Songezo Mabece

How to transform the Boks…

The first time I heard of the Springboks was in 1993. My earliest recollection of this national brand was the lost (0-1) home series against the French. The only thing I recall from this was the heavy scar on the face of the Les Blues’ captain, Jean-Francois Tordo, giving the thumbs up as he left the Newlands turf. In the same year, the Boks toured Australia, a series that the Springboks lost 2-1. Of the things I remember from this tour was the bloodied face of captain Francois Pienaar after the victory in the first test in Sydney. Also, and less flattering, was my witnessing James Small receive his marching orders from referee Ed Morrison.

For another 22 years I would develop a love-hate relationship with the Springboks. The highlight of my love was on June 24 1995, although October 2007 reached similar heights. The hate — well, the string is much longer for a medley of transformation-related reasons. In all, I still love the Boks, but I am also more mature and alive to the facts that inform the Springboks and their broad appeal to the nation.

Lately, the Boks have been on the receiving end of their transformation record. Particularly Heyneke Meyer has been heavily lambasted for not being bold enough to make tough decisions. To date, murmurs still reverberate as to his selection policy at the Rugby World Cup with views that black players are there to fulfil quotas and appease what public opprobrium there would otherwise be, were they not in the squad.

This blog post, however, does not concern any of the above. I write to offer possible ways in which the image of the Springboks could be enhanced and transformed to resonate with the broader South Afrikan public. For starters, the team regalia could be more reflective of the Afrikan society from which it is picked. There is no reason why the training jerseys and team off-field regalia could not communicate an Afrikan message.

Fashion designers would lick their lips at the opportunity to infuse local designs and patterns with the colours green and gold. There are many Boks whose native languages are neither Afrikaans nor English: why not use those Springboks to do more work with advertising agencies (audio and visual) in their Afrikan languages so as to appeal to these languages, therefore cultures? In this context, there is no reason why a Springbok coach and captain (assuming they are English and/or Afrikaans) cannot be taught to say — Dumelang batho ba Afrika borwa (Sotho — hello South Afrikans), maz’ enethole (Xhosa — thank you very much), nisale kahle (Zulu — stay well): throw-away lines in Afrikan languages that truly speak to the heart.

I read in coach Peter de Villiers’ autobiography that the Boks once had to turn down a field session in the local Boland community because the pitch was not up to standard. Taking the team to train in marginalised communities is a very effective way to garner public support. It worked like magic in 1995. Also, it would just about force the marginalised communities to be serious in preparing and presenting their facilities in the requisite form so as to host the Boys. The injured players in the set-up could be used to do the physical engagements (from conducting physical education lessons, talking at an assembly, to handing out Bok merchandise) with the community.

I cannot imagine what positive changes these inexpensive and very practical solutions would deliver to the Bok brand. Suffice to say, the franchise of the team would extend to its equally worthy shareholders — the people. Batho Pele!

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    • Darrillio

      Liked the article, and those suggestions would certainly go a long way to enhancing the brand of the Springboks; no doubt. But it goes much much deeper than that. The final 23 on match day has to be the best that we can offer. To get there there must be a culture of Rugby instilled from an early age. At school, kids must be encouraged to play the game with assistance from bursaries, training facilities, academies and the fields the players play on must be up to scratch. Equipment – scrumming machines, kit, etc can surely be paid from the receipts Rugby gets. It is along term project but transformation is not started at the matchday 23 but very early on. Look for example, to the cricketing success with transformation and the Australian academies.

    • Lordsm

      Everybody seems to forget that transformation quotas should be worked out on what % black and white youth play rugby, it’s up to the schools and other departments with SA rugby to promote the game, it is not enough to say in my opinion there was a player who should have been selected .even lower division teams struggle to select a side with nothing of the pressure of a national coach he has to be comfortable with the team he picks.

    • Paul Bluewater

      It is common sense that if we are to transform SA rugby, we need to transform the audience. Your practical ideas would sustainably create the desired result, for no money at all.