When you live in the rainbow nation, expect a regular dose of whiplash. Just a few days ago rugby lovers were mesmerised as our national sevens team won the HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series for only the second time in the history of the competition. And they did so in style.
The Blitzbokke, as they’re called, made it to eight of the nine tournament finals played in different world capitals, and won five of them.
With one tournament left, in London this coming weekend, they had already accumulated enough winning points to be declared series champions.
With their frightening arsenal of speed, strength and stamina, the Blitzbokke wiped out traditional rivals in both forms (Sevens and traditional 15-man rugby) of the game – New Zealand, Australia, England and the reigning Olympics Sevens champions, Fiji.
It was not only the fact that they won that made such an impression. What we saw on display was everything that South Africa so desperately lacks in its politics of depravity. In no other sport would you find such a powerful testament to transformation.
Black and white players displayed a genuine warmth towards each other and a splendid unity of purpose. No colour dominates; everyone gets to play. For every Africa and Senatla, there is a Snyman and Nel.
Often the coach, a University of the Free State graduate, would remind his players that “we should trust our structures”. And they should trust each other.
Unselfishly, a player speeding towards the try line would sometimes offload the pass to his buddy to make his mate look good.
When they score, the players surround the scorer with a warm embrace. When they win a tournament or the whole series, they drop to their knees to give thanks.
When an opposition player goes down trying to stop one of the Bokke, he sportingly offers a hand to lift up his rival.
When they break in the short interval between two 10minute halves in the final, the players collectively take three breaths while other teams launch into each other about mistakes made in the first half that should not be repeated in the second half of the game.
When a television interviewer congratulates the man of the match, he praises the team for making his success possible.
There is a Sevens Academy that prepares future players and recruitment goes well beyond the small set of former white schools that feed the 15-man rugby teams.
Watch carefully, and you will see selected young black and white players attend every match to listen and observe until they too are ready to play.
Coach Neil Powell and his brains trust build the team from the bottom and include the range of talent in our communities. They train hard with a world-class conditioning programme and the goal is to win.
None of this happened overnight, for Powell built on the foundations laid by Paul Treu, both players before they became coaches. Then the whiplash. As the official cameras scanned the excited spectators in the stands in Paris, one of them settled on a well-set white man wearing a Springbok rugby sweater.
Perhaps a foreign cameraman had no idea what horror he was showing to the world.
The man held up a banner that read “Zumasep**s”. Maybe I saw wrongly, I thought for a moment.
Yet later in one of the South African matches, the camera showed the man and his white friends with the same disgusting banner attaching the president’s name to a woman’s genitalia.
My heart sank. Yes, the president deserves criticism for serious allegations of corruption, incompetence and impunity in the face of the law.
Yes, he should step down for the sake of the country.
But no human being deserves this kind of salacious slander from a group of despicable men unconscious of their racial privilege and political cowardice thousands of miles from home.
This was not a statement of political protest; it was a gratuitous insult that simultaneously demeans women.
What really disgusted me was that these men would choose the Paris Sevens, such a rare and special moment in our achievements as South Africans, to soil the event.
On the field we saw what we could yet become as a great nation; in the stands we saw what holds us back.
They remind us of yesterday. They drag us down. They open up old wounds. They explain events like Coligny without the need to say more.
We did this for the country, the coach and players said after the series win. We should thank them for infusing us with hope and not hatred.