Springboks' victory presents challenge to the country's leadership

President Cyril Ramaphos lifts the Webb Ellis Cup with Springboks captain Siya Kolis.
President Cyril Ramaphos lifts the Webb Ellis Cup with Springboks captain Siya Kolis.
Image: Craig Mercer/MB Media/Getty Images

There are differing views about the significance of the Springbok's Rugby World Cup victory. This is to be expected in a plural society where there are varying opinions about the state of the nation.

That the victory has buoyed the spirits of many with optimism and inspired people to reflect more positively than usual on what it means to be South African is a fact that cannot be denied.

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Moments like these are important for any society, but more so for a young democracy still grappling with making the complete transition from a divided past to a united present and future.

Given the country's serious structural problems, moments of widespread confidence in SA Inc. are few and far between.

As such, this moment presents a challenge to the country's leadership, both in the public and private spheres, to deliver on the promise of an inclusive society.

It is patriotic to support a national team that competes on the world stage and to congratulate it and celebrate when it does well.

This is one of the few occasions when even politicians of different political colours sing harmoniously from the same sheet music.

The script didn't quite go that way this time around, as one Mbuyiseni Ndlozi took to Twitter to highlight that the Springbok victory should not distract from the real fact of a society out of step with each other.

Rallying behind a sports team produces a superficial form of societal cohesion. But wise leaders know how to extract deeper impressions from such moments.

Nelson Mandela demonstrated this in 1995. The Springbok victory then blew steam into his reconciliatory nation-building campaign of the fairly new nickname of Rainbow Nation. The Springboks have once again united South Africans for a moment. It is now up to President Cyril Ramaphosa and the sixth administration to give this victory substance.

Since the Mandela days, there have been mixed messages about the meaning of South Africanness.

As part of efforts to highlight the virtues of SA society since 1994, the two leading political parties - the ANC and the DA - are at pains to highlight that SA is becoming a country of equal opportunity.

This analysis is competing with the closely cherished feeling that things are becoming worse for Afrikaners and Africans.

Worse for Afrikaners because they feel they are being unfairly targeted by redress. Worse for Africans because they remain largely excluded from the social and economic dividends of freedom.

Some whites and Afrikaners see the need and value of redress but not all. Only a few Africans have benefited fully from the prospects of social mobility. The fact of constitutionally established legal and political equality is not as persuasive enough as it was in the earlier days of democracy to establish social cohesion.

The Twitter spat over the meaning of the Springbok victory is a microcosm of the weakening appeal of unity in diversity when the country remains polarised in attitude and lived experiences.

The sixth administration can only succeed to move society beyond this racial binary by comprehensive and convincing changes that can lead to social mobility for the majority of citizens.

Education and health need to start working for all. Redress and redistribution need to start prioritising the majority and not just the elite. Access to markets and opportunity needs to stop favouring existing beneficiaries. That requires decisive and visionary leadership.

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