'The word 'bok' had come to Soweto'

 2017-11-09 12:13 PM by
'The word 'bok' had come to Soweto'

Proof of South Africa's "rainbow" revolution was palpable in 1995. It was good to be there. I was lumbered with the England team preparing in Durban, so had to miss South Africa's seminal opening match in Cape Town.

I conned a VIP invitation to the old fan-swirling colonial Royal Hotel where they had put up a wide screen and served just as royal a lunch, at 700 rand a head for the business nabobs of Natal - some 30 or so, mostly heavy-lidded Afrikaners and Brits, but also a number of Indians and Africans.

Over coffees, cigars, and even more vintage booze, the match on the screen took its course with the Springboks (against the champions Australia) playing with increasing skill and heart and valour . . . and as they did so, to a man this company in that ritzy darkened room, who had earlier seemed uneasy with themselves, were now contentedly, whoopingly, collectively rooting for the home side - their side.

When South Africa had won, the lights came up - and I caught one leathery old English-speaking millionaire wiping a tear from his eye and muttering, "Excuse me, I'm so happy I want to cry." Across the table, a plump African millionaire heard him and said softly, "So am I, and so do I." They left their seats, walked round the table and, with no other words necessary, embraced.

Later that evening, a friend of mine, Aggrey Klaaste, who was editor of the black township newspaper The Sowetan, rang me. He had also watched the match, at home on television with his four sons. It had been extremely strange, said Aggrey - he and his sons had begun enjoying the match, raucously rooting as usual for the Springboks' opponents - "but as the game developed, with the flags of our new nation fluttering all around and Mandela watching from the stands and all that, increasingly none of us could hide any more our delight at the way the South African team was playing. When they started bamboozling the Wallabies we began cheering for our fellows - heck, these guys were playing for us, we suddenly realised, and there must be some hope for this country after all if a little black family was cheering like crazy for the once-dreaded Springboks."

He told me to watch out for the headline of the next morning's Sowetan sports page. It read: "Amabokoboko!" Wow! The word "bok" had come to Soweto. It was good to be in on history.

(https://www.theguardian.com/sport/2003/oct/08/rugbyworldcup2003.rugbyunion1)