Ellis Park is where the fairy tale of the modern Springbok era began with Francois Pienaar and Nelson Mandela holding the William Webb Elis trophy aloft in 1995 after the Boks won their inaugural Rugby World Cup.
It’s a daunting place. It’s always been on the dodgy side of town – all that’s happened is that the area’s just got dodgier. The fans who love to go there are a slightly different cut from the generic Bok fans, slightly more primal. As RWC winning Bok captain John Smit remembered in his 2009 biography, most opposing teams feel intimidated when they go there. Some of the Wallabies in particular used to say the fans were like something out of a Jerry Springer show.
Not so long ago more Bok fans than not were. But the South African Rugby Football Union – and especially Director of Rugby Rassie Erasmus – have done an incredible amount of hard work to turn that around. Skipper Siya Kolisi is an inspiration.
Last week’s test at the Mbombela Stadium in Nelspruit – a venue that doesn’t get to see a lot of Springbok rugby – was significant not just for the fact that South Africa won, but for the sense of change in the sold-out grandstands. For the first time, it actually sounded like each part of our 1997 approved national anthem was being sung with equal gusto.
It’s a big thing. It’s just a song, but like Die Stem before it, the anthem is a mash up of two formerly opposing songs; two formerly opposing ideologies and four different languages. People beloved of Die Stem, often struggle getting their tongues and lips around the isiXhosa, isiZulu and Setswana verses of Nkosi sikelel’ iAfrika that precedes it.
It’s noticeable. It’s embarrassing. It shows that one group of South Africans typically, couldn’t be bothered to take the effort to learn and master it – any more than they can properly pronounce people’s names that aren’t like theirs.
The words of the anthem, in whatever language, and the sentiments they convey should be something we all want: divine intervention to heal hurts and end conflicts, coming together, standing together, striving for freedom, being proud of our country.
That hasn’t always been the case for the last 27 years and especially not in the last 12 months or so.
Wouldn’t it be wonderful later today as the Boks face the All Blacks for a rare second consecutive test at home, if the crowd could actually sing the entire national anthem in one go, at the same volume and with the same diction?
Wouldn’t it be wonderful if the people of this country start fixing things themselves, together, rather than waiting for this sorry shower of politicians to do anything other than line their pockets or sow distraction?
Who knows? If the fans can do that, maybe they’ll learn to sing Shosholoza during the Haka rather than the moronic Olé, Olé. But then again Rome wasn’t built in a day, there’s only so much that you can get right at Ellis Park.
Originally published by the Saturday Star on 13 August 2022.