RWC TROPHY TOUR
Outcry as Bok Trophy Tour skips Kolisi’s hometown Gqeberha: ‘We need to see our Siya’
Anger has exploded in rugby-mad Nelson Mandela Bay over the metro’s exclusion from the Springboks’ World Cup Tour. Letters were flying thick and fast on Monday to remind SA Rugby that the metro is the home of captain Siya Kolisi and other members of the winning team.
A decision by SA Rugby (Saru) to bypass rugby-crazy Nelson Mandela Bay on the Springboks’ World Cup Trophy Tour this week was met with anger on Monday. The Eastern Province Rugby Union and the Nelson Mandela Bay metro have called on Saru to change its decision.
The euphoria of South Africa’s World Cup win dissipated as tempers flared over the decision to take the tour to East London and not Nelson Mandela Bay.
Promises that the Springboks would come back in March were quickly dismissed.
The chair of traditional leaders in Nelson Mandela Bay, Mike Pantsi, said the city’s heart is crying out for “our Siya”.
“We prayed for them every day. We want to see our Siya,” he said.
“We need to see our Siya. Our children need a reminder that they too can do this. What he has done speaks volumes for our disadvantaged communities. We need him to come and show us the trophy. He is our reminder that we too can do something.
“He is the hope of our townships. He is the light of our world,” Pantsi said.
Kolisi is from Zwide in Nelson Mandela Bay.
On Friday, Nelson Mandela Bay executive mayor Gary van Niekerk promised the metro that if the Springboks won, he would bungee jump from the Blaauwkrantz Bridge wearing a “Faf speedo” made by Bean Bag The Brand, a company based in Nelson Mandela Bay.
The speedo, designed to resemble the South African flag, was made famous by Faf de Klerk after the 2019 Rugby World Cup and again on Saturday night when he met tennis star Roger Federer while wearing it.
Van Niekerk kept his promise on Monday afternoon, making the leap while also wearing a Springbok jersey. At 216m, the Blaauwkrantz Bridge bungee jump is the fourth highest in the world.
When asked by an aide if he wanted to “pull out”, a determined Van Niekerk said: “No, I am pulling in!”
Speaking before his jump, Van Niekerk said: “I have a young, free spirit. I thought this would be an awesome thing to do to highlight the victory of the Springboks. I am doing it in a Faf speedo as well. It is something to make people smile. Spread the love and happiness in our metro. It can’t just be bad news all the time.”
Crowd watched in pouring rain
On Saturday, about 10,000 people attended the public viewing of the final in pouring rain, eager to cheer for Kolisi and hoping to see him lift the Webb Ellis Cup.
Spokesperson for the co-organiser of the event with the municipality, the Mandela Bay Development Agency (MBDA), Luvuyo Bangazi, confirmed the size of the crowd.
“It didn’t take long for the west stands to fill up with excitement and gees from the nearly 10,000 spectators. The MBDA worked very closely with the municipality to make the event a success, cementing the Bay as the people’s stadium supporting the people’s team,” Bangazi said.
During the 2019 tour, the Springbok bus was so hemmed in by large crowds, especially in Zwide, that they had to cancel several stops, promising to return in March 2020. This was abandoned due to the pandemic.
Eastern Cape Rugby Union
An angry letter was sent to Saru on Monday morning by the acting president of the Eastern Cape Rugby Union, George Malgas.
“We are starved for interaction with our heroes,” he wrote.
“It has been noted that we as Eastern Province have been excluded from the main tour. The information at this point, points to Nelson Mandela Bay Metro and its surrounding regions being snubbed in favour of the Buffalo City Municipality. It is noted that no consultation with us, the Eastern Province Rugby, occurred, and certain reasons were forwarded as an explanation.
“These reasons make no logical sense, and we are of the view that no proper consideration was taken of the following: Siya Kolisi was born and bred in Port Elizabeth (Gqeberha); he is the Captain of our National Team and his ties to the local community are well documented. Surely that can be no greater pride for him and the team to come and display this trophy to his elders, family members and friends.
“You are now trying to take away this historical achievement and want to reduce it to a sideshow in 2024.
“Your coaching staff Rassie Erasmus, Mzwandile Stick and Charles Wessels played rugby and administered the game in this area where they first started. So, I ask you on what basis can it be legitimised or acceptably explained as to why you are trying to take away the joy of these icons in South African rugby?
“Your action can be seen as marginalising the Nelson Mandela [Bay] Metro, the only metro in South Africa that bears the name of the father, our greatest leader, Nelson Mandela.
“It is shocking that you did not consider this, as we are of the view that honour, respect and a sense of repaying all those who have contributed to the position that we are in, should have been paramount in your decisions.
“We, as a community, have not been privileged for this team to attend or to play Test matches, where the crowds could interact with these icons. Surely our people deserve this more than any other province and we ask you to reconsider and include us in this trophy tour.
“I want to state clearly that we are not against the Border or the Buffalo City Tour. We acknowledge Border as part of the Eastern Cape, however, its contribution to rugby, although acknowledged, is not superior to the Nelson Mandela Bay Region.
“We trust that you see how seriously our people take rugby in this region and the passion cannot be minimised or our people marginalised.”
