Jacob Harbron | Student Contributor
South Africa, Apartheid, and rugby have a powerfully intertwined history.
The shadow of Apartheid and its effects still loom over South Africa today. Millions of black South Africans were forcibly removed from their homes. From 1960 to 1980 alone, 3.5 million individuals were removed from their land based on race. From 1948 to the early 1990s, this injustice devastated South Africa.
With the election of Nelson Mandela, it would accumulate to what is the essential ending of Apartheid in South Africa. But the effects of years upon years of segregation and hate would not simply disappear with that election.
The sport of rugby would create an ample opportunity for a nation to unify in the midst of a time full of anger.
In 1994 with Mandela’s election, he would decide to get fully behind the Springbok rugby team, the nation’s national rugby team. In the years prior to then, rugby was radically segregated which caused a cultural rift between whites and blacks in South Africa regarding rugby.
So, in this context watching Mandela, as a black South African, support this team that for so many years pushed blacks away from rugby would feel like a stab in the back to many. Mandela knew this but he saw the potential for something even better out of this sport; he saw unity. He would meet with Francois Pienaar, the captain of the South African team, many times, building a friendship with him.
In the 1995 World Rugby Cup tournament, South Africa would come in as a ninth seed to the tournament to play against Australia, which had not lost a game in 12 months. They would go on to upset Australia 27 to 18 in the tournament. Not only this but they would then make it to the finals against New Zealand. In the first half, the score would go to 9-6 with South Africa leading after 45 minutes. 45 minutes later at the end of the second half, the score would be 9-9 leading to extra time.
In this extra time, South Africa would score with New Zealand scoring a dropkick back leading to a score of 12-12. With seven minutes left South Africa would score a drop kick giving them the lead to win the World Rugby Cup as a ninth seed.
Mandela would give a speech after the cup game saying, “Sports can create hope, where once there was only despair. It is more powerful than governments in breaking down racial barriers. It laughs in the face of all types of discrimination.”
This world cup game didn’t just bring fame to the South African team, but it brought the entire country of South Africa together to cheer on the Springboks. No matter whether they were black or white, they celebrated the victory of their team and their country. It is truly a beautiful story of perseverance and unity in the midst of a time of extreme hardship.
So where does this all fit in for Taylor University?
Our country is one that today struggles with racism in many different ways; we struggle with division over politics, and it seems we find so many ways to divide ourselves.
I agree with Mandela when I think of the opportunity sports give us as a university and as a country. It gives us an opportunity to be unified and gives us hope when there was only despair.
I know rugby has done that for me; it’s given me a brotherhood of men that I get to go into battle with every day.
“Rugby has brought me into a fellowship of brothers in Christ, who are there for each other, both on and off the pitch,” said sophomore Joe Pawley, captain of the men’s rugby team.
Sport is a unifier. Time and time again throughout history, it's provided a space for people of radically different backgrounds and beliefs to unite over a common interest or a common goal.
And it can be the same here.
“Rugby has brought me a family who will stand behind me and beside me when I am struggling and celebrate with me when I triumph,” said junior Grace Kerton-Johnson, captain of the women’s rugby team.
Sport gives us a beautiful fellowship different from many things in life. What I leave you with as a reader is an invitation to check out this beautiful sport that is rugby. Men have practices Tuesday, Wednesday, and Friday at 4:30-6 p.m. and we would love to share this sport with you.