When Rugby World Cup superlatives are exhausted, we should ask ourselves as South Africans: and now what?
Rugby is just a game, but it embodies deep emotions about our country and its future. For decades it has determined our feelings of success or failure as a nation.
Our record fourth Rugby World Cup triumph can indeed be channelled into success in other areas of national life. Most notably political, in helping us to seek and find the better life for all that eludes us so.
The win showed how sheer grit and tenacity can move mountains, on this occasion the seemingly indomitable All Blacks. We must now defeat the mountains of decay, corruption and inaction that still plague our public life. As well as a creeping poisonous, greedy cynicism and criminality.
The pundits will have convincing technical reasons why we beat the All Blacks. Yet there is an overriding factor at play, and that is our stunning success in working together as a team, even with our iconic, yellow-carded captain Siya Kolisi out of play for a galling 10 minutes. The rest simply played on regardless.
Off the field, we must find a new coalition of races and cultures and faiths to work together, unlike in our dark past when South Africans fought bitterly, nearly destroying our land.
The spontaneous exchanges of hugs among our winning team showed how genuine unity works. There was no holding back for the silly reasons of racial or cultural reserve or fear, backed by strict law forbidding mixing, that used to divide us. The hugs among our victorious players were a scene of splendid abandon.
We saw the spirit of Nelson Mandela alive and well, as he was in 1995 on the field after the game when we won the first of the four cups.
It has become curiously non-U to mention Madiba’s name in some circles. There are those who were not even in short pants as he finished his iconic 27 years in prison for his non-racial human rights principles, who take it upon themselves to judge him a “sellout”. His legacy shrugs off that nonsense. His sacrifice was in fact a main reason why we avoided a race war to the finish, rather than becoming a thriving, fallible but hopeful democracy at this end of Africa in 1994. Yet, with so much still to do now.
He bequeathed us the critical idea of, in all matters, fielding the full team of South Africans – with the unforgettable practical spectacle of the once-humble lad born in Zwide “township”, Port Elizabeth, leading us to victory.
Yet, learning such lessons of success needs more than optimism. It needs creating the right context for it to happen. That’s heavy political engineering. The task is daunting, if one considers the challenges.
The starting point is arguably the biggest wealth gap in the world, in a country so well endowed with resources, a splendid climate, diverse population, open spaces, and so much more. And with few of the religious, language or other cleavages that see parts of the world going up in flames today.
Our wealth gap simply has to be eliminated, not in generations but ASAP. We have resourceful economists and business figures, and others, who well know the means to achieve this and show a willingness to help without our risking economic disaster. We need the political will to do the job now. It is part of properly educating and upskilling the whole nation.
A window of opportunity is opening, mercifully. It is the fact of a general election next year, with the prospect of new coalitions being forged.
These, to be of any value, should not be seized by the opportunism that marks too much of our politics. No, they must be well designed in advance to bring as many as possible of Team South Africa on board in the effort to secure a better life for all. Builders not breakers.
The choices are stark. We either collapse into national ruin, fighting like rats in a bag, or we see the value of what we showed the world on Saturday: being stronger, together.
If we pursue the latter course, Paris 2023 can gain historic meaning way beyond putting balls in scrums, tackling high or low, getting the ball over the posts or not – and the feared red or yellow cards.
Finally, the undoubtedly arch negotiator, President Cyril Ramaphosa, who was there in Paris to share the glory, seems at present the only person to lead this imminent season of coalitions. If only for one reason – if he makes it in 2024, he has little to lose: he gets another clear five years to do what he has so far neglected to do. DM