It was a cold winter’s day when I first experienced the pride of being a child of South Africa’s “rainbow nation.” It was June 1995. It was the afternoon South Africa beat New Zealand in the Rugby World Cup final.
Rugby is more than a national sport. It is a national religion. You can’t be South African if you don’t like rugby and braais (barbecue).
I suppose in many ways I wasn’t a true South African. My parents were immigrants. We were Portuguese. The only sport we watched in our household was soccer. We didn’t have braais; I didn’t even know the rules of rugby. But that final match at Ellis Park Stadium, less than 15km from my house, remains in my memory forever.
Like everyone else in South Africa, I was caught up in the euphoria of the 1995 Rugby World Cup. Our new president, Nelson Mandela, took a personal interest in the World Cup. He recognized that there was never a better chance to unite black and white in a moment of national pride as we hosted the Cup and were on display for the world to see our brand-new democracy.
From the moment that Vicky Sampson sang “African Dream” at the opening ceremony, the hearts of a nation were united behind a common goal: to show the world that South Africa was different from the rest of the continent. We could undergo a political transition without bloodshed and civil war.
To this day, when I hear the lyrics of that deeply patriotic and hopeful song, my eyes fill with tears. It captures the nostalgia of my youthful belief that we could become a united country:
I listen for your call, I listen for your heartbeatAlone my dream is just a dreamAnother false illusion, a shadow in the nightAll I want is for our hearts to be beating just as one.
Ultimately that was the South African dream – for the horrors of apartheid and division to be behind us. For us to live side by side without hatred, without rancour. The international rugby anthem, “World in Union,” for a few weeks meant much more to us than just another rugby song. It captured the gees (spirit) of this hopeful, young nation:
Gathering togetherOne mind, one heartEvery creed, every colourOnce joined never apart.
We were a nation reborn. In the words of the World Cup anthem, we were indeed “a new age [that] has begun” and we were anxious to “take our place in history and live with dignity.” In those early days of democracy, we had no idea how hard – and at times seemingly impossible – that dream would be to achieve. Many times over the next 25 years, we would falter. The wounds of the past would fester and would emerge in ugly incidents of racism, barbaric crime, an aggression almost unequalled in any other part of the world.
But on that June afternoon in 1995, everything was possible. And I was unmistakeably, proudly South African. My parents had gone out for the day. I was home alone. I should have been studying for mid-year exams.
As I sat in my room, I could hear the festive mood outside the window in my neighbourhood. Every television was set at full blast. Cars in the street were hooting in expectant celebration, waiting for kick-off. I couldn’t possibly study.
Giving up on my books, I turned on the television and sat down to watch my first rugby match (and only one of two rugby matches I have ever watched from start to finish). I had heard my friends at school saying that it would be impossible for us to beat the All Blacks. South Africa had only recently been allowed back into world sports after years of political sanctions. It was our first World Cup as participants and as hosts.
Miraculously, we had passed the group stages, the quarterfinals, the semi-finals. And here we were, facing the world’s best rugby team and the favourites to win. Realistically we couldn’t win. Despite the odds, the entire country stood behind the Springboks, willing them to play the best rugby of their lives. This was about so much more than rugby. This was to be a foundational moment for our new nation. We, the people, knew this. The 15 players on the field knew this.
Defying all odds, South Africa took the victory in extra time, when Joel Stransky scored a drop goal that brought the Webb Ellis cup home to South Africa. Although I was watching alone, without a single friend to share the moment, I cried with joy and pride when Mandela and the South African captain Francois Pienaar raised the cup in what would become one of the most iconic photographs in the history of sport.
If we could win a rugby world cup against all odds, surely we could achieve anything. Over the years, whenever South Africa found itself on its knees due to poor leadership, corruption, and social instability, sport has always helped to restore our national pride and remind us of the nation we want to become.
During the “Zuma years,” when corruption under the watch of President Jacob Zuma had reached unparalleled levels of impunity, South Africa hosted the 2010 World Cup, and we showed the world what we could achieve when we work together. International media said that we’d never be able to pull it off. But we did, in style. A nation united around soccer for a month.
In 2019, amid service delivery protests, political wrangling, and what seemed to be an endless spate of killings of women across the country, optimism was at an all-time low. Rugby once raised our national spirit. We had lost one of our matches in the group stages and the pundits had written us off as a contender for the trophy. The first-ever black Springbok captain, Siya Kolisi, again led the team to victory against England in the final in Japan.
For the second time, now as an adult, I watched the rugby match alone in my house. For 60 minutes, I was reminded of the youthful euphoria of the 14-year-old who watched the Springboks capture the hearts of the nation and the world all those years ago.
Realism has replaced the youthful illusions that all obstacles can be overcome. But somewhere, deep down inside, the girl who became a woman during the early days of the “rainbow nation” still carries the hope that this country, my South Africa, will one day stand proud among the nations as a success story despite all its difficulties.
(…to be continued…)
2021: Conceived – Volume 2 of a Contemporary Transadaptation
January: The Pack – Alejandra Baccino (Uruguay)
February: The Pink Shirt – Talia Stotts (America)
March: Dragging the Past out into the Light – Kate Korneeva (Russia)
April: Looking Forward to Spring – Marilin Guerrero Casas (Cuba)
May: Every Little Thing – Gennady Bondarenko (Ukraine)
June: The Girl Who Chased the Rainbow – Toni Wallis (Sarah-Leah Pimentel) (South Africa)
July: Another World – Jonay Quintero Hernandez (Spain)
August: Life after Nare – Nane Sevunts (Armine Asryan) (Armenia)
September: Meeting My Homeland – Rayan Harake (Lebanon)
October: Catching Water (Part Two) – Javier Gomez (Argentina)
November: Remember – Seyit Ali Dastan (Turkey)
December: Los Caminantes – Veronica Cordido (Venezuela)
Background – Context
In the Middle – Prelude to a Contemporary Transadaptation, (eds.) Angelika Friedrich, Yuri Smirnov and Henry Whittlesey (2020)
Peripatetic Alterity: A Philosophical Treatise on the Spectrum of Being – Romantics and Pragmatists by Angelika Friedrich, Yuri Smirnov and Henry Whittlesey (2019)
La Syncrétion of Polarization and Extremes Transposée, (eds.) Angelika Friedrich, Yuri Smirnov and Henry Whittlesey (2019)
The Codex of Uncertainty Transposed, (eds.) Angelika Friedrich, Yuri Smirnov and Henry Whittlesey (2018)
L’anthologie of Global Instability Transpuesta, (eds.) Angelika Friedrich, Yuri Smirnov and Henry Whittlesey (2017)
From Wahnsinnig to the Loony Bin: German and Russian Stories Transposed to Modern-day America, (eds.) Angelika Friedrich, Yuri Smirnov and Henry Whittlesey (2013)
Emblems and stories on the international community
Perception by country – Transposing emblems, articles, short stories and reports from around the world
Cover photo: South Africa – Watching – Nicolene Olckers (Unsplash)
Source: The Codex of Uncertainty Transposed