Jou Ma se Provinceby Nick Pawson / 19.03.2012
During the opening weekend of Super Rugby last month, you would have been impressed by the amount of yellow-clad supporters cheering on the Hurricanes at Newlands. Although, if you rubbed shoulders with these passionate ‘New Zealanders’, you may have noticed that they don’t say “fush end chups” in that feral Kiwi vernacular. For decades, travelling New Zealand teams have enjoyed significant local support in Cape Town – a portion of the Cape community who side with the All Blacks in test matches, and New Zealand franchises during Super Rugby.
Newlands consistently gets more bums on seats at Super Rugby and Currie Cup matches than any other rugby stadium in SA, because rugby tends to reach a larger and more diverse fanbase in the Mothercity. The coloured community boast some of the most die-hard rugby fans in the country. But within this community lies an interesting paradox – a group of fans who staunchly support the New Zealand teams that play against the Stormers, or the Springboks.
The roots of this support, are buried deep in our apartheid history. During the bad old days, non-whites were prevented from playing “the national sport”. The All Blacks on the other hand have been fielding Maori players for almost a century, and the New Zealanders (not their government or rugby administrators) were the strongest opponents to the Springboks’ all-white rugby policy. Since the first tour in 1921, Springbok tours to New Zealand were met with increasing protest and demonstration, until the eventual rugby boycott of the 1980s. (This proud history of New Zealand anti-apartheid rugby activism was recently captured in an excellent seven part documentary series called Have You Heard from Johannesburg that recently aired on SABC TV).
For fighting in the corner of those oppressed by the apartheid system, for all those years, the New Zealand franchises still enjoy support from many South Africans – especially those who were actively involved in the anti-apartheid struggle. Look at the images of Kiwi activists aggressively confronting the police in support of the cultural boycott, then add the fact that the Kiwis play some of the world’s best rugby and that, for a long time, rugby in South Africa was the preserve of white, Afrikaner nationalism and it’s easy to understand why large swathes of South Africa’s coloured, rugby-loving community still support the New Zealand teams. Especially considering that loyalty to a specific sports team, be it Manchester United or the All Blacks, does not simply wash out with a new dispensation.
Today, many young fans insist that they just prefer the New Zealand product. The Crusaders for example – who hold seven Super Rugby titles – play a seductive brand of rugby. And they win, a lot. The Crusaders and Hurricanes are particularly popular in the underprivileged Cape communities, where they make a point of hosting regular coaching clinics whenever they stop over in the city. Whichever way you look at it, there are strong examples of loyalty returning loyalty. And it’s not necessarily a bad or “treasonous” thing, as some of the stauncher South African rugby supporters will have you believe.
Fortunately, the Stormers have won the hearts of the majority of Cape Town’s rugby census. With stars like Gio Aplon, Juan de Jongh, Bryan Habana and new loose forward prodigy Siya Kolisi, it’s hard to say that Western Province rugby is not representative – although national government will be on SARU’s back for some time about what they perceive as a slow rate of transformation in the game. And while it’s impossible to please all the people all of time. With three wins out of three, the Stormers are at least giving their fans some compelling reasons to stick with them.
Interestingly enough, the biggest dispute currently being argued in Cape rugby circles is whether or not to transfer from Newlands to a new base at the Cape Town Stadium in Green Point. Last Thursday Cape Town Mayor Patricia de Lille, and Western Province President, Tobie Titus, revealed that they have started the “process” which could result in the eventual move. Ironically, the biggest sticking point is the 92 rugby clubs governed by the Western Province – clubs which mostly come from underprivileged areas – that want rugby to stay at the historic Newlands ground, for all its sins.
*Images courtesy Have You Heard from Johannesburg by Clarity Films.