Photo by @EFFSouthAfrica
As the Springbok victory parade rolled gloriously across the country, captain Siya Kolisi and troops garlanded by joyous fans as the heroes that they are, one man chose to swim aggressively against the tide: Julius Malema.
The EFF’s Chief Contrarian decided that the spirit of happiness and uninhibited joy that the Boks infused over the majority of the country needed dowsing with a heavy dose of what he thought was radicalism.
During his speech at his party's elections workshop in Johannesburg, Malema went on a rant about the Springbok emblem needing to be replaced with a new name.
“Amabokoboko, die Bokke, Springboks is an apartheid symbol,” to rousing applause from his followers.
“You can't say, ‘Remove apartheid symbols’, and maintain the name Springbok and the emblem, and the colours that were used during apartheid by white people.”
The truth is, Malema’s statements are neither new, radical or revolutionary.
Every so often, SA Rugby has to bat off challenges to the Bok emblem and has successfully done so since Nelson Mandela decreed that the badge will be used as a symbol of unity, instead of the division that characterised its past.
Mandela’s vision took shape at the 1995 Rugby World Cup podium alongside Francois Pienaar, and in 2023 we saw it come to fruition: a black African Springbok captain leading the most diverse men’s national rugby team to a historic consecutive world title.
The road from the “Invictus Moment” to now has not been easy. Transforming rugby into an inclusive sport, tearing down deeply set but flawed beliefs that it was meant for a certain race group, has taken much work by many people on and off the field.
We are closer now to what Madiba envisioned for us and the sport than at any point in history. And that has been the work of not just Kolisi, Rassie Erasmus, Jacques Nienaber and the rest of the two-time champs, but in SA Rugby boardrooms, in club and corporate structures, media and supporter groups such as the Gwijo Squad, the new voice of unity.
There are places that were previously inaccessible inside rugby corridors where you’ll now hear amaGwijo belting out loud and no one batting an eyelid.
Springbok team announcements are no longer greeted by a head count of black players.
Malema’s comments, though, are populist piggybacking on the Springbok trophy parade, looking to leverage some clout from the rugby conversation that the EFF would never ever be a part of otherwise.
He initially congratulated the Boks, posting on X: “Congratulations to the Springboks for winning the Rugby World Cup! ?? Historic, Monumental and Inspiring!” He added that Siya Kolisi was “My Captain”.
Malema later recanted, calling these comments a slip in “political consciousness”. A Freudian slip, more likely.
Malema went on to profess the party’s “love for rugby”, which is ironic because they have no recognisable contribution to rugby or any other sport for that matter in their decade-long existence.
Sport in SA, especially at grassroots, has suffered because more people have seen what they can get out of it than what they can plough into it.
In football, club owners would rather fork out eye-watering millions to buy the Premier Soccer League status of a ready-made club than build facilities to improve the game in their local areas.
Border and Eastern Province rugby have been left to rot administratively despite the wealth of talent that cakes the present Springbok squad – Makazole Mapimpi, Lukhanyo Am, Manie Libbok and coach Rassie Erasmus, to name a few.
But you’ll hardly see the EFF in sports development, only when there’s an open mic and political clout to be gained.