“Halala Amabokoboko, halala! We are the champions of the world!” rugby commentator Matthew Pearce shouted hoarsely as Springbok rugby captain Siya Kolisi held the Web Ellis trophy aloft.
Weeks later and that moment still feels like pure magic.
A mere 18 months earlier, who would have thought this was possible?
As Victor Matfield said, Kolisi hoisting the World Cup trophy will be one of those iconic sporting images we will live with for the rest of our lives.
What celebration and what unbridled joy followed in the days after as South Africans welcomed the team back in a way only we can. All races, all ages and all classes were present at OR Tambo airport with manic shouts of “Siya! Siya! Siya!”
Life was suddenly alright in the beleaguered republic. It seemed to be the cathartic moment we needed after the heaviness of almost a decade of State Capture, corruption and poor governance.
Typically, the EFF tried to ruin the party, but it had failed spectacularly to capture and understand the national mood. The 10.79% party often thinks that it can shift the South African narrative, yet it turns out that South Africans prefer unity over division. Predictably, the EFF confirmed its place as a small party with small ideas unable to appeal to the better angels of our nature. In turn, South Africans replied to this divisive rhetoric through the simple yet profound act of taking to the streets in their thousands, whether in Zwide or in Tshwane. We welcomed our team home together and celebrated together with strength in our numbers.
The analysis will come, the screeds will be written. But perhaps what the thousands of South Africans who took to the streets and the millions who watched the final (the strains of Capture ever-present as the SABC made a last-minute deal to screen the actual match) demonstrated was that for a moment, it felt good to celebrate success at the highest level. It felt good to see the unrestrained passion with which Bongi Mbonambi, Tendai “Beast” Mtawarira and others jumped off the bench, as they knew victory was inevitable. It felt good to watch Cheslin Kolbe dance to the tryline with his magic feet.
And who will forget the Xhosa commentary of Kaunda Ntunja as he climbed out of his skin watching Makazole Mapimpi score that wonder try as Lukhanyo Am casually passed the ball? It was good to experience that simple human emotion — joy. And it felt far better to experience it together and not in racial silos.
We continue to watch as the first black Springbok captain conducts himself with such ease, humility and grace on the world stage. To the children of Zwide it says: this can be done.
Reams will be written about this victory, its significance, what it means for “nation-building” and how we can “recapture” the “rainbow nation”.
The stark and obvious reality, however, is that this rugby victory cannot solve our immense socioeconomic challenges, our stubborn and tragic unemployment numbers and the deep structural inequality with which we live. It cannot deal with crooked politicians and a governing party which has lost its ethical compass. It cannot paper over the cracks of decades of the apartheid psyche still ingrained in our society. It can also not deal with the persistent and painful effects of apartheid spatial development that the poor and marginalised experience daily. As the Bok bus travelled through Zwide township, Kolisi’s hometown, the effects of decades of poverty and neglect were obvious.
So the meaning of this victory will always be considered in the context in which we find ourselves. As many cynically said, “this World Cup victory will not mean the end of unemployment.” No, it won’t — and that was never its purpose.
As is the nature of these things — they always have a touch of the ephemeral about them.
But they need not. Rugby, if its leadership continues to be wise and forward-looking, will understand the meaning of Yokohama and assiduously build on the immense progress this team has made. It will use the power of Kolisi and his mighty men to inspire the next generation. We can only hope they do not fail them.
The salient question, which arises, is not whether this victory can be a panacea for our social ills and the complex challenges we face, but rather whether, as sporting codes or as a country, we can learn the lessons we need to? What were the key ingredients which caused this dramatic turn-around in the Springboks’ fortunes in 18 months? Those need to be carefully examined so that lessons can be learnt. (One then examines our intractable politics, where tough decisions must be made, and we wonder whether the feckless politicians can really apply the lessons?)
But perhaps it is best to stick to sporting codes because this question automatically compels us to cast our uncomfortable gaze on the state of cricket in South Africa.
Much can and has been written about the state of the game at present. Our disastrous World Cup campaign in England seems to have led not to careful reflection, but to more disarray. The dismal tour of India has simply compounded supporters’ anxiety about the national team, which has to take on England this summer.
The Proteas team is in a phase of transition as senior players retire, yet it is patently obvious that the malaise in the boardroom is of greater concern than the natural cycle of retiring players. One can only feel empathy for captain Faf du Plessis as he has continued to put on a brave face amid the turmoil.
