Gary Boshoff

Leave the Springbok alone

2007-11-26 09:38

Gary Boshoff

As the ANC's national conference draws nearer, one item that will be of interest to the rugby fraternity is the issue of national sports symbols, and in particular, the future of the Springbok.

For some reason the Springbok emblem has, out of the blue, become a bone of contention.

I have to say, I found it quite disturbing that the Minister of Sport elected to put the Springbok back in the dock, especially after the long time it took to adjust to the decision of the ANC (back in 1997, I think) to allow Saru to keep the Springbok as its national emblem. This decision came as a result of a direct request from former President Mandela.

At the time I served on the National Sports Council's (NSC) special sub-committee that investigated the suitability of retaining the Springbok emblem for the then Sarfu.

New era

The committee conducted several hearings and commissioned a number of research projects to gather enough information on the socio-political history of the Springbok so that it could make an informed decision on a very sensitive aspect of South African sport. After numerous meetings and exhaustive debates the committee unanimously concluded that the Springbok needed to make way for the Protea, which at the time, was already accepted by the NSC as the official national emblem for South African national sports teams.

It was also felt that it would not have been appropriate to start a new era in South African sport in a fractured or divided fashion.

However, on the political front things were not as simple, in fact, it was much, much more complex than what it seemed to us, the sports administrators.

With rumours of dissatisfaction and rebellion among the disgruntled and "disowned" ultra-conservative rightwing, Nelson Mandela was looking to give them something to show his and the ANC's commitment to a dispensation where the history and values of all South Africans would be respected.

Unifying emblem

Thus, despite the NSC's decision to do way with the Springbok, President Mandela intervened and overruled our recommendation. That is how the Springbok was saved.

As a player under the non-racial rugby structure (which incidentally was called Saru) during the early 1990s (while unity talks were underway) I campaigned heavily for a new unifying emblem, something that did not carry the historical, repressive and discriminatory baggage that the Springbok did.

I know many argue that the Springbok did not originate as an oppressive symbol and that it was never political, but that is what it represented to all of us who were excluded from being part of its legacy because we were not white - it is as simple as that.

Notwithstanding all this, after years of soul searching and convincing by people like Songezo Nayo and later Rian Oberholzer, that it would be in the interest of genuine unity, transformation and progress that we all embrace the Springbok, I decided to support the emblem.

National asset

I have to admit that it was difficult at first, but as I came to understand better the real challenges faced by South African society, I realised how important it is for all rugby people to see the Springbok as a national asset, something to own and to treasure. It certainly wasn't the property of one particular group or section of South African society anymore.

It is the same realisation that took me from being an employee at the Blue Bulls Rugby Union in 1999 to a genuine Blue Bull a few years later.

Rugby, in all its permutations, is a national asset, an asset which belongs to all South Africans and as such we must claim the right to have a say on how it is run and what emblem it should carry.

The Springbok belongs to all South Africans! The Springbok is the national emblem of rugby. I have made my peace with the Springbok.

Please Mr Stofile, leave the Springbok alone!

  • Gary Boshoff is a former Saru player and well-known rugby administrator.

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