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The fact that the detractors are coming out for all to see them is not a bad thing. It allows us to challenge them about their myopic attempt to elevate narrow racial considerations over national pride, writes Mpumelelo Mkhabela.
By winning the 2019 Rugby World Cup the Springboks reignited a sense of national pride. Whatever indicator you use to track the progress of the team over the years, you would need a strong dose of denialism not to recognise its improvements.
Whether you look at the score, the diversity or the overall quality of the team, there is no doubt that in the 2019 World Cup we had a team that lived up to its motto #StrongerTogether. This spirit of togetherness does not augur well for divisive characters in our society. Where in the world have you seen citizens objecting to the well-deserved national celebration of a truly extraordinary national achievement? Could it be that some among us are addicted to bad news?
Although the victory was at the expense of the Roses, even the English media and pundits mostly heaped praise on the quality of the Springboks and the brilliance of individual players. They acknowledged what the victory means for South Africa beyond the rugby field. And we can be sure that out of the tournament, many of our young aspirant rugby players from various backgrounds have picked up role models from the inspiring Springboks.
OPINION | Melanie Verwoerd: Our response to the Springboks victory shows we're more united than divided
But the role of the team in aiding national unity has been questioned by detractors who profit from racial divisions. The fact that the few detractors are coming out for all of us to see them is not a bad thing. In an odd way, it adds to the significance of the Bok victory that people show their lack of understanding of what constitutes national pride. We are therefore able to challenge them about their myopic attempt to elevate narrow ethnic/racial considerations over national pride.
The few detractors have described the victory as having a false effect on national reconciliation. It would have been wonderful if the detractors had made a contribution towards national reconciliation. That is, if they believe in it at all. Have they done or proposed anything that could make South Africans in their diversity to stand up and applaud?
The reality is that such detractors are the leading divisive figures in our society. Make no mistake, they enjoy spewing racially divisive rhetoric. It's their version of a national sport in which they take pride. It has catapulted them to national public attention. The country's socio-economic inequalities – which are real and need to be addressed – have become their lifeblood.
Out of our painful economic realities, they have made flourishing careers by rhetorically accentuating inequalities and proposing the kind of remedies that would destroy and worsen the situation instead of improving it. They live off these racial inequalities by giving the impression in often colourful and violent rhetoric that they genuinely believe in redress.
The truth is, once we deal with these inequalities, which we must, you necessarily destroy the political careers of some of the characters. You would have taken away their bread and butter. The socio-economic inequalities should be addressed through growth-focused measures so that the need for racially polarising politics fueled by race-based grievances can diminish.
Part of the remedy must also include harsh punishment of those who misappropriate public resources, policies and opportunities that are meant to uplift the poor.
It is bizarre to imply that celebration of our national successes in sports must wait for socio-economic redress before the nation can rejoice. Taken to its logical conclusion, this means the idea of celebration would not exist at all among human beings.
It is true that South Africa's future as a nation depends on addressing inequalities in a way that lifts the standards of living. This in part includes making sure public schools function properly and that businesses contribute in the construction of infrastructure that would level the playing field for all young South Africans who wish to play any kind of sport.
OPINION | Mandy Wiener: Lessons from the World Cup for my 5-year-old and President Ramaphosa
No player in future must be noticed by chance or luck. Talent must be there in abundance. The ultimate honour should be to wear the national colours. As we go along in the transformation project, we must celebrate achievements – small or big – and build on them.
The Springboks are South Africa's legitimate national team. We have every reason to be proud of them. Like all of us, the players pledge loyalty to South Africa and its flag. They do battle on the field on behalf of their country.
National pride is inextricably linked to our competitiveness, including in sports. When the mood of the nation is as bad as it has been lately, achievements in sports serve to lift it up.
Understandably, those who benefit from a negative national mood, don't like to see any form of respite. Granted, they are entitled to be angry or pretend to be angry while the rest of the nation celebrates. In a way, the divisive characters help us sharpen our appreciation of a true national achievement.
- Mkhabela is a regular columnist for News24.
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