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!