Like most things, the rot starts at the top. It would appear to even the most casual observer that the administration of the game is in very poor shape.
Some might say it is shambolic. Reports of serious governance failures, lack of funding, wasteful expenditure, litigation and even “capture” within Cricket South Africa (CSA) are rife.
In an attempt to redeem itself from another self-inflicted wound, and in an unexpected turn of events this weekend, Graeme Smith has been appointed as Director of Cricket. This came only after extensive back and forth between Smith and CSA.
Two weeks ago, Smith indicated his reluctance to take on the role because he was not convinced that he would be given the freedom to make the necessary changes cricket sorely needs. Appointing Smith is the right decision. He was a tough and uncompromising captain who always led from the front. We can only wish him well as he takes on this tricky assignment because it is clear that his appointment cannot paper over the deep dysfunction that has set in within CSA.
After news of Smith’s appointment, however, we heard that five cricket journalists have had their media accreditation revoked by CSA. These journalists appear to have one thing in common — they have written critically about the goings-on within CSA. What kind of conduct is this when we live in a democracy, which guarantees freedom of expression and a free press? In a confusing and unexplained about-turn, CSA then reinstated the accreditation of at least one journalist late on Sunday.
Do the current CSA sponsors agree with this tinpot dictator-like behaviour by cowardly administrators who cannot brook criticism? If they do not speak out, they condone this anti-democratic behaviour by their silence.
Who will take responsibility for the governance mess within CSA? Who are the independent-minded individuals with cricketing nous who sit on the Board of CSA who can take the appropriate strategic decisions, one wonders?
It is time, then, to call for the independent-minded directors on the CSA board to stand up and be counted and to hold CEO Thabang Moroe to account. From the outside looking in, it seems Moroe is building an empire with little regard for the game.
On its website, CSA says:
“The Board considers sound corporate governance structures and processes as pivotal in delivering responsible and sustainable growth in the sport of cricket… The Board of Directors of CSA (“the Board”) is responsible for the strategic direction of the organisation and exercises control over the affairs of CSA through the governance framework, which includes reporting to the Board, its committees and a system of assurance on internal controls.”
When Moroe writes, as he recently did, that all credit cards used on behalf of CSA be handed in, then South Africans know to smell a rat. Reports are that Moroe allegedly over-used credit cards, too. So, what is happening to the governance of cricket? Is a too-powerful CEO fast capturing it? Is a weak board compliant in being unable to stop this rot and simply acceding to poor governance and restructuring which appears to be crippling the game?
The five independent directors are Mohamed Iqbal Khan, Dawn Mokhobo, Shirley Zinn, Steve Cornelius and Marius Schoeman.
It is incumbent on them to exercise oversight if the seven non-independent directors on the board are unable or unwilling to do so, or if they themselves have been complicit in the dysfunction.
England is nearly on our doorstep; we have an interim coach (“team director”) in Enoch Nkwe who seems out of his depth in the international arena, while the position of convenor of selectors remains vacant. Last week, CSA announced that a “technical team” would be appointed to select the Proteas squad for the upcoming England tour. But we are not allowed to know who makes up this team. When CSA spokesman Thami Mthembu was asked who this technical team would consist of, he replied, “if you want us to go on a naming exercise, I’m afraid I will not engage in that”.
What utter farce is this? Mthembu went on cryptically to say “there are people within Cricket South Africa who have stepped up. There are capable people who will be responsible for performing these roles. South Africans and cricket fans must rest assured there will be a team come the date when the team is announced”.
Of course, there has to be a team, but which team and who will select it? Given this nonsensical and amateurish comment, we can hardly rest assured. In fact, quite the opposite.
Sport is a national good and lest we forget, our Test team has been ranked Number One in the world in the not-too-distant past.
Thabang Moroe and his sorry colleagues should ponder that and if they have the integrity, they should learn the lessons rugby has offered. If not, their legacy will be writ large in lost Test matches, poor crowds and talent leaving our shores. All three are already happening, in fact.
The question, of course, is whether they care? To the cricketing public it does not seem like it at all.
The Board of CSA faces a moment now when courage is required to wrest control of the game from incompetent and authoritarian administrators.
In 1956, John F Kennedy wrote a book titled Profiles in Courage, describing acts of bravery by eight United States senators. It’s a relatively slim volume, for a reason. Not many people have the courage to do what is right when the moment presents itself. This board seems no different. More’s the pity. DM
Praying Mantises only have one ear.