Saturday's Rugby World Cup win ended with me fighting an internal battle about the happiness I still felt embarrassed to show.
I am so old that I have watched South Africa win three Rugby World Cups. And not on my father’s knee, either. I was already old enough to hit a warehouse rave in a pith helmet after our debut victory in 1995.
I was certainly still of age when we returned to the podium of glory in 2007. That time, I experienced the Bok win over England in McGregor, an Overberg hamlet where everyone is apparently on first-name terms, and can fit into one bar. The Overdraught, it’s called.
This past weekend, I was again blessed to watch a Springbok victory in the company of family and friends. The cup-winning experience was as I remembered it – nervy, tense, and one of relief, as much as joy. Though this one was leavened by a couple of late tries that opened up a comfortable victory margin.
But then it was over. Life being life, I had errands to run, and soon I found myself filling up with petrol on Rivonia Road. I was kind of distracted, planning my afternoon’s chores. I was wearing no Bok regalia, but I guess my complexion betrayed me as a rugby fan.
“At least we won,” ventured the petrol attendant. “At least we won the rugby!”
It was like he was trying to lure me out of my shell. Come on, he seemed to be saying. Cheer up! We’re world rugby champions!
“Sure,” I responded. “We won again. World champs.”
I summoned a smile, an awkward one, I realised. Because here’s the thing. My team had won the World Cup and I felt … I felt embarrassed!
I have long accepted that South Africa’s rugby structures are not fully transformed. We are on a slow journey towards our national rugby team reflecting the demographics of our country, but we are not there yet. We make gradual, gastropodical progress in that direction.
As such, rugby is transformed, but not yet transformed. Better, but not there yet. This makes rugby a glass-half-full proposition most of the time.
But on a journey towards full representivity, one wants to encourage further transformation, not try to stop it by claiming it too soon. We don’t want to celebrate Uhuru when we’re only at Barranco Camp, to crowbar a Kilimanjaro metaphor into the matter.
My personal protest, a line in my own patch of mental sand, is a refusal to wear the Bok jersey until the team is mostly black players, and it beats New Zealand. Suffice to say, I have not worn the green and gold since I made that call!
But at the same time, I am addicted to watching the Springboks! It is part of me! As a child, I saw Naas Botha kick the series-winning conversion against the British Lions at Boet Erasmus Stadion. I have woken at 5am to watch the Boks lose by dozens of points. I’ve stayed awake! I have travelled, I’ve been moered, I’ve been mugged, all so I can watch the Springboks.
Alongside this passion, lives a sincere hope for a transition to a more just society, where black people have equal resources, privileges and opportunities to white people like myself, who scored them through random luck and estate planning.
So there I was, torn between the fact of an inadequately transformed team, and a miraculous victory. I see on Twitter that EFF thought leader Mbuyiseni Ndlozi was at a similar watershed.
In wrestling with myself, I was torn between grumpily accepting my comrade’s generous congratulations, his olive branch, and actually expressing the joy that bubbled within me. Letting out the happiness I somehow felt embarrassed to show.
Here was this guy, acknowledging that this sport of rugby, once the very epitome of apartheid machismo, was now his too. Ours! That this World Cup-winning achievement was something we shared.
It occurred to me that he was the one making the real attitudinal leap, embracing the sport of his one-time oppressors. Me, I was kind of wallowing in my white guilt and the slumbers of my own pseudo-wokeness.
“Actually, it’s awesome,” I decided. “Mapimpi won it for us. Mapimpi and Pollard! The whole team! ’Mabokoboko!”
Who the hell did I think I was, anyway? If this team was good enough, authentically South African enough to inspire the president, a parliament full of struggle vets, the Gwijo Squad and this gentlemen in a Caltex beanie, who was I to now play the grumpy sports snob? The transformation police?
I magnanimously climbed out of my car, paid for my petrol and shared a shoulder bump with the petrol attendant, before tipping him R10.
I am of course, a massive, self-important, condescending asshole. But at least I know that, and I’m trying to do better. Part of my journey to there will be allowing myself to be proud of a Springbok victory, to feel it, love it, celebrate it. Perhaps one day to wear the jersey again!
From my grumpy slumber of wannabe wokeness, I am realising that as our team slowly transforms, as we transform, we need to transform our attitudes.
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