Marianne Thamm

A Flash of Beauty

2007-05-24 09:01

Marianne Thamm

Like President Mbeki and the rest of us who are not sports fans (well, rugby fans at least) and who are doomed to live on the fringes of this country's collective consciousness, I accidentally caught the last few thrilling moments of the Super 14 final between the Sharks and the Bulls at Kings Park on Saturday.

Ours is not a sporting household. I was part of a long-suffering and totally ignored minority deprived during the seven weeks of the cricket world cup of diverse, nuanced conversation as well as regular TV programming.

A casual and innocent observation that it seemed somehow unfair that one team (whom I could only identify by nature of the fact that they wore a different colour) only had two members on the field while the other had loads of guys all over the place, resulted in a belly laugh so loud and long from a cricket-loving friend that I thought he'd pass out.

So shocked was he at my lack of understanding and interest in the game that he suggested I donate my brain to science.

And then there's rugby.

A love-hate relationship

Ah rugby.

I grew up in Pretoria in the 1970s, the child of an immigrant family - a Portuguese mother and a German father - in a decidedly hostile neighbourhood of bare-footed, poenskop Afrikaans-speaking kids who used to donner us whenever they could.

On Saturdays, commentator Gerrit Viviers's increasingly hysterical voice would drift with the smell of tjops braaiing over the vibracrete walls of our lower-middle class suburb and I hated it.

I hated being trapped in a town and country run by mean-minded, bullying, racist nationalists. Rugby came to represent everything I loathed about it where I lived. Players had names like Vleis, Pote and Os - they were all white, and usually all Afrikaans.

In his 1978 essay on rugby, Coetzee wrote: "The political importance of rugby in South Africa from the turn of the century to the 1960s cannot be overemphasised. Rugby became a means (as cricket never did) for the economically disadvantaged Afrikaner to assert himself magically over the Englishman. In its pyramidal structure (club, province, nation) it also formed - as many politicians realised - a model of white political unity."

And the ghost of that past sadly still haunts rugby today.

Zapiro's cartoon in the Sunday Times this weekend summed up my residual feelings about the game locally. In the cartoon, a burly, repulsive ogre with the words "apartheid legacy" on his jersey has grabbed the ball from a bunch of baffled looking players in a scrum and is making off towards the goalposts.

I am not totally oblivious to the current politicking around rugby but I am unsure of its source or why it is taking so long for teams to look more like the rest of the country.

We need some rugby magic

The one thing I did think as I found myself involuntarily catapulted off the couch, screaming my head off as I watched the incredible Bryan Habana running like a mad, little meercat towards the score line in the dying moments of the game on Saturday, is how fantastic it would be for the Boks to be regarded as every South African's team.

Imagine how much that goodwill would buoy the squad - it would be as effective as that "Madiba Magic" we all felt, albeit momentarily, after the 1995 Rugby World Cup.

"Rugby dreams of itself as a celebration of speed, agility, strength, comradeship," wrote Coetzee adding, "every now and again one sees evidence, flashes of beauty amid the milling and toiling, that the dream is not unfounded."

On Saturday I saw that flash when Habana ducked and scored and I hope that soon, very soon, South African fans will be able to watch the game for the sheer joy of it, unburdened of divisive and undermining politicking.

Meanwhile, what's the protocol around me wearing a Blue Bulls beanie? I live in the Western Cape.

Send your comments to Marianne.

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