South Africa - Johannesburg - 30 August 2019 - Springbok Rugby World Official Send-Off at OR Tambo International Airport. A Bok flag on the perimeter of the cordoned area for the fans. Picture: Karen Sandison/African News Agency(ANA)
Opinion - We South Africans are a diverse group of people. We have different skin tones. We speak different languages. And we believe in different gods.

Given there is more that divides us than unites, it is no wonder national unity has been so difficult to build.

But, every once in a while, we have come together. We did so in 1995 for the Rugby World Cup. We did so in 2010 for the Soccer World Cup. And we cried together when Nelson Mandela died in 2013.

Today sees the start of the 2019 Rugby World Cup, and it provides us with an opportunity to, once again, come together.

The last few years have been soul destroying. It’s been reflected in the crime statistics. We’ve seen it in the violence that has been perpetrated against women and children. We’ve seen it in the racial polarisation of our society. And we’ve seen it in the fury that has been unleashed upon foreigners.

Ironically, it is rugby, the sport that came to be associated with apartheid, that is the sport that has historically united us.

In 1862, the first rugby game was played in South Africa. It was played in Green Point, Cape Town. And not surprising for the time, only whites played on that day.

In 1906, a few years after the British defeated the Afrikaners, a South African team toured the British Isles. It was an all-white affair but served to heal the divisions of the Anglo-Boer War.

It was on this tour that the English media dubbed the team the Springboks, a name that has stuck ever since.

Fast forward to 1995 and rugby once again became a great unifying force, this time between blacks and whites.

If history is anything to by, the success of the Springboks at a Rugby World Cup is linked to the quality of the president.

In 1995, under Mandela, we were world class. Nobody thought we would win, but through sheer passion and commitment, we did.

By 1999, Thabo Mbeki was our president. That year we made it all the way to the semi-finals. In 2003, we got to the quarter-finals. And in 2007, we worked our way through to a second World Cup victory when we beat England.

When the 2011 World Cup started, Jacob Zuma was our president. Our team just managed to beat Wales in our opening game. We struggled against Samoa and lost to Australia in the quarter-final.

By 2015, Zuma was at the height of his presidency, and things were falling apart. That year, Japan beat us. It remains the biggest upset in rugby union history although we somehow managed to get to the semi-final.

And so, what of our chances this year?

If the quality of our political leadership is anything to go by, it is pretty good. More importantly, we need the Boks to play a unifying role.

We look forward to our captain, Siya Kolisi, holding aloft the Webb Ellis Cup on November 2, and proclaiming a victory not just for South Africa, but all Africa.

Go Bokke, go!

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