Rugby was never a passion for Nelson Mandela, but he saw it as an opportunity to unite South Africa.
It being the sport of the white elite, the religion-like obsession of the ruling class, it was detested and shunned by the black majority who chose to support the opposition, primarily the All Blacks. The Springbok jersey was the symbol of privilege and separateness.
Most would have put it in the same coffin as the old orange, white and blue flag, yet from the moment he acceded to the Presidency in 1994, Mandela made it an imperative to show that he was prepared to turn his back on old prejudices. If South Africa were not to descend into civil war, reconciliation – not confrontation – had to be top of the agenda. And rugby was his chosen means to that end.
Hence the now iconic moment that saw both Mandela and Bok skipper Francois Pienaar donning their Springbok No 6 jerseys after South Africa had won the World Cup at Ellis Park in 1995.
It was nation defining!
Yes rugby has it’s issues now, one of them being a transformation policy that is seemingly more divisive than unifying, and while the leaping Bok is no longer the mighty brand it once was, I have a feeling that when we get it right, it will again represent something more akin to what the great man had in mind.
Another national treasure that has taken some stick for being divisive is the braai.
Government got their panties in a twist over the Braai Day initiative, accusing them of hijacking National Heritage Day in order to celebrate only one sector of SA society’s heritage instead of the entire country’s very rich heritage.
Having pondered this on Braai Tour a few years back – a tour that saw us braai for breakfast, lunch and dinner on all nine days of the tour (yes, 27 braais in 9 days) – I think government got this one wrong, and I am chuffed to see them softening on the issue.
Jan Braai (or Jan Scannell to his Mum), the man behind the Braai Tour and National Braai Day initiative, has always positioned it as a day for all South Africans to unite around a fire, to share our heritage, and wave our flag.
“Across race, language, region and religion, we all share one common heritage,” says Jan, “It is called many things: Chisa Nyama, Braai and Ukosa to name few. And while ingredients may differ, the one thing that never changes is that when we have something to celebrate we light fires and prepare great feasts.”
He likens it to annual, national celebrations cherished around world; Thanksgiving for Americans, St Patricks Day for the Irish, Bastille Day for the French and Australia Day for Australians. All of which contribute to nation building and social cohesion.
On a recent UCT rugby tour to Joburg, one of the team outings was to Zingiz – a well-known street Chisa Nyama across the road from our team hotel in Braamfontein. It was a phenomenal day that saw us treated to the story behind the Chisa Nyama by our two black props Stan and Toks.
We ate pretty much everything they had, with the tighties doing some severe damage to what was surely goat and not cow! And when our U20 side won the local league on the weekend, what did they do? A team braai of course!
In an era when the media likes to spotlight the divisive, let’s embrace how much the braai does to unite us.