Vision, passion and self-belief – there’s still much we can take from the world-conquering Springboks class of 2019 that transcends rugby.
Johannesburg, South Africa (18 November 2020) – Cast your mind back to the first Saturday in November last year when all eyes were on the Springboks. Lukhanyo Am threw the world’s best-ever no-look pass, Cheslin Kolbe danced his way into our hearts, Siya Kolisi lifted the Webb Ellis Cup, and Frans Steyn tried to ‘buffalo’ Prince Harry. Good times.
Then came the heroes’ welcome and a tide of jubilation that swept through the country. Tim Modise said, ‘This victory might just give South Africa the wings to fly a little higher.’
While the ‘95 World Cup win was a hint of what South Africa could achieve, 2019 seemed to be more of a clear-cut example. And I think that’s why everyone embraced the champions so emphatically. There was still hope that this South African project, a hobbled together nation of different tribes and beliefs, of contrasting histories and dreams, could work. One year on and eight lessons stand out.
Have a vision and get everyone to believe in it
A question asked after we won in Japan was how had the Springboks gone from seventh in the world eighteen months previously to becoming champions? Kolisi said this: ‘We come from different backgrounds, speak different languages, and all have different challenges, but we came together for the game we love. We had one goal, fought for each other and gave it all we could.’ The power of a shared vision is that when everyone buys into it, they pull in the same direction and that’s when great things happen.
For the Springboks, the big dream was to win the World Cup. But what should it be for South Africa? We could aim for job creation or a peaceful society. Both would be nice. But, according to the World Bank, South Africa is the most economically unequal country in the world. Considering that, it makes sense to strive for equality. And then we swing it to Cheslin.
Researchers have found that an equal society leads to better health and social norms, lower crime, a higher population-wide happiness and even higher levels of economic growth. If you’ve watched the SuperSport documentary Chasing the Sun, you’ll be familiar with the way Rassie speaks. He’d probably say, ‘Fuck it boys, we must fight for each other. We’re all in this together.’
Tackle transformation head on
To truly transform a society, it begins, to borrow a sporting term, at the grassroots. ‘Education is a means of lifting people out of poverty and providing a “way out” of desperate situations,’ says governance specialist Judith February. We’re well aware of this in South Africa – we spend more on education as a proportion of GDP than on any other area. And yet the statistics are startling.
Only 7% of adults have a tertiary education, the lowest rate among G20 countries. And our throughput rate — the percentage of learners who started Grade 1 in 2008 and finished matric in 2019 — is only 37.6%.
I know it’s complicated, but intuition suggests the whole system needs an overhaul. The curriculum requires an African infusion, school facilities should be improved, and the value placed on education, by parents and pupils, needs resuscitating. Furthermore, every South African should be able to speak an African language by the time they leave school. If we can’t even talk to one another or have an understanding of one another’s culture, what chance do we have of creating the communities our society needs?
Sport brings people together. But that’s just the start of it.
The only way we can develop the empathy required to solve our problems is by building what Martin Luther King called ‘the beloved community’. We can do this by focusing on what we have in common, rather than our differences. Think again about Siya and the Springboks. Passion brings people together. Things like sport, music, nature, art and food. These ‘passion points’ can unite us. They should be invested in within schools – another way we could innovate the education system – allowing youngsters to find happiness, develop confidence and cross racial and cultural divides. By learning to play together, we can learn to work together and begin to create that beloved community.
And adults? You could join a hiking club. Become a sports coach. Volunteer at a local soup kitchen. Even though some of us won’t or don’t – we’re wired to connect. We’re already part of communities – families, schools, churches, workplaces. Now extend it. By taking an active role to lead in your area, you create the best chance we have of building a better future.
If you’d like to contribute, Forgood is a great place to start. It’s an online platform that connects South Africans to local causes that need their help.
Put the team first
Have you ever seen a happier bench of reserves than our Bomb Squad? The guys bought into the team ethos and discovered working together gave them more joy than thinking selfishly. Hell, some even got Bomb Squad tattoos.
