I have a secret that tends to shock other people when I share it. It usually passes my lips when the person I’m confessing it to has had a few drinks and I can’t match their enthusiasm with an inauthentic smile any longer.
Close relationships with family and friends have taken strain over the years because of it and my “coming out” continues to cause eye-rolling, even eye-gouging.
I’ve been outspoken and outcast before and lived to tell my next story. It’s a big week for Mzansi and so, on this platform of free speech and independent thought, where better for me to out myself to the world and show my true colours? Here goes…
(I am an All Blacks supporter)
While boos and jeers ring out from the green and gold “oor ons ewige gebergte”, allow me to clarify before you go issuing a clarion call for my head in the comments section.
When it comes to sports in general, I usually support the underdog. And when it comes to rugby specifically, I’m always happiest when the team that scores the most tries wins.
I don’t believe in winning at all costs. I would rather see beautiful, running rugby being played than cheering for a game of converted penalties.
I played flyhalf growing up and idolised the rugby philosophy of one of my dad’s dear friends, a champion of getting the ball to the wing, Diocesan College doyen, Basil Bey.
I went to Rondebosch Boys High across the road, where I remember watching Herschelle Gibbs singlehandedly dismantle our first team. And Percy Montgomery, from Sacs, doing the same thing for that matter. I was taught to loathe and taunt them from the Standard Six sidelines in our blue school blazers.
And then, when Percy donned the blue and white hoops of Western Province, all was forgiven. I never could come to terms with the “us versus them” approach that was fostered when competitiveness went too far.
The school derby which breeds club provincialism that becomes clobbering patriotism, all pissed up in a pub. A put-on-your-jersey pageant that runs the risk of identifying yourself as one thing only at the expense of something else.
As Groucho Marx put it, “I refuse to join any club that would have me as a member.”
Read more in Daily Maverick: Public Holiday? After such a stressful Rugby World Cup, we need a day off should Boks win, say South Africans
There’s a reductive identification when we take a badge of honour too seriously, one that runs the risk of blurring the lines of discernment between tribalism and racism.
We teach our kids to love and tolerate other skin tones and ethnicities, but when it comes to the playing field it’s fair game to hate on other countries, just a little bit? I choose not to confuse my patriotism with an appreciation for rugby and blind support of the Springboks.
I am a patriotic South African because I pay my taxes. Because I am a local entrepreneur, and I create a livelihood for myself and those around me with the work that I do.
I am a South African because I still live here. I did not emigrate after university, nor did I do military service. Having been to the Constitutional Court and exercised my freedom of speech on the theme of race, I believe that I do live with an acute sense of privilege in the midst of all my country’s challenges.
Whipping on a Bok jersey for Bok Friday isn’t necessarily going to make me a better South African, I don’t think.
I consider myself African because I was born here. I have lived on this continent my whole life. And I celebrate diversity and inclusivity in the same way that rugby welcomes, even needs, people of all shapes and sizes to play the game.
The intimacies of what it means for me to be a South African (I’ll tell you just now) are siloed from my appreciation of a game I played for half my life.
I even published a book on the history of South African schoolboy rugby — Derby Day — that accounted for two years of my life spent travelling the country and chatting with headmasters and coaches to tell the story of our country’s rugby history.
Launched in 2007 and sponsored by FNB, the book gave me ample opportunity to overcome the “skop, skiet, en donner” approach of the Boks that, over time, I had grown averse to. And still, I harboured my sporting secret and did my job as a young South African publisher.
I support the All Blacks because they consistently play the game in the most beautiful way possible. It’s as simple as that. And as complicated.
Of course, I am also a complete hypocrite for switching sides. I love the Proteas unconditionally, but I would argue that the potential beauty of cricket lies in each moment of a ball being bowled. There’s a finesse to be found in one’s shot selection that undermines any hardened “win-at-all-costs” approach.
I have come to learn, with age, that I don’t need to let my personal well-being be determined by the outcome of a game of sport. In the early 2000s when we were consistently being hammered in the Tri-Nations, I grew tired of how a game of rugby could put such a dampener on my weekend.
It was 20 years ago when I made the decision to stop supporting the Springboks and “experiment with a friend” — a Zimbabwean All Blacks supporter.
It was the front page picture of the Cape Times that did for my undoing of the Bokke. Seeing Breyton Paulse huddled up naked between Bakkies Botha’s legs in a muddy pit as the allegations of Kamp Staaldraad came to light was the final straw for me to hand in my resignation. This was no longer a brand that I could get behind.
I watch Breyton now on the telly at halftime and wonder if he’ll be doing backflips across the SuperSport studio if the Boks pull off an ugly win on Saturday. How long does one turn a blind eye to bullying tactics, so long as it brings us victory?
Spare a thought too for the Boks video analyst Dale McDermott who leaked the Staaldraad pics and was then shunned by SA Rugby. He ended up selling used cars in Cape Town and shot himself two years later.
South Africa has been playing amazing rugby this tournament and in recent years. It’s hard not to get behind a national team with such character and so many stories of redemption.
Yet there is something that sticks in my craw with the overt green and gold patriotism that I find a little too much. Like being bullied at school by boytjie bravado.
Our unity as a country does not live or die on whether we win our next Bok game. We all loathe crime, corruption and rolling blackouts, and we all struggle to live here at times. Should that struggle be usurped by the endless marketing of testosterone-inducing SuperSport ads? I’m not convinced.
Does my love for South Africa, or wanting the Boks to win even, require such rampant, chest-beating rampant machismo? “I believe!” Okay, sure. But I also question. It’s as if winning the World Cup will magically make our country’s problems go away. Spoiler alert: it won’t.
In “A fond farewell to an uneasy South Africa”, the BBC’s Andrew Harding writes: “This is a nation lulled by its own exceptionalism. Its history of overcoming impossible odds.” Ouch.
Lulled we are. Perhaps in part by the Madiba Magic of ’95 and perhaps in part by this aggressive marketing that reaches a fever pitch and then feels like it has nowhere to go.
I can’t help but wonder what it would be like if we were to use all those advertising powers for the greater good. A beach cleanup; an affirmation of our collective humanity’ an education on the future of Earth and how we can possibly preserve our children’s place on it.
All this sport is just that: sport. A distraction from our toil. So many smart minds regurgitating this motherland uber-alles mentality while we denude the soil beneath our scrummaging shoes and pollute the seas we swim in.
And while I acknowledge that I am indeed a party pooper, I will continue to root for the underdog who plays with ball in hand. I can’t solve climate change so I do still get up to cheer as a sports fan when I see the fabulous folly of competitive endeavour on full, glorious display — no matter the sport.
For me, when it comes to rugby, nothing beats the expression of the human spirit that looks like instinct with a dummy, a sidestep, and a screech toward the tryline when time is almost up on the clock.
It’s not the memes bashing the Aussies or the Poms that I’m being sent every day by all the people that I love on WhatsApp. It’s all-inclusive love that I’m after. Maybe I’m overthinking it or being too idealistic. Probably.
If the Boks win because Rassie leaked a pre-game video of himself showing the world how he gets his puppeteering ways without a certain coach’s lips even moving and manages to pin it on the ref or the opposition, I won’t be surprised but I also won’t be too impressed.
I don’t know what’s going on in the scrums. I bet you don’t either. I get up to go to work as a South African because I know my country needs me to. Patriotism isn’t something I consume. It’s something I produce. DM