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It’s as if winning the World Cup will magically make our country’s problems go away — spoiler alert, it won’t

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Justin Nurse is ‘the T-shirt guy”’– the guy who went to court with SABMiller over his right to poke fun at Black Label with his infamous ‘Black Labour/White Guilt’ T-shirt, which resulted in a Constitutional Court victory in 2005 and a landmark judgment for freedom of expression in the face of trademark law.

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.

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

Combative ‘patriotism’

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

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Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • Kanu Sukha says:

    Very well said ! Bravo.

  • a.f.buckland says:

    Beautifully put.

  • jcdville stormers says:

    Your democratic choice,i love the Springboks.

  • David Coutts-Trotter says:

    You’re entitled to support who you want. However I am not sure the statistics bear out your thesis. The ABs kick more than most teams. Further their “dark arts” tactics are well known and recognised by most smart rugby observers. Their semi-final is a case in point as to their approach to breakdowns and the referee’s attitude to their continued transgressions at the breakdown. Their PR is way better than that of SA though!!

  • Hmmm. A few thoughts after reading this…

    I don’t think that folks really believe that winning a Rugby World Cup will make our country’s troubles vanish – maybe a bit patronising? I do think that we’d all appreciate a reason to shout for joy though, for a change. Not entirely sure what being an AB supporter has to do with the overall point of the article.

    I think an examination of the reasons for “combative patriotism” as described here would make for interesting reading and discussion. How about tasking someone to investigate and write about that?

  • Alpha Sithole says:

    Maybe we’re all just looking for a reason to celebrate something positive. Together… it hasn’t happened very often recently.

  • Irmgard Becker says:

    I only watched the semi-final against England until half-time. After hearing so much about this amazing Bok squad, I have to say I was disappointed. It took me back to the days of endless kicking for touch and stoppages for lineouts and scrums and penalty kicks, and I found myself hoping secretly that England would finally win through. Brute force and reliance on gigantic forwards charging into each other is not a spectacle I enjoy. Open running rugby is what I love watching, the backs fanned out across the field and outrunning and outwitting the opposition with skilful passing and jinking. If the All Blacks can produce that in the final, despite the Bok’s throttling tactics recently, that’s where my support will go. If that makes me unpatriotic, so be it. So, well said, Justin Nurse. I don’t watch tennis and hope the South African will win regardless of his skill or sportsmanship. I applaud the better player no matter his nationality. Why should rugby be any different? Do the Boks really deserve to win this World Cup? I’m not so sure judging by their recent efforts.

    • Steve Davidson says:

      I presume you don’t watch much rugby? Please try again, maybe not on Saturday night, when there hasn’t been any rain. It’s the one unfortunate leveller for the Boks, who play fantastic rugby when it’s dry. The poms on the other hand (a) play a lot in the rain on Mud Island and so are used to it and (b) are so one-dimensional that they have to kick a lot whatever the conditions. They are probably the most arrogant international players as well, believing that because they invented the game they should always win. The fact they haven’t scored a try in the World Cup against the Boks for 20 years suggests they aren’t. The reason I say don’t watch the final is because it’s been raining in Paris all week, and will probably rain on Saturday night. The All Blacks, who also play a lot in the rain so are used to it, and are also pretty one-dimensional no matter what others say will kick and probably win.

    • District Six says:

      Wait. You watched 40 minutes out of six, 80 minute matches, and you have an opinion on the team’s performance? Hehe hehe. Good for you.

  • David Walker says:

    I feel sorry for you, Justin. You are missing out on something truly remarkable. This Springbok team represents so much to so many of us. It is a combative brotherhood that shows what we can achieve if we work together despite coming from a very diverse set of backgrounds. They show what can be attained through sheer grit and determination, despite a corrupt government and a fractured and complex past and present. Win or lose, the way they play for each other, and for us, gives us hope that maybe one day we can succeed as a nation.

  • BRIAN EPSTEIN says:

    What nobody seems to mention is that the New Zealand rugby team’s has an immediate
    and full access to players from the adjacent Pacific islands i.e. Fuji, Samoa and Tonga.
    These islands produce some of the best athletes in the world who are immensely strong and athletic
    and are are all wonderful runners and fearless. You can see this when you watch the Pacific Island teams who are full of previous All-Black players. This obviously gives the All-Blacks a huge advantage
    in attacking and running players compared to other countries.

