South Africa’s Rugby World Cup Win Source of “rare” National Unity, Bishop Says

The Springboks of South Africa, 2019 Rugby World Champions
Credit: Public Domain

The victory of South Africa over England in the Rugby World Cup over the weekend in Japan has been viewed as having had the impact of uniting South Africans in a “rare” manner.

“During this tournament, South Africans spoke in one voice, something which is rare,” Bishop Victor Phalana of Klerksdorp diocese told ACI Africa in an email interview early in the week.

“We needed something to remind us that we are South Africans before we realize that we are Black, White, Colored or India,” the South African Bishop added. 

He recounted the scenes that were broadcast live on many television channels across the globe Saturday, November 1 saying, “South Africa stood behind Siya Kolisi, the first black South African Rugby Captain and Rassie Erasmus, a white coach who appointed him.

“Players and supporters from different races, language groups and cultures came together and put aside their differences,” Bishop Phalana recalled.

The South African rugby team, Springboks, was crowned world champions after an emphatic 32-12 victory over England in Yokohama Japan. This is the third victory for South Africa at the Rugby World after winning the competition in 1995 and 2007.

“On Saturday in Japan, we saw a squad which represented our “Rainbow Nation. Our players played as a united force, aware of the fact that they represented our troubled and divided nation,” he said.

“We have been going through a difficult period as a nation,” he said referencing the challenges his country has experienced in recent past and explained, “Crime statistics are high. We suffer from high unemployment, poverty, inequality, drought, high fuel prices and an economy which is not growing and is not able to create jobs.”

The Bishop recalled his own negative past occasioned by the experience of racial discrimination stating, “I am one of those, who in the old days of apartheid, would jump and sing at the defeat of an all-white cricket team, white boxers and an all-white rugby team. I opted to support, for example the Indian Cricket Team, the American boxer John Tate and the All Blacks, since they included black players!!!”

However, Bishop Phalan said, “recently, I am one of those who have been campaigning for SA Rugby to remove the Springbok emblem, which for me, represents rugby as the Afrikaners’ second religion. As I see more transformation and a willingness of many Afrikaners to make peace and to reconcile, I am no longer adamant that the emblem should be removed.”

“It is important that those involved at the various levels of sports promote human and religious values which form the foundation of a just and fraternal society,” Bishop Phalana said referencing Pope Francis’ address to members of the European Olympic Committee in November 2013.

“The language of sports is universal; it extends across borders, language, race, religion and ideology; it possesses the capacity to unite people, together, by fostering dialogue and acceptance,” the South African Bishop concluded.

Anglican Archbishop and Nobel prize winner, Desmond Tutu, has also testified that the win by Springboks has brought optimism in his country.

“Though there has been much progress since the dark says of apartheid, South Africa remains one of the most unequal countries in the world, and deep tensions remain. The win has provided a welcome moment of optimism,” Archbishop Tutu who also fought against the country’s anti-apartheid regime has been  quoted saying.

“We are a special country, and an extraordinary people. On days such as this we understand that when we pull together the sky is the limit. When we believe in ourselves we can achieve our dreams,” Archbishop Tutu added.

The country’s President Cyril Ramaphosa also spoke of the unity that the Rugby team brought to the country amid its many challenges.

The spectre of racism, sexism, tribalism, xenophobia, homophobia and other forms of intolerance has on occasion taken root in our society and has blinded us as we strive towards our national objective of creating a non-racial, non-sexist, democratic, prosperous and tolerant society, President Ramaphosa tweeted Monday, November 4.

“Saturday was a triumphant day as it confirmed what we are as a nation, firm in its resolve to find unity in its diversity, as exemplified in our national rugby team,” President Ramaphosa said.

South Africa is the only African team to have won the Rugby World Cup.

ACI Africa was officially inaugurated on August 17, 2019 as a continental Catholic news agency at the service of the Church in Africa. Headquartered in Kenya’s capital, Nairobi, this media apostolate will strive to facilitate the telling of Africa’s story by providing media coverage of Catholic events on the African continent, giving visibility to the activities of the Church across Africa where statistics show significant growth in numbers and the continent gradually becoming the axis of Catholicism. This is expected to contribute to an awareness of and appreciation for the significant role of the Church in Africa and over time, the realization of a realistic image of Africa that often receives negative media framing.

Father Don Bosco Onyalla
Editor-in-Chief, ACI Africa
[email protected]