Siya Kolisi & the national question

Now that Siya Kolisi is the first black Springbok captain to lift the Webb Ellis trophy, political cynics and pseudo-radicals dismiss this as meaningless. They insist this euphoria does nothing to return the land or bring about economic equality. No doubt the question of land dispossession and economic injustice continues to haunt South Africa 25 years into freedom and democracy.

There was a time when fighting for the land was both exciting and tempting. Almost every politically conscious young person desired to pick up arms in the name of Struggle.

Yes, there was a time when carrying guns and planting bombs in restaurants was considered more worthwhile to chasing rugby or soccer balls on the field or becoming rich and famous. But not anymore.

Young black men are tired of the Struggle and just want to live, work, play and laugh. Frankly, they now desire to make the best of the bad, to live their lives, work, raise a family and retire at 55.

Even if they want to contribute to the Struggle of Andile Mngxitama or Julius Malema, the desire dissipates because all they have seen and experienced is nothing but empty promises and betrayal.

Kolisi and Makazole Mapimpi have spoken openly and honestly about how they grew up in poverty, unemployment, hunger and dehumanising circumstances.

In all their utterances, there was no mention of the Struggle in the political sense.

These are young men who have not yet reached 30 years. They were born when Nelson Mandela and the Rivonia Trialists were free and the liberation movement was unbanned.

The Springboks touched down in SA on Tuesday November 5 2019 after their 32-12 win over England in the Rugby World Cup final in Yokohama, Japan. The squad arrived at Johannesburg's OR Tambo International Airport, where thousands of South Africans were waiting for them - proving once again that the country will always back our boys.

The dawn of freedom and democracy should have flung open the gates of opportunity to make it easier for them to fulfill their ambitions. But they had, at an early age, to learn to break out of poverty and hopelessness through sheer self-determination and whatever little help they could get from friends and caring individuals.

For decades, young black boys were blackmailed to think the return of the land and economic equality are a prerequisite for personal fulfillment, joy and happiness.

Those who did not fall for this political gimmick were criticised and condemned by armchair intellectuals and fake politicians who live and enjoy life to the full while talking too much about land dispossession and economic justice.

Over the past few years the land issue has found way to be part of social conversation and petty bickering. The politically sober fully understand why. South Africa is the most unequal society on earth.

But to dismiss Kolisi's historic victory as meaningless to political advancement and transformation is disingenuous. Political tricks are played on how young black men must give up their dreams, aspirations, hopes and, above all, happiness and joy to prioritise the land issue above personal interest. No doubt, the issue of land dispossession and economic inequality remains central to the ultimate resolution of the national question.

What needs to be understood is that the life of political leaders, public servants and corporate professionals has made it clear that there is absolutely nothing wrong with striving for immediate rewards, including money and happiness. This is a class whose life makes the statement that it is possible, nay, preferable, to enjoy life and, above all, be happy even if the land has not yet been returned. Their attitude has been Ses'fikile - we have arrived. Pursuing the interests of people can wait.

It is really unfair to expect a black captain bringing the World Rugby Cup back to SA to be burdened with the political responsibility for the return of the land. That is not his mission.

Kolisi and Mapimpi are living examples of how taking full responsibility of your life to fulfill your dream can give you and the nation happiness, no matter how fleeting it may be. It does not mean indifference to black suffering and misery in the face of a ruthless capitalist economic system.

In fact, it only holds the promise that if South Africans work together towards a common vision they can, ultimately, build a just and equal society.

The greatest lesson offered by Kolisi lifting the Webb Ellis Cup is that everything we achieve or fail to achieve is a direct result of what we choose to do or not to do in our little corners.

The land has not been distributed among all who live and work in it simply because people delegated with that responsibility have failed to do so.

Maybe gaining access to land and economic justice means that future Kolisis and Mampisis will be able to do what they were born to do: focus on personal fulfillment to be happy and thus contribute to happy nation building.

But lifting the Ellis Webb Cup shows that to fulfill your dream, it may not matter whether you come from a large farm or a township matchbox. What is important is where you want to go and the work you are willing to do to achieve that.

It is up to the politicians and those that monopolise the land to speed up the process of land distribution and building a just and equal society. Dismissing and criticising a black captain for winning the World Rugby Cup is just not helpful.

Sport provides an inspirational example of how setting goals, working as a team and sharing a common vision can turn a nation into victors. We celebrate with Kolisi and team for lifting the Webb Ellis Cup.

Memela is a writer, cultural critic and public servant. He writes in his personal capacity

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