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Slaying Springboks – on and off the field by underground

I enjoying the sight of a deflated Springbok, defeated by a superior All Black team, especially if I’ve woken up at three in the morning to witness it. But I don’t like the thought that there may no longer be a Springbok team for my boys to beat. The recent announcement that the South African Rugby Union has decided to abandon the famous emblem of the country’s world champion rugby side for a less controversial symbol will end a 102 year tradition. But this is just another episode in the politics v sports saga.

The small gold antelope leaping on the left chest is apparently to some, like street names, place names and other emblems, a reminder of South Africa’s painful history. The Springbok side was once whites only, barring even non-whites from touring. Even a former rugby board once said blacks would never be allowed to wear the emblem because they have their own symbols. Butana Komphela, chairman of parliament’s Sports Portfolio Committee, has insisted the change be made to the Protea, which is the emblem for all other South African sports.

“The Springbok divides us,” he said. “We have a responsibility to unite our country on one national emblem.”

Luke Watson, who has played for the Boks in the past including this year’s Tri-Nations, said in October the symbol made him want to vomit. The son of famous anti-apartheid player Cheeky Watson said, “I have grown to understand the culture, to understand what the Springbok represents and I have become even more accustomed to the oppressive nature of the Springbok toward a majority of the people in this country”. His father shunned the opportunity to play for the Boks, instead playing in a black union, to show solidarity with the anti-apartheid movement.

As a non-South Africa I can’t claim to have any insight into this interesting debate about a torn nation’s identity, but in my opinion, if the jersey is good enough for Nelsen Mandela to wear, during what was a forging moment in the countries racial history, then I would have thought it was good enough for anyone else. South Africa’s truth and reconciliation committee taught a valuable lesson on how to move on as a country from great injustice and the same should be applied here. Black players are now able to prove they deserve to play for the country. In doing so they are dismissing the racist ideology that once consumed the jersey and claiming the jersey for everyone in the country. Star player (although a bit over-rated!) Bryan Habana declares that he is “proud to be called a Springbok and proud to be called South African”. If he is proud to be wearing a jersey that was wrongly unable to be worn by blacks and coloured players in the past then I feel the nation has moved on, as far as the emblem goes. However, I commend Watson anti-racist stance, as there is still some racism in the games, although I feel his disgust towards the emblem may be mis-guided. It is a tough one!

In the end, I agree with Desmond Tutu who so correctly said:

“I support the retention of the Springbok and I pray we will look for better things to fight over.”

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