Why South Africans support the Crusaders and the All Blacks

I was the biggest All Black fan in my previous life, before 1994.

I understand why so many South Africans support the Crusaders against the Stormers, and the All Blacks against the Springboks. To many Springbok supporters this is a strange phenomenon. ('n snaakse verskynsel)

With the release of Nelson Mandela and other struggle icons in 1990, the unbanning of liberation movements and our first ever democratic elections in 1994, I decided to make my small contribution towards the transformation of our Country.

But that change had to start with me.

I had previously supported any international team that played against the Springboks, and the then South African cricket teams. I was very vocal in my opposition to all South African sport, because of South Africa's racist discriminatory policies of the time, which denied many South Africans the opportunity, the honour, the right to represent their country. This discriminatory policy was based on the discredited apartheid policy of that time, which has caused our country so much harm with respect to our well being as a South African nation.

Then in 1995, with the Rugby World Cup in South Africa, I took a life changing decision to support South Africa.

It was a very difficult decision, very emotional. I very secretly bought my new replica Springbok jersey just before the World Cup began.

I remember that first day I put the jersey over my head I felt so sick it was like I was suffocating. I literally developed a rash over my skin as I put that jersey on.

My skin felt like it was being invaded by some foreign substance.

My friends ridiculed me as a traitor. Someone who had sold out to the cause. 

It was hectic stuff.

But that’s the nature of meaningful change. It can be uncomfortable and even painful.

Even when the Springboks won the World Cup, my joy felt a bit hollow.

I was made to feel like I was celebrating with the enemy.

But I must admit that Madiba’s iconic celebration on the field with the players, in full view of the whole world, instilled some confirmation that I was doing the right thing.

That was the defining moment for me. And it proved what capacity sports has to reconcile a nation.

But reconciliation mustn’t be seen to be one sided. Nation building is the responsibility of all South Africans.

I completely understand that there was a time and a context for supporting overseas teams against South Africa and the Springboks.

People love the All Blacks and New Zealand teams because they are accessible to people in the first place.

They make time to visit and meet ordinary people in their own spaces.

I couldn’t believe my eyes when the great All Black team of 1970, with Captain Brian Lahore, Colin Meads,  Syd Going, Chris Laidlaw, Bryan Williams, and others, rocked up at our John Bisseker High School in East London.

A few of our school’s rugby players had earlier sneaked away to an All Black training session, and we invited the All Blacks to visit our school. They promised they would after the session, we doubted. But the All Blacks did pitch up.

Later on that afternoon they visited many of the townships in East London, greeting the youngsters, taking pictures, handing out silver leaf badges. Making friends, influencing people, creating a loyal supporter base.

Way back in 1970 already.

Fast forward to 2013. The All Blacks and New Zealand teams are still doing it.

On the other hand, the Springboks and South African teams are so far removed from their support base. There is very little effort on their part to go to the fans and win over the ones who still feel there is nothing to gain in supporting local teams.

Remember the euphoria when the Bulls played in Soweto? That was another iconic moment in our country's history.

Afrikaner Bulls supporters moving beyond their comfort zone, invading Soweto and embracing fellow Black South Africans in their own space. Partying in Taverns and shebeens. Ground breaking South African moments.

But it seems like it won’t happen again soon. This gesture wasn’t so much an act of goodwill on the part of SA Rugby as it was forced on the Bulls, because Loftus Versveldt was out of bounds because of the Football World Cup 2010.

How much longer before we have more of these acts of Nation building?

Why are we so blind to see that this is what the people of South Africa need to speed up the process of transformation in our country?

It is our sports (especially rugby) rather than our politics that will speed up the process of transformation in our country.

SARU and our rugby franchises have their work cut out to win over the support of all South Africans.

SARU need to further break down the barriers that create the impression that the Springboks and our rugby franchises are inaccessible to all players and supporters, especially those who prefer to support All Black and New Zealand rugby.

SARU and our rugby franchises need to be seen to be making tangible advances towards development and transformation of the game of rugby.

Players from schools and clubs with little or no resources shouldn’t be ignored simply because their circumstances force them to operate outside of the ambit of the well-resourced schools and clubs.

South Africa is a new Country, with new challenges, and new opportunities.

The greatest opportunity facing us is the challenge for each one of us to make the change that will change South Africa.

I'm a proud South African.

I support all South African sport, South African teams, South African music, South African culture, and South African people.

The whole world is in awe of South Africa.

The only people who feel ashamed of South Africa are South Africans. The only people who are against South Africa are South Africans.                                     

We still have a long road to walk on our personal journeys before we can claim to be free.

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