RWC 2023 HOMECOMING
Rugby fans hit the streets to show the Bokke some Gauteng love
People came out in their thousands on Thursday to celebrate the Springbok victory at the Rugby World Cup.
“Never in the history of the Rugby World Cup has any team lifted the trophy on four occasions – until now,” said President Cyril Ramaphosa as he kicked off the Gauteng leg of the Springboks’ victory tour by receiving the champions at the Union Buildings in Pretoria on Thursday morning.
“In doing so, you have lifted the spirits of an entire nation and filled us with pride. You have united the South African people,” said Ramaphosa.
“Your journey to victory in France on Saturday night was as much about our journey towards nationhood as it was about sporting excellence.”
After Ramaphosa’s address, the Bokke, who touched down in Johannesburg just two days earlier, set off on the first leg of their much-anticipated victory tour.
Read more in Daily Maverick: Boks reignite hopes of a united South Africa as thousands gather to welcome world champs home
The nation’s capital came to a standstill as the parade meandered through the streets of Pretoria, with the triumphant team waving to the throngs of green and gold-clad supporters.
Similar scenes unfolded in Johannesburg, with thousands of people leaving their homes, workplaces and schools to catch a glimpse of the Springboks and the illustrious Webb Ellis Cup.
The Boks were meant to begin the Johannesburg parade at 2pm, but the defending champions were running behind schedule, only arriving in the CBD an hour later. The delay did not dampen the mood, however.
Hordes of supporters from all walks of life gathered on the streets in the heat of the day, filling the time by dancing and singing and cheering whenever a passing car revved its engine or the driver honked the horn.
The Wits Brass Band entertained the crowd with lively performances in the middle of a busy Johannesburg.
When the Bokke finally arrived, they were met with piercing screams and thunderous applause as supporters ran toward the bus hoping for a glimpse of their heroes and holding up their phones to record the historic moment.
Raphael Simba Courtenay’s mother said she took her son out of school early so that he could be at the parade in Braamfontein. She said it was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for him to see his hero, Siya Kolisi, in the flesh. Raphael said he learned from the team that we can all be one, celebrate each other, and be there for each other.
In their open-top bus, the Springboks – with Kolisi in prime position up front – made their way down Jan Smuts into Braamfontein, past the Bree taxi rank and over the iconic Nelson Mandela Bridge before stopping at FNB Bank City in Smit Street to address the thousands gathered.
“These guys represent all of us … they’re the best of what South Africa is all about,” said Katiso Letlaka, a supporter who showed up in Braamfontein.
“Even just the resilience that they show, how they play – they play for each other. That’s why I came … I really feel I’m connected to the team in some way.”
Referring to what coach Rassie Erasmus and Siya Kolisi said about coming from different backgrounds, Letlaka said, “That’s something we can learn – empathy. Getting into somebody else’s shoes and not just imposing what you think. If all of us had empathy, I think we would go so much further in rebuilding this country.”
At FNB Bank City, FNB CEO Jacques Celliers gave a brief speech thanking the Springboks and handing Kolisi the key to the vault, as a symbol of the magnitude of their victory.
“On behalf of the team, we would like to thank all of you for your support,” Kolisi said to the cheering crowd.
“As a team, we can’t do what we have to do without you making the country work. We hope that we made you happy and that we inspired you.”
Kolisi said the Springboks would keep the wins coming, implying that the 2027 Rugby World Cup was already in the bag.
Lungile Ngwenya, who has worked as a waiter at Vuyo’s Restaurant since 2015, told Daily Maverick that the Bok tour had significantly boosted business in Vilakazi Street.
“They contribute a lot. On Thursdays, we are usually not that busy. Right now, we are fully booked on our second floor,” said the 26-year-old.
Ngwenya’s colleague, Jabulani Mampane, spoke of the Boks’ defence prowess – which brought the team tons of scrutiny from so-called “rugby purists”.
“The Springboks became the official No.1 team in rugby. They are four-time champions. That has never been done before … They didn’t score a lot (during the World Cup). But other teams don’t score a lot against them. I love how they’ve changed the game. It has to be technical at the end of the day. We’re happy. They made us proud,” Mampane said.
It wasn’t just the young fans who were out and about. The older generation also pitched up to show their appreciation. Some in the crowd remembered a time when the Springbok jersey could only be worn by white players.
“In the past, the Springboks were exclusively reserved for white people. And mostly Afrikaner people. But now it’s different. There are many players of different races. There is Siya Kolisi, a captain who has led the team to success,” Soweto resident Grace Nxumalo (73) told Daily Maverick.
It’s a busy weekend ahead for the Springboks. The victory tour heads to Durban on Friday before continuing to Cape Town on Saturday, then wrapping up in the Eastern Cape on Sunday. DM