Posts Tagged ‘rugby’

Bokke, Boerewors and Beer

July 27th, 2009 19 comments

worsThe 24th of June, 1995 started out like that of any other. The crowd sardined themselves into a packed stadium at Ellis Park in Johannesburg. The rest of us less fortunate souls tuned in on our televisions. South Africans of all ages and sizes were firmly focused on the match that was about to unfold between the Springboks and the All Blacks. Today was the 1995 World Cup final!

I remember it like it was yesterday. Up until that point in my life, I had never been a fan of rugby, as I much preferred the drama of WWF. Even the Springboks did not capture much of my attention for that matter but today was different. Today was more than just a game of rugby. I felt compelled by curiosity to switch on the TV, as I had heard the media hype and wanted to see what all the fuss was about. I must be blatantly honest and admit that I was on the edge of my seat from the moment the whistle blew. Each time the Bokke scored, I erupted from my seat like Mount Etna during a volcanic splurge. This was so unlike me I thought.

South Africa was leading 9-6 by half time. The stadium was buzzing with excitement as everyone clung to the hope that today would be the turning point in rugby history. The buzz was soon drowned out by the mighty All Blacks who levelled the score with a penalty goal in the second half. The crowd fell silent, fixated on the celebration unfolding in front of them as the team in ominous black celebrated their comeback. They had levelled the playing field. What would the Bokke do now? I rose from my seat only to be brought crashing down as Andrew Mehrtens failed to kick a late drop goal. The score remained unchanged forcing the game into extra time.

How much more could I take? How much more could any of us take? We were all united by one dream, one passion, and one lingering glimmer of hope that; today South Africa would show the world we could be victorious in the face of darkness, or in this case the towering shadow of Jonah Lomu.

bokkeAs time whittled away, both teams gave it their all, scoring penalty goals in the first half of extra time. Would this never end? Were the rugby gods toying with us? Finally…breakthrough! Victory presented itself in the form of Joel Stransky who sealed the deal and landed a drop goal to win the final.

The crowd roared and cheered as the siren went. I danced around my living room energetically. We had won the Rugby World Cup! South Africa had done it! I sat on my couch and watched the festivities unfold and felt overcome with emotion and a sense of pride. The same pride and emotion you feel when your child or niece/nephew walks for the first time. Yesterday our team had crawled and today they were walking before my very eyes. It was extraordinary.

Nelson Mandela, wearing a Springbok Rugby shirt and cap presented the trophy to South African captain Francois Pienaar to the delight of the capacity crowd. We all shared in the glory of what it meant to be victorious. We shared in what it meant to be South African on a new dawn of democracy for all. In that defining moment years of bitterness, racial divide and strife suddenly seemed petty and insignificant. People of all colour celebrated the monumentous occasion and for the first time in my life I cried as our new National Anthem “Nkosi Sikelela” ran out around the grounds and echoed through the speakers of my television.

That day marked the first day that I realised I was a South African and would always be South African. Our country had become united and I had forged a bond that will never be broken.

The Old Man And The Stransky

July 20th, 2009 4 comments

It turns out that being an eight year old isn’t something you do when you’re eight. It’s what you do when you’re twenty-seven and trying like hell to think of your childhood.

mandelaI don’t have a good memory. By my reckoning, I remember roughly half of my life. That’s not to say I don’t have a timeline fixed in my head – it’s just that the memories are more of a thin veneer and kind of like those infomercial products that look so good but really don’t stand up to close scrutiny.

There are two vivid memories that fit this category and coincidentally are the two events that proved to me, without a shadow of a doubt, that I was a South African.

The first took place in front of a small TV set in 1990 in a small Eastern Cape town.

I remember seeing an old but vital man walking at the head of a crowd of people. Dressed in a quite plain gray suit, he carried himself with a strange dignity. Even so, there are many dignified people in the world and surely it takes more than that to get on TV? I’m a naturally curious person so of course I asked and I distinctly remember having the whole thing explained to me. I knew to some degree about Apartheid and the tragedies that had beset the country but it had always seemed so distant to me, almost unreal. The last thing I remember about that day was the small, quiet feeling of pride I had, an inclusion in something so much bigger than myself, and the fading lyrics of a song.

And the seagull’s name was Nelson,Nelson who came from the sea.

Time passed and South Africans went to the polls to give democracy a chance. I grew up a little and learned more about the country and how we got to where we were. By the time my second memory was being made wherever it is that memories are created, Nelson had moved quite far from his plain gray suit. As President of a country that seemed to have no limit, he had risen into the world spotlight and broken open a stillness that had encased South Africa for far too long.

stranskyThe world had finally recognized us as a sports playing nation and boy, we were glad. I’ve never been a sports fan but this impressed even me. Five years after Nelson had been freed, I sat with millions of South Africans as the world took our measure. We waited, eyes fixed on the television, barely breathing, to see if we’d be found worthy.

