I make it no secret that I do not like rugby. I played a little touchies during break in primary school, but that was it. My disdain for the game is so great that my brother’s wife can hardly believe that my brother and I are actually brothers. Rugby is a traditional South African/Afrikaner sport and watching and playing it a great pastime. 1995 was a glorious time for everyone. But I never took a liking to it. Besides, these days its all about the money, politics and the corporations behind the teams. There are too many losses and everything is taken so seriously that careers and futures are at stake with every game.
Saturday, South Africa played against England (the current world champions) and actually won. I happened to read something about this in the news and I couldn’t help but grin when I learned that their coach was in just as much trouble over their team’s performance as ours’ is. It seems its the same everywhere and that is very tedious and boring.
But the subject of this post is actually the South African supporters. It is no secret that Britain is littered with South Africans. By now, probably the most of them are ex-patriot Afrikaners who left to escape crime, discrimination (affirmative action) and the New South Africa (and all that it entails). Most of these people miss South Africa profoundly and would love to return here, but they won’t. So, when the boys in green and gold pitch for a match in their neighbourhood, everyone is out for the occasion. However, Saturday’s Bok supporters embarrassed the players at Twickenham by sporting a few flags. The flags were not, however, South Africa’s recognisable flag, but rather the flags of the old South Africa and even of the old Boer Republics. These flags are signs of traditional Afrikaner patriotism and is closely associated with Apartheid.
There are two sides to this issue. I am not ashamed of the old flag. It is the symbol of a very important time in South Africa’s history, sordid as it may be. The Apartheid era was important for the Afrikaner. Not, however, because of the racial discrimination (white people didn’t go around professionally beating black people all day for nearly half a century, that’s just not what happened!), but rather because during this time, Afrikaners feel that they reached their apex: culturally, we were strong (no matter what the neo-liberals say), scientifically were were competing with the best in the world and our economy was strong. And all this while we where shunned and locked out by the rest of the world: not too shabby if you ask me.
Of course, South Africa is no longer defined by the white minority. We have made important progress and although there is still a lot of reconciliation that needs to be done, people are moving on and moving forward: the different races side by side. The country may be lacking in certain areas compared to 20 or 30 years ago, but a new generation is emerging to tackle the challenges at hand. We have a new flag, emblem, anthem and constitution, all of which is racially neutral. These symbols now have to define what we will think of about our county’s history when they pass away.
That said, I am not thrilled by the ex-patriots’ supportive display this past Saturday. What they did, highlighted a very important division between those that left and those that stayed. Those that stayed, could, to a greater or lesser degree, accept the changes that have happened. Some people might disagree with me, but I see racism waning and tolerance, acceptance and cooperation increasing among the people of the country, especially in the youth. Those that left have never learned to accept and forgive. They are a sore reminder of how the world, even people here at home, perceive Afrikaners. And because of this, we shall be flogged and shamed for our father’s sins for many years to come still.
Rugby supporters, however, are not the only ones to blame. There are incidents of people yelling racist remarks at black cricket players in Australia. I can’t comprehend or explain this better that I have tried to above. How narrow minded can a person be? Let me tell you this: if South Africa’s cricket team were all black, but played the same calibre of cricket or better than Makhaya Ntini does, I shall be even prouder of our team: its all about the game, people, its all about the game.
Many people have been taken aback today by a picture which appeared in the local media about Saturday’s match: a black person, sitting amongst white friends with the country’s old flag draped around him. Apparently he spoke Afrikaans and was a good sport about this. This is a clear indication that the matter is not as clear cut as praise-or-damn. To me, it merely reaffirms my believe that anyone can really be an Afrikaner. Race is not an issue, as shocking as that may seem to some people. If he enjoyed himself and if he and his friends had a good time, good for them. Above argument still hold, though.