By putting aside their egos, they realised something profound – there’s no them and us. There’s only us. Lilla Watson, the great Aboriginal elder, once said: ‘If you’ve come to help me, you’re wasting your time. But if you’ve come because your liberation is bound up within mine, then let us work together.’
As February says, ‘The concept of “participatory democracy” is a golden thread that runs through our constitution. It’s the notion that we don’t simply vote every five years, but are called to be active citizens.’ When President Cyril Ramaphosa came to power, he used Hugh Masekela’s song Thuma Mina (Send me) to get South Africans to put up their hands to make the country better. This is a theme of his presidency – he often calls on South Africans to embrace ‘active citizenship’. He knows government, business and civil society need to all pitch in to move the dial.
Do you know that when the Boks warmed up for the World Cup final, our halfbacks practised up and unders for an hour? But we didn’t even think about kicking for the first 20 minutes of the game. Eddie Jones’ teeth are still rattling from the whiplash.
So how can we box as clever as Rassie? The first thing we can do is simply turn our attention towards this topic. Talk about a vision for South Africa with the people in your life. Read up on the subject. And stay positive. As Cody Keenan wrote, ‘History is made every day by the hopeful.’
There’s more you can do, too. Speak out, show up, pick a cause – there are few unworthy ones. Spend your money on local products, donate, do anything that makes a difference. And nudge yourself past the brink of tacit support to action.
Ultimately, for us to stand a chance of moving towards a more equal society, we need inclusive growth. And for that, we need to support local entrepreneurs, create opportunities and develop scarce skills. We need to create a system where everyone has a chance and where the solutions are developed by the people that are beset with the problems. We should try to listen more and empower those we can. Because when people create things themselves, they own them in a special way and that’s when the magic happens.
Play to your strengths
‘Our game plan was simple: overpower,’ assistant coach Felix Jones said about our approach against Italy in the pool stages. We know that Springbok teams are best when we stick to our traditional strengths. If, for example, Steven ‘Spicy Plum’ Kitshoff is good at taking a flat pass at pace then, great Bakkies Botha, swing it to him.
As a travel journalist, I’ve been lucky to get to know our country well. So I have a good idea of just how staggeringly beautiful South Africa is. Our landscape and coastline are breathtaking, game reserves throughout the country are exceptional (not just Kruger), and every nook has something special about it, from the baobabs of Limpopo to the dorpies of the Karoo. Although the tourism industry is currently crippled, investing in it could be an easy way to create jobs and generate income in the future. Everything should be done to enable this.
South Africans themselves are another strength. Forget what you see in the news and think about your own experiences. We’re warm, hospitable, resilient and resourceful. We know how to make a plan, care for one another and work together – The 2010 World Cup and community responses throughout this year are good examples. We also have great mineral wealth, robust institutions, extensive infrastructure and are an attractive option for foreign investment. All of this should be leveraged to ensure we have the best chance of toppling the giants we face.
Good leadership is vital
Our team spirit and identity crystalised behind Siyamthanda Kolisi. And boy was he the man for the moment. Similarly, South Africa desperately needs quality leadership. We’re yearning for this generation’s Biko or Mandela to rise up, put the needs of the people first and show us the way. We have a history of producing world-class leaders, let’s hope the next one is not too far off.
Everything would have been so different if SA Rugby had not stepped in and axed Allister Coetzee when they did. But Rassie also needed to go on and make his own inspired selections, such as Schalk Britz as back-up captain, alternating tight fives and picking Herschel ‘everything-I-touch-turns-to-gold’ Jantjies.
As a nation, we’re not doing as well with our selections. It’s like we’re repeatedly getting whipped 57-0 by the All Blacks and blissfully continuing to support the same coach. We need to shake up all poorly performing political parties. Just as they need to be careful who they select within their ranks. We’d give ourselves a much better chance at success if we could get the right people in the right places.
With all that said, the most important lesson remains the same. And that’s to always – always, always, always – swing it to Cheslin.
Sources: Matthew Sterne | Springboks
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