The beloved country

by Craig Nudelman

After the events of the past few weeks, beginning with #UnrestSA’s looting throughout the country, I saw a lot about it on social media.

Obviously, the negative coverage was rife. There was chaos in Gauteng and Kwazulu-Natal, with the latter emerging much worse. Shops were destroyed, with millions upon millions of rands-worth going up in smoke. It was immensely sad. On the other hand, South Africa got it together as only South Africa can. Like a warm hug, South Africans posted pictures and videos on Facebook and Twitter, and showed the world that we are a united nation. From people forming physical barriers protecting malls to others cleaning up the streets, as well as a giant South African flag being unfurled on Table Mountain, South Africans never seemed so proud.

There is nowhere that pride in one’s country is more significant than at the Olympic Games. Since 1992, South Africa has had an okay time at the Olympics. Since readmission, we have won ten gold, 16 silver, and nine bronze medals. A total of 35 medals. Yes, it has improved since 1992 in Barcelona, where we only won two silver medals (one for Wayne Ferreira and Piet Norval in Men’s Doubles Tennis). In 2016 in Rio, South Africa claimed ten medals, placing 30th overall. When our athletes returned to OR Tambo International Airport, we gave them a warm welcome, regardless of Team SA’s questionable kit. Yes, sports really does bring a nation together. What else brings South Africans together though?

We have had a rough time for the last decade or so. Zuma’s years of pillaging from the country have created a crack so deep in South Africa’s wall that who knows how much Polyfilla we’ll need to fix it. Unemployment, substandard education, economic crises, electricity shortages, crime (GBV, gun violence, hijackings, etc), droughts, corruption, and politics have taken their toll. And then… COVID happened. Our government’s way of dealing with it has been… well, I don’t have the words. Suffice it to say, it hasn’t been good. With the Delta variant still on the rampage, and vaccinations not going as smoothly as hoped, we’re still in this for a while. Yes, my friends, right now it is hard being South African.

It is difficult to be proudly South African. I recently read an article on vaccination FOMO. FOMO stands for Fear Of Missing Out, and I have to say, I really have vaccination FOMO. Even with the Department of Health allowing people over the age of 35 to go for vaccines, I still can’t go! Bloody chutzpah! But it isn’t just that I can’t get it. It’s that it’s been so hard to see others around the world getting it. Not even the pictures of tens of thousands of sobbing England supporters at Wembley Stadium following their team’s loss at the European Football Championship Final could console me! Our government, heavy-handed though they were to mete out punishments for breaking COVID rules, have been skimpy on providing its citizens with the vaccinations to ensure that we would not have to have these punitive measures put in place.

Our collective South African identity is one of trauma. From 1652 until now, South Africans, mostly black South Africans, have had a pretty terrible time trying to live in this country at the southern tip of Africa. It appears we can never get out of this abyss of hopelessness and despair, edging on depression. And yet we sometimes do. In times of hardship, we seem to come together when we play a game. Sports is the miracle that makes us whole again.

Whenever South Africa is playing at a sporting event, people come together, no matter how they feel about each other. They cheer their country on. I find it so weird. There is, really, no cohesion around people in South Africa. Race still separates and segregates us, especially here in Cape Town. Political ideological battles rage on, and sometimes religion gets in the way too. But sports makes everyone cheer and clap and dance with one another.

When it was the Rugby World Cup Final in 2019, I was at the Mojo Market. It was buzzing. Wherever I looked, there were people of all shapes, sizes, and colours, wearing their own particular brand of Springbok paraphernalia and supporting people who just happened to be playing for their country. When we won, there was an explosion of joy. The bartender behind me started beating the beer trays with his hands. The women in front of me high-fived and hugged my friend and me. It was a euphoric moment. I had felt this same feeling in 2010, when South Africa hosted the FIFA World Cup. I felt it when we won the Rugby World Cup in 2007, and, although I was too young to really ‘feel’ the palpable South African spirit in 1996 for the African Cup of Nations, and 1995 for the Rugby World Cup, I’m sure it was there too.

Sports brings South Africans together. It isn’t race, religion, ethnicity, or region. When we see a South African playing sport, we don’t see red — we see green and gold. South Africa is a unique country in that there is no collective national identity. We are made up of so many parts it seems impossible that we’ll ever achieve unity. However, when it comes to supporting this mish-mash of peoples, this calabash of cultures, in the sporting arena, we do it. And we do it well.

And so, I hope that Tokyo 2020 (in 2021) will see us bringing home many more bronze, silver, and gold medals for our 177 boys and girls in Japan. As a nation, we need this — perhaps more than ever.

Let the games begin!

• Published in the PDF edition of the September 2021 issue – Download here.

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