Johannesburg. South Africa’s stunning victory at the Rugby World Cup in Japan this year prompted a swathe of tributes across a country that has been knee-deep in unemployment and crime.
The sight of Siya Kolisi, the first black player to captain the Springboks at a World Cup let alone lift the Webb Ellis trophy, provided an iconic image that human rights leaders and the government would like to exploit over the coming months and years.
“What a fantastic achievement Siya Kolisi, (coach) Rassie Erasmus, and all the players and staff,” said Nobel Peace Prize winner Archbishop Desmond Tutu, a key mover - along with Nelson Mandela - of the end of apartheid in the early 1990s.
“You have achieved much more than winning a Rugby World Cup.
“You have restored a self-doubting nation’s belief. When we believe in ourselves we can achieve our dreams. Our father, Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela, is smiling from the heavens today.”
The significance of Kolisi captaining the team has not been lost.
South Africans were banned from the first two editions of the World Cup in 1987 and 1991 because of their apartheid system of government.
When that came to an end they were not only welcomed back into the rugby fraternity but awarded the 1995 edition to host.
The Springboks went on to beat New Zealand in the final which saw their white Afrikaner captain Francois Pienaar accept the trophy from Mandela who had been elected as the first black president a year earlier.
The only black player in the side was Chester Williams who sadly died just before this World Cup at the age of just 49.
When South Africa won in 2007, they were captained by another white player John Smit and the team contained just two black players - Bryan Habana and JB Pietersen.
“May this moment reinvigorate the hope of 1995 and inspire our nation to build a South Africa of Madiba’s dreams,” said the Nelson Mandela Foundation in a statement. (AFP)