/ 21 October 2007

Rainbow nation explodes in joy

South Africa exploded on Saturday night, the final whistle in the World Cup bringing the rainbow nation on to the streets in the time it takes to lift the Webb Ellis trophy. ”The country needs this,” shouted fan Evan Rice. ”Last time, in 1995, we were on the crest of the wave. Now, though, this is better.”

As the Springboks surged towards the end of the first half, those watching in the Loft bar in Melville, Johannesburg, surged toward the screens. After the last 10 minutes of appalling tension, each all too aware of what Jonny Wilkinson can do with his boot, they kick-started the party.

A policewoman tried to drive through the crowd. The cops had been doing a good job. They had just foiled a hijacking, taking three men away for trying to take advantage of the 80-minute quiet, but this was a mistake.

The street was packed — people singing Ole, ole, ole, ole and dancing with abandon. They leant down in front of the police car, as if provoking a bull. The policewoman hit the flashing lights. The crowd covered the car with beer. She hit the siren. They went insane — all colours, all ages, both genders — clinging to the bonnet, on to the roof, swinging this way and that, rocking it. The policewoman wound down her window and one of the crowd leant down. ”I don’t think you’re going anywhere,” he said. ”Not till seven,” she replied.

The same was true from Cape Town to Durban to the Limpopo. Any dissent over the predominantly white team dissipated in the hours before the game, then was gone. All Saturday, usually quiet neighbourhoods had been disturbed by parading cars, horns blaring, flags fluttering. In Melville, an Englishman tried the same with St George’s Cross. Jeers followed him, the pariah on the move. ‘Where’s immigration?’ ‘Deport him now!’

As the match drew near, Johannesburg had grown tense. Many South Africans disappeared to tend the braais that would precede the game itself.

Afterwards, in Melville, the party just kept getting bigger. ”I am so proud of South Africa,” said Brian Ndienze. ”It is so important in the run-up to the 2010 football World Cup.” That’s just like a South African, to already be thinking about the next big tournament.

The binding together

”What do you say when you’ve won a World Cup? It’s an unbelievable experience,” coach Jake White told a news conference after the match.

”It hasn’t even sunk in yet but to see the president of our country sitting on the players shoulders holding the World Cup … is something to be really proud of. It doesn’t get bigger than that for us.

”A country like South Africa realised in 1995 how much winning World Cups actually means to us as a nation.

”People ask why we take the World Cup so seriously. It’s much bigger than any other event, what it did to us as a nation.

”We’ve now won a World Cup away from home. We had our president sitting in the changing room. He was saying how proud he was of being a South African.”

South African rugby has been troubled but skipper John Smit also believes his team’s victory will have a lasting effect on South Africans.

”You can’t put it into words. We have had the responsibility of carrying the hopes of a nation on our shoulders and now we have a team that is taking the trophy back home to the nation,” he said.

”I certainly hope that being able to lift this cup and take it back home can create a scenario that everyone binds together and we start forgetting about counting numbers and colours.”

‘Worthy champions’

Congratulations streamed in just minutes after the final whistle blew — among the first that of Britain’s High Commissioner to South Africa Paul Boateng.

”Well done South Africa, worthy champions,” said Boateng as the South Africans received their gold medals at the Stade de France in St Denis, on the outskirts of Paris.

The match was won with three penalties by Percy Montgomery and one by Francois Steyn to England’s two by Wilkinson.

The team had shown professionalism, patriotism and hunger to win since the beginning of the tournament, said the South African Football Players’ Union (SAFPU).

The Springboks had set a benchmark for all national teams, it said. They had done the country proud.

South Africa last won the World Cup in 1995 under the captaincy of Francois Pienaar. England was defending the title.

The 2007 win was even more prestigious than that of 1995 because White and his team had not only had to contend with the pressure of the sport, but political pressure and interference, said Freedom Front Plus leader Pieter Mulder.

”The succeeded in this exceptionally and proved all their critics wrong,” he said.

”The Springbok team further proved with their win that a merit Springbok team, with [Bryan] Habana as hero, was worth more for nation-building and good relations that all the talk about quota sides which could lose as long as they were representative.

”Hopefully it will now be acknowledged that international sport is not the place for political agendas and experiments,” he said in congratulating the team.

Meanwhile, the Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP) said the country was proud of its rugby boys.

”You have once more put us back on the world map, boys. Congratulations. We salute you our heroes for bringing us the much needed glory, as well as respect … ” said IFP chairperson Zanele KaMagwaza-Msibi.

”As the IFP we are of the opinion that sport is a major tool that, if well managed and well promoted, can be used to unify and build our nation.

”We also believe that if players are well groomed at an early age they can become professionals and earn a living on sport like many players in the Bok squad,” she said. – Guardian Unlimited, Sapa