Varsity Cup

OPINION | Leave WSU All Blacks to Kapa O Pango to their hearts' content

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Walter Sisulu University.
Walter Sisulu University.
  • Debate is raging over the Walter Sisulu University All Blacks' decision to use the Kapa O Pango in Varsity Shield matches.
  • The Kapa O Pango was first used by the All Blacks against the Springboks in 2005 in Dunedin.
  • The All Blacks are the Springboks' greatest rivals, even though the All Blacks have more than dominated contests between the teams.

It’s another year and another debate rages about Walter Sisulu University (WSU) and their use of New Zealand All Blacks' haka before each Varsity Shield game.

Before we start with the merits of his conversation, let's go back to 27 August 2005 when then All Black captain Tana Umaga so magically led the first Kapa O Pango against John Smit’s Springboks at the now-defunct Carisbrook (House of Pain) in Dunedin.

10 out of the All Blacks match-day 22 were either of Pacific Islander or Maori origin. They would be what we call our players of colour.

The Jake White-coached Springboks had only four in Bryan Habana, Ricky Januarie, Hanyani Shimange and Eddie Andrews.  

In what was a pulsating 31-27 win for the All Blacks, Shimange didn’t take the field. 

Now, the bulk of WSU’s current squad, which is born between 1997 and 2001, may have been too young to have witnessed that moment, but subsequent YouTube clips and screenings of All Black games point to one thing: Representation.

There are players of colour who were doing the Kapa O Pango while SA only lined up four black players in their match-day 22.

Without going deep into Stuart Hall’s representation theory, let’s remember one thing: People tend to gravitate to success that shares a similar skin colour, background and belief.

The All Blacks, with their assortment of excellent players, represent a merit that was (and still to some), non-existent in South African rugby.

Of the 148 Springboks who have been capped since that Dunedin Test until the 2019 Rugby World Cup final, 47 have been of colour, while only seven have played more than 20 matches.

After 2009 all rugby excellence was All Black. The All Blacks wouldn’t have won the 2011 Rugby World Cup without Jerome Kaino’s monumental efforts while the all-round 2015 effort had Ma’a Nonu and Julian Savea playing the rugby of their lives.

WSU head coach Akhona Mgijima emphasised the point when he said during the aftermath of the recent hysteria over their rendition of the famous haka that representation also influenced whom some of their young players might look up to.

"People must remember that our black African players never really had idols in the Springboks. There was Solly Tyibilka and those guys but they were few and we had to look elsewhere for role models," he told Sport24.

"We have to look at our history and be honest about it. Our players must be left alone to enjoy themselves. They are not forced to perform the haka and they will go back and support the Springboks."

READ | WSU captain explains why they copy the All Blacks' haka

Let’s move on to South African rugby language and culture.

You see, SA’s rugby landscape is a varied and impressive one with several cultures and languages.

However, the most predominant rugby language and culture is Afrikaans. We know this. That the Gwijo Squad had to be seen as a movement instead of one of SA’s unique black rugby cultures spoke volumes of a lack of history or misguided ignorance.

Yet, "Ole, Ole, Ole", which has Greek and Spanish origins, is a feature at South African rugby arenas, but how it was appropriated is never discussed.

White Afrikaans rugby culture, as much as it has assimilated black players, doesn’t have a shining example of black rugby culture being truly embraced and immersed.

Is the fact that a dominant trademark of the All Blacks - a team that’s turned the Springboks over fairly regularly - being rubbed into people’s faces by a bunch of post-1994 black youngsters who should be sipping from the new South Africa Kool-Aid too much to bear for some?

It could be.

READ | From rugby novice to super-fan: Why I back the All Blacks

Then again, we also live in a country where some groups also fought for the right for the dastardly apartheid flag to be displayed in public.

Freedom of choice is entrenched in this country’s beautiful constitution and we have to understand that some people’s choices will offend others.

Whether we like it or not, the All Blacks are an intrinsic part of South African rugby, therefore parts of All Black rugby symbols have and will become part of this country.

Until such time rugby in SA comes to accept that the game has cultures and histories that are different from the dominant narrative, let the WSU boys Kapa O Pango to their hearts' content.

Khanyiso Tshwaku is a product of Walter Sisulu University’s journalism department but never played rugby for WSU.

Disclaimer: Sport24 encourages freedom of speech and the expression of diverse views. The views of columnists published on Sport24 are therefore their own and do not necessarily represent the views of Sport24. 

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