South Africa are the World Cup Rugby champions [of the world, as Queen might add, but possibly not the queen, as we completely smashed her side!] which is a really good thing. Or a really bad thing. Depending on who you speak to.

For starters, when the squad was announced and this photo was taken, you could be forgiven as a stranger to the sport and the country, for thinking this is not a country where white people make up 8% of the population:

In fact, if you look at that picture without any other knowledge, your conclusion would likely be that this is a largely white country being represented.

Given that rugby was typically a white and largely Afrikaans sport in our country and that black and brown players were excluded from playing top tier rugby during apartheid [as well as largely being denied access to the sport at all levels and certainly given very uneven and unequal opportunities when they were allowed to play] you might feel like this picture makes more sense.

But when you hear that it has been 25 years since apartheid officially ended and work has been done to bridge the gap, you might feel like white people, who make up around 8% of the country’s population, should not still be making up 40% of the squad. 25 years feels like some time to work with systems and structures. And while i absolutely agree with putting the best 15 players on the field, there have to be questions around the access and opportunities that white children and young men have over their black and brown counterparts.

As with most things social media, people were quite strongly divided into opposing camps of extremes on this one, while in my pre-match status on Saturday i wondered aloud whether this might be another case for a Both/And over the much easier Either/Or.

Rugby Final Day – while it is far from perfect, the joy and connection and unity i’ve witnessed at Canal Walk, Century City has felt super tangible and hope-inspiring. We are heading back there for one more game and if you don’t have a place to watch today or people to watch with, come through and meet us there and we will be your people – 10 for a coffee and cinnabun or donut before the game…

Tomorrow let’s continue to fight for a more representative team and better systems and structures to make all of our sports more accessible to all and for greater black, coloured and indian leadership throughout from bottom to top…

But today i choose to hope and celebrate and cheer and be nervous alongside a beautifully diverse crowd who will be dressed largely the same and for eighty minutes be cheering for the same thing… hoping that we will really see each other and that the humanity in each one will be evident… and that something will stick in those it needs to.

In activist groups and a few of my friends, there was a really strong anti-Springbok sentiment, but for the most part it felt to me like the country was behind our team and just wanted a win, and everything that comes with it.

World Cup Rugby

For me, this photograph of Yoliwe and myself after the game typifies what the world cup meant for so many people. 

i can’t even remember how it started but Val and i went to watch the opening pool game against New Zealand at Canal Walk mall in Century City. There is a food court with a massive screen and so we thought it might be a vibe to watch there. We knew instantly upon arriving that we were right as we walked into the latter part of a close France/Argentina game which France took 23-21.

By the time our game had started the food court was packed and people were starting to fill up the upper level sitting and standing by railings wherever they could get a space. The best part was that as a white person i felt like i was the absolute minority in the space.

We ended up watching most of the games there. For the diversity and the vibe. Even for the final where we had a number of good friends watching in lounges, there was a sense of needing to watch this game ‘with South Africa’. And so back we went.

This time they had added chairs to the other side where they normally have shows and it was a lower screen and so we managed to get seats there early and were seated next to Yoliwe and her husband and from the first few anxious moments of the game with Pollards missed penalty we became instant comrades-in-rugby-support as we gasped and cheered and grimaced [concussion moments and shoulder popping and bloody shirts] and screamed and danced together at every moment and happening and point scored.

i don’t know Yoliwe and she doesn’t know me, and we will very likely never see each other again for the rest of our lives. But it doesn’t matter. Because for 90 minutes we were absolutely in it together and there was a definite feeling of something tangible and real and significant.

i had seen the same thing at our semi-final match where Val and i arrived a little late because of church in the morning and we ended up seated upstairs quite far away from the screen sitting at one of the railing steps. i was next to an oldish Afrikaans woman who was seated next to an oldish coloured woman, who clearly didn’t know each other and yet, by the end of the match, felt like the best of friends. 

i know the rush and euphoria and unity of the Rugby World Cup win means absolutely nothing if people head back home afterwards and return to racist ways and treating people who don’t look like them any differently than before. Absolutely. For those refusing to deal with their racism, the win will not change anything. But the hope is that for some people, possibly many people, this was a great opportunity to really just see the other. To step towards. To recognise the humanity in a fellow countryman or woman who are cheering for the same thing. To decide it is worth it to put some effort into building a bridge.

