JOHANNESBURG – Once upon a time in Polokwane, it was inconceivable that football and rugby could co-exist next to each other and do so under the name of the late Peter Mokaba.
Well, on Saturday, Polokwane showed an unfamiliar but beautiful side and all this under the name of a man once considered a terrorist by some and a hero for many.
As odd as it was seeing the two sporting codes live side by side as if they were never divided along racial lines, there was also a pleasant and jovial atmosphere around the precinct that houses the old and new Peter Mokaba Stadiums signalling the strides that Polokwane has made to close the sea of division that once existed.
From the parking lot of the old Peter Mokaba Stadium in Polokwane there was the usual ear busting noise of kwaito and gqom music coming from the departing mini bus taxis with football fans that had witnessed yet another predictable 0-0 all draw in the PSL encounter between Polokwane City and Amazulu.
Across the road and under the shade of the state-of-the-art but glaringly incomplete new Peter Mokaba Stadium came the rare and unfamiliar sound of boeremusiek and that distinct smell of a braai.
Yes, rugby had taken over what is traditionally a football stadium in the city that hosted a few games during the 2010 Fifa World Cup and the crowds, noise and atmosphere were better than that of the football game played earlier at the older and smaller version of the stadium.
And as the Bulls and Sharks battled it out on the field of play in their Super Rugby warm-up friendly, there were new friendships and bonds being nurtured by a sport that was at the root of the country’s division under the very apartheid system Mokaba fought against.
For the players from both teams and their respective management staff, this was nothing but a hit out to test their readiness for the upcoming season and a jaunt the Bulls have become familiar with over the past decade or so.
But for the thousands who had gathered to catch a glimpse of their favourite rugby stars, who they only get to see on television and hear their names on radio, this was a rare moment in time. For a day, the faces that represented Polokwane’s rugby heroes in Victor Matfield and John Mametsa danced, sang and drank as one and they invaded the field after the game and also played as one.
It might have been for a day that Polokwane wore the two sides of its face with pride and dignity but it must be one that must last beyond a pre-season friendly.
Football and rugby must be at the heart of the gospel of unity in diversity being spread across the country especially to the far flung places that not only need the racial healing but are desperate for PSL football and Super Rugby.