Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Hop along springbok...maybe

How can an antelope cause so much passionate debate? It’s a simple hoofed creature, spending bucolic days on the veld with one eye on grass meals and the other on lounging lions.

We’re not discussing any old antelope. The hoofed mammal in question is the springbok, which has served as the emblem for South Africa’s national rugby team for 102 years. England has its rose. France has its rooster. South Africa has its springbok. Seems okay right? Like most things, it isn’t so black and white. Throughout the apartheid era, rugby was a white Afrikaners’ game, so the seemingly innocuous springbok became a visual manifestation of the oppressive apartheid regime. The South African national rugby team is now an integrated squad, but retains the springbok emblem, whereas all other South African nation sports teams have adopted the national flower (the king protea) as their emblem, which is seen as a more inclusive and less historically charged emblem.

The debate is confusing. Many white South Africans hope to retain the springbok, but so too do many notable black South Africans including Nobel Laureate Desmond Tutu and Bryan Habana (South African rugby player and 2007 world player of the year). On the flip side, some black South Africans understandably would prefer adopting the king protea emblem. So too would some white South Africans, including Luke Watson (current South African rugby player) who recently said he wants to vomit whenever he wears the springbok-emblazoned jersey.

There is no easy answer, especially when the springbok simultaneously represents so much: a century of sporting tradition and decades as an apartheid emblem.

John Carlin’s excellent Playing the Enemy: Nelson Mandela and the Game that Made a Nation discusses the inherent issues surrounding the springbok as well as depicting how Nelson Mandela forged a united South Africa through his support of the mid-1990s national rugby team.

1 comment:

La Princesse de Clèves said...

The New York times recently had an article on how more amd more African-Americans are playing rugby. See the online story at