World Cup Rugby

Then there was the added bonus of watching Siya Kolisi as the first black African to captain the Springboks lifting high the Web Ellis trophy. 

Many people celebrated the fact that he came from a place of poverty and didn’t follow the traditional path to make it into the Springbok rugby team. But some wise voices pointed out to us, that this can be a very misleading and damaging narrative:

July Eccles:I think Siya Kolisi is wonderful and inspirational, but at the same time, no one should have to go through that kind of adversity, or have to prove themselves on that level just to ‘make it’ in this horrible system.

It sends a message that this is what is expected of (black) people living in adversity, and that is wrong. He is not an example of what the system can do, but an outlier who broke through the system and defied it. It doesn’t mean anyone can do what he did, on the contrary, it almost justifies the status quo.

I hope we can all agree to that, while still loving and admiring his work, his strength of character, leadership and everything else he embodies.

Stephen Tjasink:Great commentary on it. I’ve been feeling that as great as the story is, it could make some people complacent about poverty by thinking “if Kolosi escaped it then others can do it too if they put their minds to it”.
The reality is that most people are not as brilliant as he is, and they shouldn’t need to be in order not to live in abject poverty either. Living without poverty should not be something that people need to earn.

Hani du Toit: Agree, we need to change the narrative. Celebrating his victory, our victory, is distinct from celebrating what it takes to overcome the odd stacked as they are. We need to send a more empowering message to our youth still struggling to find a way to their “bright” future…and we certainly need to dismantle the system that demands of them to be super heroes to get there.

My friend Carol gave it the hashtag #PovertyPorn and i think what she is saying by that is that the story of Siya Kolisi can tempt us to idolise or fantasise about the notion of the against-all-odds story of defeating poverty simply by putting your head down and trying hard.

July and Stephen have both communicated this idea strongly. This should be a call for us to do everything we can do to defeat poverty, to fight against the inequality between rich and poor and the fact that South Africa is one of the most [if not the most] unequal societies in the world. This is not a ‘Because of’ story but a ‘Despite’ story. Pointing us towards the travesty and tragedy and messed up ness that needs to be dealt with.

But in the midst of that, we can also [Both/And] hopefully find some moments to just stop and celebrate the man who did fight his way out of an unjust context and deliver this powerful speech which included a shoutout to the homeless who were watching the game.

And just one other little positive gem of a story is that Hope Exchange in partnership with Ladles of Love hosted around 150 homeless people in the City of Cape Town – as they do every day – but this time with a difference as they set up a rugby-watching fan park with snacks and then food afterwards so that the homeless could also watch the game.

Even just the news that SABC quite last minute had secured rugby screening rights so that the majority of South Africans had access to be able to watch their team equal New Zealand as the team who have won the most world cups.

Rugby World Cup

i had to add this in, because as much as rugby is played by a team and the support on the bench, special mention must be made of our own little crazy Yorkshire Terrier Faf de Klerk… and the moment he met the Prince of Colonisers while wearing his South African flag speedo… plus facing off to a Wales giant a head taller than him and deciding to pull another Wales player into the fray cos one wasn’t enough…

World Cup Rugby

One of the absolute highlights of the game had to be the moment when the trophy is brought up on the screen, with something like seven minutes of the game still to play, and you can see a hand engraving ‘South Africa’ on it. By that point we had such a lead that they didn’t even wait for the game to finish before announcing in that way that we had won.

For me, another highlight in the face of a team that doesn’t fully represent our country yet, was the fact that every single black and coloured played in that squad was so obviously there on merit. It felt like an added bonus that firstly the combination of Lukhanyo Am and Makazole Mapimpi followed by the sensational gear-change brilliance of Cheslin Kolbe secured the only tries South Africa have ever scored in a World Cup final despite winning it twice before.

