Adriaan Basson: The rainbow nation reloaded – let's not mess it up again

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Springbok captain Siya Kolisi. (Richard Heathcote/Getty Images)
Springbok captain Siya Kolisi. (Richard Heathcote/Getty Images)

Kolisi and Erasmus' rainbow nation has no room for holy cows. With the greatest of respect, this is not a time for only singing "Shosholoza" and holding hands and thinking things will change, writes Adriaan Basson.

The Springboks have revived the much-maligned concept of South Africa as a rainbow nation with a historic Rugby World Cup championship victory on Saturday.

Coined by Archbishop Desmond Tutu and championed by former president Nelson Mandela to describe a post-apartheid dream where people of all races live and work together in harmony, the rainbow nation lost its shine over the past two decades.

It has just been given a second chance by Springbok captain Siya Kolisi, coach Rassie Erasmus and the team who emphasised the idea of one nation working together after its stunning win over England.

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Rampant corruption, stubborn racism, pervasive inequality and a surging crime-rate have battered the rainbow nation into submission. Add to that the emergence of organisations like AfriForum, the EFF and BLF who actively promote polarisation between racial groups to drive membership and votes, no wonder the term had lost its shine.

Maybe the biggest mistake of the original architects of the rainbow nation project was the naïve belief that people, attitudes and behaviours would change overnight. Tutu, Mandela and their generations of peacemakers can be forgiven for overlooking the possibility that the making of a rainbow nation would require much deeper, dirtier work than they had originally anticipated.

They were focussed on staving off a civil war and saving the economy from complete collapse.

The rainbow nation represented and promoted by Kolisi and Erasmus involves a much more realistic outlook on life and should have no room for blinkers and holy cows. With the greatest of respect, this is not a time for only singing "Shosholoza" and holding hands and thinking things will change.

Yes, there will be a great amount of singing over the next two weeks as Kolisi shows off the Webb Ellis trophy to the rest of us, but then the real work starts.

Looking at the way Kolisi has led the team over the past few months and listening to Erasmus' powerful interview about what pressure really means in a country ravaged by unemployment and crime, gave me a few insights into what their definition of a rainbow nation may be.

1. Believe you can be the best

Kolisi, Erasmus and the Springboks believed they could win the World Cup. They had absolutely no doubt that they could go all the way and backed themselves to show the world they were the best. To overcome our massive challenges, we have to share a single goal and believe that we can win this battle.

2. Zero tolerance for racism

Kolisi spoke passionately about how players of all races came together behind one goal. To achieve our goals, there can be absolutely no room for racism, at our homes and in our workplaces. If we want the rainbow nation to succeed, we have to call out racism and create spaces and teams that don't tolerate any form of racial prejudice.

3. The acknowledgment of privilege

Kolisi spoke openly about his poor background and how he was fortunate enough to get a break to attend an elite sports school. There is no shame in acknowledging your privilege and using it to advance the lives and careers of others less fortunate.

4. Champion diversity; it makes us stronger

The words "transformation" and "diversity" have been maligned in the past by those who believed things would correct "naturally". Kolisi and Erasmus have proudly supported a strategy of diversity in the composition of the team and their different strengths. It may be South Africa's biggest advantage; to bring together diverse teams of thinkers who can solve our multitude of problems.

5. Nothing beats hard work

Nobody could doubt the Springboks' fitness and skill in the final. They were superbly prepared to beat England and bounced back after losing the opening match against the All Blacks. Kolisi and Erasmus rallied their troops around one goal, made sure they had a diverse range of skills in the team and got down to work. We have no time to waste to solve our multitude of problems. Let's not waste time and get our hands dirty.

- Basson is editor-in-chief of News24.

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