For me, the most gratifying part of the Springboks’ ongoing tour of the country with the Webb Ellis Cup has been watching captain Siya Kolisi and veteran prop Tendai “Beast” Mtawarira soak it all in with the same passion they use to belt out the national anthem before games.
It seems like everyone has forgotten, now that they are world champions (and we all know how we love a winner in this country), but it wasn’t long ago that both were branded as sell-outs on social media this year.
Kolisi came in for his “Uncle Tom” moment when he was quoted during an interview while visiting his sponsors in Japan as saying the late Nelson Mandela wouldn’t have agreed with quotas.
Then Mtawarira had to push back the release of his autobiography to this week because he had a chapter in which he said Peter de Villiers was out of his depth as Springbok coach.
Black Twitter labelled Kolisi weak, possessing zero political acumen, an Uncle Tom and a sell-out for pointing out something so obvious, which is that quotas – to quote the kids – never loved black people.
Looking back at it now, he may have made a rookie error deigning to know what Madiba may have thought, was a touch inarticulate even, but it didn’t warrant an overreaction that questioned his very blackness.
The fact that he was a successful rugby player married to a white woman was seen to be a contributing factor to his having decided to “kick the ladder” once he got to the top. The obsession with the skin colour of Kolisi’s wife is more telling about us than it is about them.
When they got married, there were a lot of angry white people, mostly middle-aged men, who objected. Now that they are married, young black women seem to take umbrage at “yet another successful” black man marrying a white woman, when poor Rachel was there as far back as when Siya was a broke teenager just out of initiation school.
Forget the damned if they do, damned if they don’t reaction to their getting married – quite what makes us think our comments on their union matters beggars belief.
The Zimbabwe-born and raised Mtawarira – who, as well as retiring from rugby this week, thanked South Africa for adopting him as her own son – was attacked for saying what he thought about De Villiers in his book, which caused such a stir that the publishers had to postpone the release to this week.
The reason for the ire at the time felt like anger at Mtawarira for breaking ranks and feeding what had been a “white” narrative that insisted that De Villiers wasn’t really the Bok coach when he was coaching them.
As much as I can see where that line of criticism was coming from – for years, black achievements in rugby have been dismissed out of hand as being due to some unseen, magical, white hand – given that none of us has ever had the experience of being a Springbok player coached by De Villiers, how could we possibly argue with Mtawarira’s perspective?
Now that the two have combined to help the Boks win a third World Cup – probably the most representative of the three – everyone seems to have shelved the idea of two of the most upstanding Springboks we’ll ever see being sell-outs.
As tempting as it is to say now’s probably not the time to dredge all that up, there is a degree of fickleness in how those two were judged like that just months ago, and now they are being treated as heroes as if winning a World Cup makes them different people.
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