The cries of “Beast” that ring out every time Tendai Mtawarira appears on screen send shivers of excitement through my body. It feels like such a potentially dangerous nickname given the history of our country and yet i have never for a second felt like it was spoken without the utmost respect and passion for a player who so obviously plays his heart out for his country every time he puts on the jersey.

World Cup Rugby

Finally, you have this guy. You want to know a funny thing about him? He doesn’t even like rugby. Well, not really. He is a cricket guy, which you will know if you follow him on social media at all. Cricket mad. In fact, a few months ago he would have been able to say he hadn’t watched a rugby game for a few years cos South Africa were so bad it just became embarrassing to watch.

But he is a huge South Africa fan. And so whenever South Africa is playing an international sport he tends to get involved. A few months ago he happened to catch a Currie Cup game while visiting his sister-and-brother-in-law in East London. And then after hearing that South Africa beat Australia in the Rugby Championship earlier in the year decided to watch the SA/NZ game which ended in an incredible 16-16 draw. And so he started getting a little bit more hopeful about this year’s World Cup.

To be honest, after losing to New Zealand in the first game, i really believed we would beat them if we met them again later in the cup. Given our pool it felt like we would obviously make it through and once we were up against Wales and not England, the final felt like a reality.

So i watched and i screamed and i chanted and i danced and i video’d and i absolutely loved every minute of the Rugby World Cup [you have to take what you can get at the moment, if you’re a cricket fan!] and celebrated with the thousands of people we watched it with. The team may not have been completely representational of the country but the space we watched it in was, and that felt significant.

And now it is on with the work. Because there is still so much work to do in the country and we cannot rest on a feel-good win, but maybe we can build on it. For white people, one place you can start, or return to, is this list of 40 ideas of things you can do if you find yourself asking, ‘But what can I do?’ We need to continue to ask the hard, uncomfortable, awkward questions and we need to be doing significant things to make a difference.

  • Listen to stories of people in and around your life who do not look like you.

  • Contribute a portion of your money to a person or a family or an organisation that is actively working to better the country – if you need suggestions you can start here. But they are easy enough to find.

  • Make sure that you are paying those who work for you a LIVING WAGE and not simply getting away with minimum wage. 

  • Invest some of your time and the skills and access and resources you have into a person or family or community. Become a mentor or a volunteer.  Restitution can take many forms.

  • Commit to a #NotOnOurWatch lifestyle that refuses to let racism pass by unchallenged or uninterrupted whether online or offline or at your family dinner table.

But whatever you do, please do not return to life as normal. Unless life as normal means that you are already doing some or all of these things.

Derek Ronnie: Now that the dust has settled and we have finished congratulating the springboks on a well-deserved rugby victory, can we now start the task of REAL nation-building. Let us generate the ‘gees’ to speak out boldly against racism, let us unapologetically call-out exploitation in the workplace, let transformation mean more than selectively taking talent from disadvantaged areas and place them in privileged schools. Real transformation is the leveling of the playing field across all aspects, nutrition, facilities, resources and the list goes on. If we cannot intentionally do this then the RWCW2019 will present to our nation another false dawn. Well done to the boks but now the REAL WORK starts. 

Let’s also just try and lean into the Both/And of this and other things because more often than not, things have a positive and negative side to them and if we try to embrace either extreme without taking into account the other side, we are likely going to miss out big time.

Those who hated on the rugby and that was the end of the story. i think you may have missed out on something we saw affecting people throughout the country including townships and rural areas and other places you claim to be fighting for.

Those who loved on the rugby and that was the end of the story. It is not enough. It really isn’t. If you are not in some way and ways committed to being a part of the change in the country, then you do not love South Africa. You are just addicted to feeling good about a game. And that helps no-one.

Let’s build a country, because if the rugby got one thing right – and i suspect it got many things right – it was the idea and hashtag of being #StrongerTogether

i would love to hear some of how you experienced this world cup. Please leave some of your story in the comments below. 

My younger sister Dawn has recently started blogging and has written this hope-inspiring piece looking at the celebrations of the game and bouncing it into personal dreams for the coming year – Take a look!