Siya Kolisi captains the Springboks to lift the Webb Ellis Cup in Japan last year.
Siya Kolisi captains the Springboks to lift the Webb Ellis Cup in Japan last year.

SA can go from ‘joke to top of the world’

Time of article published Sep 12, 2020

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By Lindsay Slogrove

TEN months ago, Saffers were given yet another glimpse of joy, promise, hope and unity.

We celebrated and wallowed in triumph and pride, forgetting for a while the reality of nearly 30 years of experience. We bought in to the idea – with green-and-gold and black-and brown-and white-lined streets – that we could do anything if we all shared the same goal and worked hard to achieve it.

Our finger-tips and hearts keep stretching for this unity thing, clinging on to the ideal, but not getting it.

Soon after, and more so after March, Saffers were once again reduced to pain, fear, fury, distrust and hunger, and not only by

Covid-19. Women and children have been savagely raped and murdered.

About three million people have lost their jobs. Working on an average of one breadwinner/four dependents, that’s at least 12 million people without the very basics: proper food, shelter, health care, education.

Righteously angry protesters have taken to the streets and opportunistic leaders have stoked other fires and destruction to make political gains.

Corruption, already rife and a flashpoint in our country, hit new lows, with theft by people without shame of money meant to help desperate people survive.

That’s not even including various world upheavals that ripple across the globe.

In the midst of this hellscape comes Lloyd Burnard’s Miracle Men: How Rassie’s Springboks won the World Cup, like a soul-cleansing spring power shower.

One of coach Rassie Ersamus’s most profound observations, during at least one press conference, was that pressure on the Boks was not a thing: it was a privilege to the men to represent their country in Japan, and real pressure was what South Africans faced in their daily lives.

They clearly managed the pressure better than about 99.9% of us Saffers sweating on the sidelines.

Burnard briefly sets the scene of the dismal Bok record under Allister Coetzee to illustrate the teams’ journey from joke to top of the world. The culture developed within the team should be in a text book for building organisations, private and political.

There was much that Erasmus and his new backroom team accomplished that Saffers (and the Boks’ opponents) could not really know until victory was sealed. He and captain Siya Kolisi secured the foundations with honesty, transparency, trust and respect they had earned, and an exquisitely detailed plan.

Differences, concerns, opinions and decisions were debated and discussed in front of everyone; there were no behind-the-scenes ego plays and no one was entitled to anything. Everyone had to earn what they got.

Burnard does a nifty job in appealing to a whole squad of readers: the rugby aficionados with enough details on the building of the team and on-field tactics and decisions, and plenty of insight into the real people who made a dream come true to entice the audience that only started noticing as the Boks worked their way through the tournament.

My one gripe is with the title: these were not miracle men. Every success was worked for and earned, not dished out by a deity.

If only all leaders and comrades could lose their egos, power plays, greed and lies, find some Saffer loyalty and pride, we could dream once again.

* Slogrove is the news editor

The Independent on Saturday

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