Cape Town - The atmosphere in the men’s room of Newlands was tense. The Stormers, the home team, had been booed as they alighted from their team bus before the match, and supporters known as the “Cape Crusaders” – local supporters of the New Zealand Crusaders – lost no opportunity to show where their loyalties lay.
Puzzled, a Cape Town psychologist, who has asked not to be named, spoke to one of the Cape Crusaders in the restroom at half time, asking him why he supported the New Zealand team.
“F*k jou, jou wit n**i! (F**k you, you white c**t!)” was the response.
The Crusaders supporter reportedly continued: “You white f****ers abused us for decades. Now, those black f***ers are doing the same.”
The shaken psychologist told the Cape Argus: “I couldn’t believe it. I asked them with a genuine light-hearted curiosity. I didn’t think that I would offend them.”
People in the crowd for Saturday’s Super Rugby match, which the Crusaders won 19-14, said it marked one of the worst days of abuse and bad blood at Newlands in years.
Battle lines between supporters of the home team and the “Cape Crusaders” – all of whom were local – were drawn from the kick-off. As the post-match presentation ceremony took place on the pitch, the tension in the Railway stand boiled over into a fist fight between fans.
Wilco Froneman, a regular at Newlands, said there was always some banter between Stormers/Springbok supporters and locals who backed New Zealand and its franchises: “But this was on another level – especially after the Stormers scored and were leading the match. The abuse that was being hurled around by the local Crusaders supporters – it bordered on being racially motivated.
“My concern is that it could escalate into a really nasty incident. Next time it could turn physical at the slightest provocation – and then there will be a catastrophe on our hands. Something needs to be done.”
Rob Wagner, managing director of Western Province Rugby, apologised to members of the crowd who were offended: “We will never condone bad behaviour from anyone in the crowd at DHL Newlands. There seems to be a history of incidents when the DHL Stormers and the Crusaders play at DHL Newlands, and we are already in conversation with all role-players to ensure that we do not have a repeat of this in the future.”
An investigation is under way.
The Cape Argus quizzed Wagner about CCTV footage, reports of racial slurs and violence, possible bans for perpetrators and contingency plans for the future. He said he was aware of a fight on the Railway stand, but had received no written complaints or reports of racism.
Short-term “operational plans” were in place to mitigate such incidents in the future, he said, but declined to elaborate. Footage from the cameras would form part of the investigation.
On Twitter, Stormers’ star Bryan Habana gave insight into his disappointment at the reception the Stormers received from some home spectators: “I highly doubt there’s any place in the world where you get booed off your bus at your home stadium by your ‘fellow’ countrymen.”
He added that if he had the money, he would happily buy all the Cape Crusaders one-way tickets to Christchurch.
Sharon Poole of Kuils River, who has supported New Zealand over South Africa in rugby since she was a child, said the conflict was a two-way street. She was at the game on Saturday and said she was mocked and heckled by Stormers supporters for wearing a Crusaders jersey.
“I became so angry, but calmed myself down and told these guys that we were all here to watch the rugby and that they should leave my family and me alone,” she said.
In the apartheid years it was common for some black Capetonians to support non-South African teams in protest against the race-based laws of the time, and the All Blacks were particular recipients of this support.
Both Poole and another Cape Crusader, Maghedien Kafaar, denied there were political, racial or even traditional reasons underpinning their support for New Zealand. Both hailed “the brand of rugby” played by the Crusaders and All Blacks as their primary motivation. Both condemned abusive supporters, saying that they formed a minority in the crowd.
Kafaar said he could not change allegiances post-apartheid because the Springboks “have always played a physical, aggressive and vindictive” game – which he did not support.
Kafaar also said he was regularly subject to ridicule and abuse by Stormers fans when he wore his All Blacks jersey to Newlands.
“There is a tension in the country at the moment – with all the crime, violence, high cost of living, strikes and protests. People carry these concerns in them with heavy hearts, so they are always on edge. Rugby is just a mirror on society, in my opinion,” he said.