Springboks more and more rainbow

In the foreground, captain Siya Kolisi after the semi-final against the Welsh on October 27 in Yokohama. EDGAR SU / REUTERS

Why is South Africa only playing its seventh edition of the Rugby World Cup, out of nine possible? Simply because the organizers had refused to participate in the first, in 1987, and because the country was scarcely abolishing the racist regime of apartheid in 1991.

June 1991, precisely: birth of Siyamthanda (called "Siya") Kolisi in a township from Port Elizabeth. Here he is today Captain of the Springboks. An excellent third-line. But also, for some, the new symbol of a country and a national team still evolving: the first black captain of the Springboks. "We all come from different backgrounds and backgrounds"recalls the person concerned, without making it a political issue. Then this message to South African viewers: "Continue to encourage us, and we will continue to give everything we have. "


One game remains this fall. Most important of all: a World Cup final. South Africa faces England on Saturday (November 2nd) in Yokohama. The opportunity to match the New Zealand record with a third world title, after that of 2007, already against the English, and especially after that of 1995. That year, President Nelson Mandela handed the trophy to the captain, François Pienaar. Clint Eastwood will shoot much later an American movie, Invictus (2009). The team then had only one "non-white" player: the half-breed Chester Williams, who died in September of a heart attack, at 49 years old. "I was part of Mandela's plan, and others who saw my importance to their desire to unite the country", he explained, not fooled, at World, in 2015.

The South African rugby federation has already, it seems, wanted to give pledges. Since 2015, it has introduced quotas: for each match, the presence of at least seven non-white players out of twenty-three. She had also advanced the goal of reaching a selection made up half of blacks and half-breeds at the World Cup 2019. What is not yet the case, the current team of Springboks including twenty white rugbymen on its thirty-one members . This is a much higher proportion than Afrikaners, the descendants of settlers, in South African society.

"All, or most, of the country can now identify with the Springboks. The South African writer Deon Meyer

Sensitive subject, still today. "If someone is playing for the national team, he has to play because he's the best at his job, not just because of the color of his skin," Judge winger Cheslin Kolbe, one of the Métis players on the team. The world had met him in May, in Toulouse, club where he evolves. Without being too eager to tell the apartheid period and the parental memories: "A different period. "

For the author of detective Deon Meyer, the "Most intelligent shot" The national coach, Johan "Rassie" Erasmus, remains to have entrusted the captaincy to Kolisi. In everyday life L'Equipe, the novelist see there a "Unity factor: all or most of the people can now identify with the Springboks".

Lukhanyo Am and Captain Siya Kolisi, Shizuoka, October 3, 2019.
Lukhanyo Am and Captain Siya Kolisi, Shizuoka, October 3, 2019. Anne-Christine Poujoulat / AFP

When he made this decision, in May 2018, shortly after taking office, Erasmus invoked above all a sporting logic: "The coach is not a politician. " Implied: not there to build anything other than a good rugby team. Not won, when he took over a depressed team after a historic defeat in Italy (20-18) or another in New Zealand (57-0).

A year ago, even the main trade union center in the country welcomed his decision. In a statement, Cosatu congratulated the Springboks for "Improving their performance" after two out of three tests won against England. Above all, she called on the South African rugby federation to continue its "Transformation" : "That's the way the Springboks should behave if we want all South Africans to be behind the team. "

Insults and aggression

Several cases, however, have already brought the team back to extrasportive considerations. In early October, teammates gather to celebrate a big victory in the first round of the World Cup, against Italy (49-3). Only whites. With a gesture, François Steyn seems to dismiss Makazole Mapimpi, one of the black players of "Boks". "Some people will see something wrong. I can assure you that as a coach, I will never allow anything like that to happen, " assured Erasmus, implicitly rejecting any accusation of racism.

According to the coach, the photo in question only concerned team replacements, members of the bomb squad ("The mine clearance team"), as they call themselves. Same explanation of Makazole Mapimpi, on the social network Twitter, defusing any controversy.

Since this summer, another case: the second-line Eben Etzebeth is the subject of a complaint for racial insult and aggression. The future of Toulon is accused of insulting a homeless person and pointing a gun at him at the end of August. Denying the facts, he has already asked " revision and cancellation » of this procedure. The South African Human Rights Commission announced it in mid-October. In a statement, the authority was still considering "How to answer".


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