Maverick Citizen

TUESDAY EDITORIAL

Siya Kolisi has a dream to change South Africa — are you up to the challenge?

Siya Kolisi has a dream to change South Africa — are you up to the challenge?
Bok captain Siya Kolisi takes selfies with fans after their World Cup victory over New Zealand at Stade de France in Paris on 28 October 2023. (Photo:Juan Jose Gasparini / Gallo Images)

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. 

Bok

Siya Kolisi with the Webb Ellis Cup following the Springboks’ World Cup victory over the All Blacks at Stade de France in Paris on 28 October 2023. (Photo: Dan Mullan / Getty Images)

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? 

South African fans during the Rugby World Cup final against New Zealand at Stade de France on 28 October 2023. (Photo: Steve Haag / Gallo Images)

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. 

Bok captain Siya Kolisi celebrates with his daughter after their World Cup triumph at Stade de France on 28 October 2023. (Photo: Juan Jose Gasparini / Gallo Images)

Fans watch the Rugby World Cup final in Ekurhuleni on 28 October 2023. (Photo: Gallo Images / OJ Koloti)

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.

Siya Kolisi at a media conference

Siya Kolisi. (Photo: Alex Broadway / Gallo Images)

Captain Siya Kolisi lifts the Webb Ellis Cup after the Springboks' World Cup win against New Zealand on 28 October 2023.

Captain Siya Kolisi lifts the Webb Ellis Cup after the Springboks’ World Cup win against New Zealand on 28 October 2023. (Photo: EPA-EFE / Yoan Valat)

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

Gallery

Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • Dieter Petzsch says:

    Mark, for a small part of the answer go and look at what many schools in the Boland and Western Cape (e.g. Paarl Boys High School, Paarl) and their former pupils, many in an individual and/or collective capacity are doing in uplifting and integrating communities…

  • Grumpy Old Man says:

    No Mark, it will be lost! The Politicians will allow us a day or two to celebrate together, to enjoy what it feels like to win together & then they will do their best to remind us why we should remain divided. In fact, I would go so far as to say, South Africans standing together is a threat to their very existence!
    Last night our President spoke of Hope. But it was couched in a ‘we still have some kind of chance’ tone & without sounding entirely convinced himself. The Hope I have – the Belief – is that the majority of South Africans are ‘good people’. We might not all understand the details of the mess we are in right now – but most people know that things would be better if we just worked together.
    You see Mark, Siya’s message – the foundation of the Bok success – that’s not a message for ‘ordinary folk’ its a message to our Politicians, to our Union Leaders to our CEO’s about what can be achieved if you work together towards a higher purpose & for the common good – rather than your own narrow self interest & personal survival!
    Unfortunately Mark, I think we have some very small & particularly unremarkable people at the helm right now. It’s not (as you say) that this Country is not blessed with talent – but I challenge you to identify it (on one hand) amongst our current crop of so called Leaders & in whose hands our fate lies

  • Steve Davidson says:

    “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.”

    Yeah, vengeance against the ANC politicians that still keep the people down; steal the money that was meant to improve their lives; use their mates to build RDP houses that fall apart very quickly; allow ‘teachers’ to do nothing to educate the people; ‘cadavers’ sorry, ‘cadres’ who are so useless you’d wish they’d been given a few hundred thousand rand to eff off, but wouldn’t have gone anyway because there was so much more to steal. And so on, and so on. It’s about time you ANC apologists stop blaming the past and accept that your mates are totally and utterly useless and need to be kicked out so a coalition led by the DA – who have done amazing things in the Cape against huge odds (thanks to the same useless ANC stuffing up the Eastern Cape) – can get in and fix the country up.

  • May Rajoo says:

    I was raised in a township in apartheid, my dad ignored that and we was a family in a all race church and members were like family and the consequences is mindblowing I have a npo to teach youth the power of positivity unity and love has.Siya also does that, just love south africans and its powerful. Mandela did it and it is powerful. There are more good than bad ,let us build on good

  • Rob Wilson says:

    It is sad that this very special moment should be sullied and burdened by problems that are self inflicted by the current ruling elite. Siya and the entire set up is so very representative of what should happen in our country. The exact opposite of the dogmatic and outdated policies of the ruling party, the exact opposite of the sense of entitlement they profess, job destroying BEE and resultant collapse of key industries, SOE’s and infrastructure. Of course we must try and embrace the moment, but I think that the willing donors are now much more wary of contributing to processes used to stuff large sums of money away in Dubai or anywhere else.

  • Annie Conway says:

    Couldn’t agree more. PLEASE can we let bygones be bygones and build back our country? As the article says, it won’t be easy and it won’t happen overnight, but attitudes can change overnight.

  • Middle aged Mike says:

    I’ve given up hope for SA. We have an electorate that overwhelmingly rewards incompetence and thievery in their representatives. That is unlikely to change any time soon. Us saffers apparently have an average IQ of between 68 and 71 depending on scale. I find that easy to believe after every election.

  • As South Africans, each of us need to take baby steps to focus on what unites us and not divide us. That is exactly what Siya and his team did for us. What can I, as an individual do to unite the citizens of our country? It starts with me, in my own home, my country, my neighbourhood, the man on the street. I need to make a difference, wherever I find myself. Imagine the impact if each and every South African put in some effort towards unity, genuine neighbourly love for each other instead of sowing division, living in the past, fearing one another! Lets us roll up our sleeves and work hard, just like the Boks did, they gave their everything in the final until the very last minute in order to become RWC champions. Let us follow their example! Halala!

  • Exist Nomad says:

    Sadly no sport can ever unite a country, at best all it can do is provide transient respite. And hope, all too often tends to be just a distraction from facing the reality of what needs to be done. The Xhosa have a saying, “ithemba alibulali, liyadanisa/ hope does not kill, it disappoints”. South Africans need to face their individual and collective contributions to the country’s failures.

Please peer review 3 community comments before your comment can be posted

X

This article is free to read.

Sign up for free or sign in to continue reading.

Unlike our competitors, we don’t force you to pay to read the news but we do need your email address to make your experience better.


Nearly there! Create a password to finish signing up with us:

Please enter your password or get a sign in link if you’ve forgotten

Open Sesame! Thanks for signing up.