I think it’s quite possible that the collective concentration of South Africa has never been as galvanised, so centred as it was on that day. I often wonder what would have happened if the ball had gone the other way. If New Zealand had scored one more time or if Joel Stransky’s foot had slipped on his approach. Would South Africa be as collected as it is now? Would we be in the same position, would so much have been expected of us? Would I and countless others feel like we were part of something bigger – even just for a day?

Because man, when Joel Stransky’s magic foot landed that final drop goal, I all but exploded with pride. I’m sure millions of South Africans agree that on that day, in that hour we were untouchable. South Africa’s future spread out bright and golden into the horizon and for the first time ever, I really felt like I belonged here.

I may not have a good memory and I may be missing half my life but I’ll be damned if I ever forget that.

Defy(n)ing Stereotypes

July 13th, 2009 24 comments

biltongThis topic has made my last two weeks hell. It has been like a hookworm in my heel that is festering and driving me batty! No matter how hard I reminisce, daydream, force my memories to appear, I simply cannot remember when I first realized that I was South African. This means one of two things: either I am suffering from the early onset of Alzheimer’s or I have never realized that I was South African. Neither of these possibilities satisfies me, because well, I have just returned from my annual medical check-up (compulsory in Japan) and the doctor assured me that my brain was functioning perfectly well by Japanese standards, and I am South African, and I know this fact about myself with absolute certainty. It appears that I just simply cannot remember when this information was coded into my brain.

My cognitive trouble starts as soon as I start thinking about the topic. It seems obvious that it would stir memories related to feelings of South African-ness. Alas, not for me. I can only remember pieces of my life that made me feel completely un-South African…

I grew up in somewhat unusual circumstances. My father is Serbian (way back in my youth it was known as Yugoslavian). He watches Disney cartoons instead of rugby (the Disney addiction is the direct result of a deprived communist upbringing). He bakes bread and baklava instead of braaing boerewors. He speaks English with the thickest Slavic accent where every second word is punctuated with a Serbian swear word. He swims in a Speedo instead of baggies.

My mother on the other hand, is the powerful matriarch (some would call it the fishwife of the household). She and all her friends seem to have a penchant for foreigners, so I grew up hanging out with family friends who included Greeks, Portuguese, Italians, Lebanese, Yugoslavians and all the other peasants who fled Europe hoping that the Apartheid system of white privilege would help them to make their fortunes.

I do not remember being aware of The Struggle or of the political turmoil that was playing out in South Africa, not far from my idyllic, sheltered life. The closest my mother got to being an activist was dating a Japanese man in the 70s. She would regale me with stories of her Japanese “friend” who had given her a snakeskin clutch, and a sewing machine (that ten years later, was still in the box, unused). I knew a lot about the foreign communities that rocked Johannesburg in the 80s, but black people, other than my nanny, were foreign to me.

No, I most definitely did not have a typical South African childhood. Even at 28, I still don’t feel like a typical South African. I have absolutely no interest in sport, I think rugby is boorish and cricket is boring, I can whip up the most fabulous fusion food but cannot cook pap, babootjie or even a melktert. I think Castle beer is unpalatable and well, my Afrikaans is English spoken with the hardest, most guttural accent I can muster. As for Xhosa, I am still trying to pronounce the click correctly.

OK, so I don’t feel like a typical South African, but I most certainly identify myself as being a South African. And, what is a typical South African anyway? I honestly have no idea! I think perhaps that one thing my peculiar childhood taught me, is that there is no such thing as a typical South African, that to be a South African is to defy stereotypes. We are this multicultural, multicoloured mix of people from all over the world. I cannot remember when I realized that I was South African because to have such a defining memory would imply that there is some definitive characteristic that all South Africans share, which I think doesn’t exist.

melktertEven my dad, who was born in a village far away from Africa, is a South African in my eyes. I remember coming home one day to see that our garage had been cemented closed and that inside were cages of chicken fencing, raw meat, spices and fans. In the cage, was my dad hanging up chunks of meat and telling me that he was going to make a fortune selling biltong! At that moment I realized that even my dad, the most un-South African man I knew was really a Seffrican at heart!

To be South African is to feel South African, to embrace South African things, and well to share a South African history. So, I cannot remember when I realized this, but I know that I am South African and proud to identify myself with a place that is so diverse that it defies stereotyping of any kind.

Oh, and before you write me off as being anti-South African produce, I must add that I am fanatical about South African wine and I think that South African soil puts any French terroir to shame…