Chester Williams really was an icon for all South Africans.
Chester Williams really was an icon for all South Africans.

Chester Williams: World Cup winger, world-class man

By Kevin Ritchie Time of article published Sep 14, 2019

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We have been treated to a rare experience this week; the ability to mourn in unity, uncontested and unchallenged.

Chester Williams will be buried today, after dying suddenly last Friday night.

Robert Mugabe also died last Friday - but the differences couldn’t be starker.

Williams, the Springbok rugby World Cup winger, apparently suffered a heart attack. He was an immensely fit man but came from a family with a history of cardiac issues.

In the week that’s passed though, no one has had an unkind word to say, no one has tried to claim him as their own - or disown him - no one has tried to hijack his memorial service or shoehorn their way into his funeral.

It’s a world away from the death just over eight weeks ago of his opposite number in that legendary 1995 team, James Small.

Small also died from a heart attack - albeit in very different circumstances; naked as the day he was born in a Bedfordview hospital where he had been dropped off by a sex worker and an Uber driver.

The side-stepping and jinking to try to deflect attention, was matched only by the mawkish wheeling out of Small’s kids at Ellis Park 10 days later, when the Springboks ran out to face the Wallabies.

Williams, though, has needed none of this. On the contrary, the quiet and resolute mourning has been a perfect foil for the quiet nobility with which he appears to have led his life.

There has been no challenging of his place in the pantheon of Springbok greats, there have been no sordid revelations, there has been no one trying to revise his life story.

There has perhaps been a deeper understanding and more profound respect for his life, for the way he navigated not just the new found fame of being a World Cup winner, but the way in which he handled the immense difficulty of being forced to be the face of a new South Africa in a team that was originally not that welcoming of him.

Small, in particular, was openly abusive and racist during the much-storied 1995 World Cup.

It’s a world away from the obsequies we’ve been forced to endure about Mugabe - a man who eked out his last months in a private Singaporean hospital because he had destroyed health care in his own country.

It’s been pitiful to see the anguish of Zimbabweans of all hues in the diaspora having to endure South African faux radicals zimsplaining to them how they should venerate the man whose venality forced them into economic exile.

Few have been as galling as Julius Malema, the flip-flopper-in-chief who this week elevated Mugabe to Christ-like status as the “perfect human being” - two years after publicly calling him feeble and urging him to step down.

Chester Williams transcended all of this. In a world where language is often devalued, he really was an icon for all South Africans. We are poorer for his passing, but richer for having had him among us for the time we did.

* Kevin Ritchie is a journalist and former newspaper editor.

** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of Independent Media.

The Saturday Star

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