  • David A says:

    Well that’s five minutes of my life I’ll never get back.

  • Richard Hodgson says:

    Rugby supporters are a tolerant bunch. I have sat in crowds at two RWCs in my Bok jersey amongst supporters of all nations and felt nothing but cameraderie. Parochialism is a characteristic of supporters in South Africa, particularly in Gauteng and of provincial teams if games are later when there are a significant number of drunk “fans”. Over the years times have changed, with more families and more races in the stands now and not only on the field. Have only seen the old SA flag once waved by, I guess SA expats, at a Super Rugby match in NZ. Studiously ignored by everyone, especially the Sharks & TV. Well rid of the cretins.

  • George (Mike) Berger says:

    Old resentments and contrarianism blinds you to the grit, innovation and skill unlocked by Rassie. The tribalism you decry is not confined to SA but Rassie has done what is almost unthinkable in SA. He’s moulded a racially mixed team based on merit into a formidable cohesive unit. You should be proud. Their rugby’s not ugly. It’s adaptive. All credit to New Zealand for the role they have played in world rugby. But I would like to see our great experiment in nonracialism win this encounter after their display of courage and character in this tournament

  • Sean O'Connor says:

    Great article – brave, thoughtful, very necessary. Go Ireland! Go France! My teams went out ages ago, and yes, I’ve lived here my whole life too. Those allegiances were forged long ago in the dark days. Not always easy to support the Bokke. But they’ve changed from Staaldraad days, thankfully. Much to admire, to be sure. I think the AB’s will win in the final tho. It feels like the Springboks are coming apart at the seams. Just saying that is tantamount to heresy in some parts. May the best team win! For a change!

  • Steve Davidson says:

    “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.”

    And I have come to dislike the NZRU intensely. They don’t ‘play the game’, in more ways than one. For a start, in 2011, when their beautiful rugby’ hadn’t brought them a World Cup for 24 years, they were such crooks they ensured that the quarter final between the Boks and the Aussies was reffed by one of their own, the crooked or useless Bryce Lawrence, who allowed David Pocock carte blanche to offend at every loose scrum and beat the Boks. They keep harping on about winning two cups in a row but they only did this by beating the Boks by two points at a sodden Twickenham in the SF of 2015. But the cheating that sticks in my craw is the way they protected their ‘beautiful game’ (‘sic’ or rather ‘sick’) which relies on them getting 75% of their tries from turnovers by squashing the proposed breakdown laws in 2016 which would have led to more running rugby, less kicking and certainly IMHO less head injuries.

    So, apart from being a traitor to South Africa you’re also an idiot.

  • Alan Jeffrey says:

    I think it was Laurence Olivier who talked of his “absurd patriotism “in deciding to sign up to fight in WW2. Well to be honest, I don’t consider his remark to be as “self effacing ” as he implies. The bottom line is that it is not all about cerebral calculating and reason. Much of life is about passion and love and wonderful music and mystery and does not pass the rational test, but neither does it need to. I am an old colonial born in Britain and still have a deep love for the Union Jack( the nearest thing to a religious icon in my life) but I left as an 11 year old in 1960 and my team is Green and Gold. They make me laugh and thrill and cry and none of this makes much sense, but I love them even more in our hour of darkness, so Go Bokke and F**k the All Blacks!!

  • Fanie Rajesh Ngabiso says:

    Love this line…

    “I don’t know what’s going on in the scrums. I bet you don’t either. ”

    I’ll come clean: I DONT!

    …and judging by expressions on players’ faces oftentimes after a scrum, they may well not either. 😀

    Excellent article, thanks.

    • Alan Jeffrey says:

      As an old soccer fan late come to Rugby, I find most of the rules a continuing mystery. It is a much nicer game to watch than of old in the 60’s-kick scrum, kick scrum and I would go as far to say now much more exciting than soccer, but still the simplicity of the rules in football make it much less, in fact no challenge at all to understand!

  • District Six says:

    No, dude, you are completely misreading South Africa.
    There’s plenty of good will. Sometimes we need to tap into it to find it. It’s burbling away there under the surface, along with some bad things too, of course. Sport helps us feed the good stuff and lets it bubble up to the surface. We need such distractions. We need some good things to bubble up.

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