The 2023 Rugby World Cup fever is at an all-time high. Between celebrations and some nervous nail-chewing, South Africans are showing their support in full force. From Bok Friday to game day and all the days in between, we are sporting the jerseys, donning the caps, waving flags, and slipping on a pair of Springbok Veldskoen, the Official Supporters’ Shoe of the Springboks.
To say that rugby — and the support for the Bokke — is big in South Africa is quite an understatement. Ever since that momentous win in 1995 the image of Nelson Mandela next to Francois Pienaar as he lifts the Webb Ellis Cup has been engraved in the fabric of our country’s history.
And it’s this moment that moved rugby into a league of its own as a cultural phenomenon. It has earned its rightful place in the hearts of South Africans and became a beacon of hope as it transcended beyond 80 minutes, the ball, and the players on the field.
Because now it pulses through a nation, garners more fandom and cheer than an international rock band filling out a stadium, and creates more inspiration than a TED talk.
Between the tries and tackles, the victories and defeats, there’s something bigger than just a game when it comes to South Africans and their die-hard devotion to the Springboks.
As the years rolled by, the enthusiasm has amplified. It’s no longer the flavour of the selected few but the choice for the masses. From the war cries to the social interest, it evolved and diversified. Got a cultural reset, a reboot — on the field and off the field. There’s a sense of belonging — national pride — that brings South Africans together with a contagious energy rippling through from coast to Karoo, from school field pitches to offices, from 1995’s Hie Kommie Bokke to 2023’s AmaBokoboko.
And that’s the power of sport. It is a universal language, one with no barriers, ubuntu in its truest form. It has this innate ability to connect us through its inseparable binding knot to humanity — from the camaraderie and putting differences aside, to making the circle bigger to understand, appreciate and respect one another.
To this day Tata Madiba’s words still echo, “Sport has the power to change the world. Sport has the power to inspire. It has the power to unite people in a way little else does.”
And this has happened time and again. We’ve seen it in the sheer sense of pride the Olympics has brought us, from the gold medals and records set by Penny Heyns, Wayde van Niekerk and Tatjana Schoenmaker. We felt it during the 2010 Soccer World Cup. We’ve experienced how the Springboks’ 2019 Rugby World Cup win inspired and created hope long after that final whistle blew.
Therein lies the real victory, worth its weight in Webb Ellis Cup gold. Win or lose, the Springboks grip the soul of the nation.