I’m sitting with my feet up on the second floor of a holiday flat, overlooking the Indian ocean at the Strand. The sense of blissful content I feel gently rolling through my body is not only attributed to the rolling waves, the white sand and the carefree gliding of a few seagulls against the blue sky. I am still savouring that which, in the words of former South African captain dr Ali Bacher, is the greatest moment in South African test cricket history.
Speaking telephonically to Supersport after the victory, the former SA Cricket boss was notably moved with emotion and nostalgia as he recalled his own team’s victory over Australia in 1970/71. Player after player said that they were over the moon and speechless – having just described the match at great length.
South Africa had to chase down 414 runs, the second biggest total in test history and the biggest on Australian soil, to take a 1 – 0 lead in the series. This dream, to beat the number 1 team in the world in their own backyard, came true thanks to a captain’s innings century by Graeme Smith, another brilliant century by AB de Villiers (106 not out) and a stylish 50 not out by the debutant JP Duminy.
As the sun is setting now, the narrow cloud bank above the horizon is lined by ‘n thin golden-red lining running across the hazy blue silhouette of the Cape peninsula. It’s amazing how sporting victories can lift people’s emotions and sometimes even inspire a nation to achieve great things.
The first time I experienced that was when the Springboks won the 1995 rugby world cup. I was a youth worker in Cape Town at the time. The pastor’s garage was packed as we watched the final on a big screen. I will never forget that moment when Joel Stransky landed that drop goal in extra time to beat the mighty All Blacks. It was as if someone had flipped a switch and the whole country errupted with energy. A friend and I got into his car and drove through the streets of Cape Town, going from bar to bar. Everywhere people were dancing, singing, laughing, celebrating.
The theme song that night was Queen’s “We are the champions”. Everywhere we went people were standing to attention, singing it proudly with their hands on their chests, almost like a national anthem. As we approached the city centre it was clear that the real celebrations were happening out there on the streets of the drug ridden red light zone. It was chaos – mad, pulsating, jubilant, almost violent, ecstatic chaos. As we slowly turned into a mob of celebration I remember getting scared because some people were starting to rock the car. I had my new South African flag sticking out the window. The next moment it was gone. Someone had broken it off.
A month or two ago while strolling through a bookshop I came across a book written about that special day. Unfortunately I can’t remember the title or the author, but it was about the ’95 world cup and about the role of sport in reconciliation. The writer related in the first few pages how he was discussing the idea of the book with former president Nelson Mandela and how Madiba’s face lit up when he mentioned the moment he came onto the field wearing the captain’s number 6 jersey, and how he immediately said “I know exactly what you mean!”
I clearly remember what that reconciliatory gesture did to me. Suddenly I felt part of the new South Africa, no longer was I just a white man enjoying a white man’s elite sporting victory. I was a South African, dancing to the rhythm of Africa, celebrating the birth of the rainbow nation because we had just beaten the most powerful rugby team on earth.
I draw inspiration from our sporting heroes. Somehow I believe more in my own abilities when I see them perform well… and I love watching people who are good at what they do, people who have mastered any skill, art form or sporting discipline and who are passionate about what they do. If they are making history it’s even more special and if it’s South Africa’s test cricket team beating Australia in Australia I’m also over the moon and speechless…