Siya Kolisi has a dream to change South Africa — are you up to the challenge?
What is remarkable is that South Africa can win a World Cup when so much of our talent is still suppressed, bogged down in bad schools, broken communities, trapped in income poverty, stunted by hunger. There are so many dreams out there waiting to be unchained. South Africa has huge talent to untap. That’s why I interpret one of Siya’s messages to us as being that the freedom to excel and to win in sport is a social justice issue.
In the minutes immediately after the whistle was blown on the Rugby World Cup final on Saturday night Springbok Captain Siya Kolisi told the world that: “This team just shows what diversity can do for our team and our country as well. As soon as we work together all is possible, no matter in what sphere, on the field, in offices, it just shows what we can do.”
Kolisi’s comments came at the end of an eight-week odyssey that steadily drew more and more of the country into a vortex of tentative self-belief and hope. Each match, each week, each win provided a glimmer of light in an otherwise dark time.
Funny. The hunger didn’t go away, the crime didn’t go away, the inequality didn’t go away – but a sense of hope and possibility flickered and then grew stronger. People started seeing each other. Truth be told, people like loving rather than fearing one other.
The hope we crave
What the Springbok team did to most of us was far deeper than the nation getting behind our team in a game of rugby. Because there wasn’t a nation at the outset. It awakened in us an unmet desire for social cohesion, a desire for common purpose and identity, it allowed us to prioritise the heroic and mythical over the mundane and miserable.
It drew from us the wellsprings of solidarity, excellence, the things that have formed part of human life since we started to live as societies and not just as individuals in a quest for survival.
As English poet Kae Tempest put it in her epic poem, Brand New Ancients:
“It feels like we’ve forgotten that we are much more than the
Sum of all
The things that belong to us.”
And yet, we must also be realistic about this mood. Unless we understand it and act on it, it too will pass, and pass quickly. As it did in 1995, in 2007, in 2019 and on other occasions where we have had cause to think about ourselves as a collective with a collective past and a collective future.
If we allow that to happen again we will do a disservice to Siya’s heartfelt dream.
The rapture many felt at that moment of victory was more than illusory, but how do we make it more than a chimera? What is the unwritten formula that underlies this remarkable success and all the hope that it gave rise to? What will it take to work meaningfully together in offices and communities, as Siya suggests we can and should?
Social justice and sport
I would argue that it has several key ingredients.
First, as Siya says, it showed South Africa’s diversity is its strength. It showed that race and racism is a man-made barrier to unity. However the Springboks do not pretend that the legacy of apartheid and ongoing racism don’t exist. The triumph of Siya and the other eight black players in the Springbok team is precisely their triumph over generations of ongoing adversity and discrimination. It shows that sport is connected to politics, because sport is an expression of society, and society is shaped by politics; not just the politics of political parties, but the politics of people, what they fight for and what they don’t.
The Springboks’ victory… is a demonstration of the power of having a plan and an ambition, however the odds are stacked against you.
As writer Lwando Xaso put it in a post on social media: “Many of us share the heritage of rugby in our families and communities. Watching someone like Siya, coming from the same townships as our parents and grandparents, is somewhat of a soft vengeance, and a recognition that we have always had it, you are only now finding out.”
Read more in Daily Maverick: Damian Willemse and his mom are heroes of their small Western Cape town
So, what is remarkable is that South Africa can win a World Cup when so much of our talent is still suppressed, bogged down in bad schools, broken communities, trapped in income poverty, stunted by hunger. There are so many dreams out there waiting to be unchained. South Africa has huge talent to untap. That’s why I interpret one of Siya’s messages to us as being that the freedom to excel and to win in sport is a social justice issue.
So, fixing the basic education system so that there is equal opportunity in sport and life is a necessity.
Second, the power of diversity is not just idealistic thinking. It allows the combination of experiences, skills and insights. Human beings always achieve more as teams and in collectives, than as individuals.
But diversity must be more than a cliche: it means knowing when you call on a particular strength, and when you defer back, even if at some personal cost. The decision to play Handrè Pollard over Manie Libbok (despite his famed no-look kick and winning man of the match against Scotland) is a case in point.
Third, the Springboks’ victory and latest fame was not won in two months. It was won through the leadership of coaches, captain and support staff. It’s a demonstration of the power of having a plan and an ambition, however the odds are stacked against you, and working doggedly towards its realisation.
That’s an injunction as to how we should approach the realisation of the vision of our Constitution.
It’s also the power of not being diverted from a plan by side-shows and petty insults, not even when those insults strike to the core of our being.
Finally it shows the energising power of joy, hard-won excellence and endurance, the liberating quality of empathy and generosity even in the face of heated competition.
As the Springboks tour the country we will bask for a few more days in this victory. But then the euphoria will pass. The question is: Will we learn from this moment? Will we seek to sustain it by changed behaviour, will we continue to see one another and show more empathy, will we speak out against injustice, will we rebuild trust in one another?
The Springboks have done it for South Africa. The question is: Can South Africa do it for the Springboks? DM