Historian, Ernest Renan, defines a nation as, “an entity based on acts of the free will of individuals forming a collective identity: A nation is a soul, a spiritual principle. Two things, which in truth are but one, constitute this soul or spiritual principle. One lies in the past, one in the present. One is the possession in common of a rich legacy of memories; the other is present-day consent, the desire to live together, the will to perpetuate the value of the heritage that one has received in an undivided form.”

In South Africa, we know that our past divides us, but looking at the present day do we have any consensus about desiring to live together as a socially cohesive, spatially transformed, socio-economically inclusive whole, with equality and opportunity for all being the norm?

The answers to some of these questions will determine whether this current Springbok World Cup victory becomes a catalyst, a contributor towards building a better South Africa or like 1995 it just becomes another memory that we’ll often look back on as a moment missed, as a glimpse of the supposed Rainbow Nation which we continue to limp towards but can never quite reach.

May we take heed to the words of American author Eric Qualman and not repeat the mistakes of the post 1995 period, “history repeats itself because nobody listens the first time.”

Mugabe Ratshikuni works for the Gauteng provincial government; He is an activist with a passion for social justice and transformation. He writes here in his personal capacity.