The CEO of the Nelson Mandela Bay Business Chamber, Denise van Huyssteen, followed suit:
“[T]he decision by the South African Rugby Union to exclude Nelson Mandela Bay from the Springbok’s national tour sends a negative message to the residents of the Bay.
“The region’s passion and contribution to rugby is steeped in rich history and cultural significance and the reason behind its exclusion, especially one related to a sport as unifying as rugby, may justifiably be perceived as an orchestrated snub to deny the people of the metro an opportunity to share in the much-awaited celebrations.
“Rugby is a sport that holds great importance in South Africa, especially in the Metro, and has played a huge role in uniting people across racial and cultural divides. Excluding a region from such a tour, which has contributed immensely to the sport of rugby, can potentially create feelings of exclusion, disappointment and frustration among the local community.
“More importantly, as the foremost investment destination within the Eastern Cape province, the Metro contributes the largest share of all new investment into the province as well as contributing close to 35% of the Eastern Cape’s annual GDP and 29% of the province’s existing employment. It is also the fifth-largest city in the country in terms of population and the second-largest in terms of area, covering an area of 1,957km².
“The Metro has a legitimate claim to the win and deserves to be afforded the same opportunity as the rest of the selected cities to fully participate in the upcoming activities to pay homage to their local heroes. Their success in the Rugby World Cup is a source of immense pride for the local community. It is a point of pride and inspiration for young and upcoming rugby talent in the area.”
She said Saru should think about what this “cold shoulder” is communicating to the people of the metro.
“Perhaps there are valid reasons for circumventing the Metro. That said, public perception and symbolism matter, and as such, it would be greatly appreciated if Saru communicated their decision transparently and sensitively to the residents of the Metro to avoid any unintended negative consequences,” Van Huyssteen continued.
Nelson Mandela Bay executive mayor Gary van Niekerk was next.
“It is inconceivable that the Springboks’ victory tour will not include Nelson Mandela Bay,” Van Niekerk said, adding that he too had written to Saru and the government to protest.
“We cannot leave any stone unturned. I contacted the Premier of the Eastern Cape, Honourable Oscar Mabuyane, the president of the South African Rugby Union and the organiser of the victory tour to address this major slight against the residents and, indirectly, the Kolisi family.
“I am also writing a formal letter to Saru and the Presidency today as it is a travesty against the residents of Nelson Mandela Bay if we do not fight for the inclusion to the tour,” Van Niekerk said.
Saru vs Epru
ANC spokesperson Gift Nqondi said Saru and Eastern Province Rugby Union (Epru) politics must not cloud the judgement of Saru leaders.
“Some of us know the reason why Test matches involving Springboks do not feature in Nelson Mandela Bay… it is the tug of war between the national federation (Saru) and Epru.
“This reasoning of population size is nonsensical and childish. So they want to tell us that East London’s population size is bigger than Nelson Mandela Bay. We have Springbok captain Siya Kolisi, Director of Rugby Rassie Erasmus, assistant coach Mzwandile Stick and, closer at Humandorp, we have Manie Libbok.
“Makhanda and Gqeberha have been the cradle of black rugby, with the Union Rugby Club formed in 1887, followed by Orientals Lily White in 1894, then Morning Stars, Rovers, Frontiers, Busy Boys, Walmer Wales, Spring Rose in New Brighton.
“If there is an elixir that could help boost the good fortunes of the Nelson Mandela Bay metro in the current political slump the region is going through, it is actually Siya Kolisi, Rassie Erasmus, Mzwandile Stick moving around, carrying the World Cup above their shoulders.
“We will be engaging the MEC of Sport and the Minister of Sport to intervene and speak sense to Saru.”
In its Trophy Tour announcement, Saru explained that “the locations have been selected for population size in the first three instances and because of the Eastern Cape’s rugby significance in the fourth. Satellite tours to Bloemfontein, Nelson Mandela Bay and other centres will be scheduled for 2024. Such tours following the 2019 victory had to be abandoned because of the pandemic.”
In a statement on Monday afternoon, Saru president Mark Alexander passed on the Springboks’ gratitude to all South Africans for the overwhelming support and passion shown throughout the team’s triumphant Rugby World Cup journey.
Alexander said the tour’s purpose was to reach as many people as possible within a limited timeframe before the squad dispersed.
The five biggest population centres in the country – Cape Town, Durban, Johannesburg, Soweto and Pretoria – have been given priority to provide the maximum number of people with an opportunity to welcome the team.
“Furthermore, the significance of the Eastern Cape in the history, development and future of black rugby was acknowledged, leading to a visit to Buffalo City on a non-working day to enable individuals from the region to be part of the celebration.”
Regarding the choice of Buffalo City over Nelson Mandela Bay, Alexander noted that another significant Springbok event is planned for the metropole in 2024, although specific details are yet to be confirmed.
“The players’ club commitments necessitate their swift return or immediate rehabilitation after 21 weeks of intense competition since the Castle Lager Rugby Championship began,” Alexander added.
“Satellite tours to other population centres in the Free State, North West, Limpopo, Mpumalanga and Northern Cape, among other places, are in the planning stages, with scheduling contingent on players’ club commitments.” DM