South Africa: Rugby Playing Its Part in Transformation

Sport is still largely split along racial lines in South Africa. Football is considered a non-white sport and rugby is considered by many to be a game played by white South Africans. There have been many attempts at transforming these attitudes, but this year’s rugby Super 14 has proved to be the most significant step in nation building that South Africans have witnessed for a long while.

Bulls Fans in Soweto at the home of Orlando Pirates football club.

The Super 14, which started in 1996, is the largest rugby championship in the southern hemisphere, consisting of teams from Australia, New Zealand and South Africa. The fourteen sides all play against one another for fourteen weeks. Then, the teams in the top four places on the log enter a knockout phase. Two semi-finals are contested to decide the two finalists, which is played at the highest ranked winner’s home ground.

Loftus Versfeld is the home of the Bulls rugby team from Pretoria. This stadium is one of the official stadiums to be used at this year’s World Cup. One problem though: the Bulls have pulverized their way to the final rounds of the Super 14 and found themselves in a predicament. They could not use their own home ground for their semi final match against the Crusaders from New Zealand and the final against Cape Town’s Stomers. What did they do?

My family took a mini bus taxi to Soweto.
Photo source: Prisha Bhoola's family photo

As I’ve explained in my own blog, At Random, before the semi final on 22 May 2010:

The Bulls could have chosen any rugby stadium in Gauteng – but they chose Orlando stadium in Soweto. This is the home of Orlando Pirates and what is considered in South Africa as a traditional football (and mainly “black”) stronghold. And herein lays the tremendous significance. For many Bulls supporters, this will be their first visit to Soweto. Yes, sounds crazy, doesn’t it? Soweto is just an hour away from Pretoria but it is still considered a no-go area by many.

Pessimistincarnate reported on the semi final last week:

Renier and Ronnie Botha, from Centurion, said: “It has been a great experience and hopefully it will not be the last time the Bulls come here. It was our first time in Soweto and we have thoroughly enjoyed it. The park-and-ride was good and well organised. No complaints.”
Tshepo Moeti from Pimville, Soweto, said: “I usually watch rugby on TV. It was my first time at the stadium. It was really exciting and the fans were great.”
Piet van Zyl, who parked his car in Centurion, said: “I am very satisfied with the system and the stadium was brilliant.

Mhambi blogged:

While the Bulls may have found that Orlando is as intimidating as Loftus, if not more so, the players have now been invited to become part of the people of Soweto by struggle icon and former wife of Nelson Mandela, Winnie Madikizela-Mandela.

The ANC also came to the party with the following comments reported by the Mail&Gaurdian :

Congratulating the Stormers and the Bulls for making it to the final of the international competition, to be played at Orlando Stadium, the party said this would give Soweto residents another taste of the rugby experience, and white fans the chance to learn about the country's diversity.

ANC secretary general Gwede Mantashe, treasurer general Mathews Phosa and national executive committee member Winnie Madikizela-Mandela planned to attend.

“The ANC leadership hails the decision by the rugby sport leadership in scheduling this activity in Soweto. This gesture will go a long way in breaking the racial barriers that exist in the country and will heighten reconciliation and nation-building.”

Archbishop Desmond Tutu was also excited,

The decision by the powers that be at the Bulls, when their home ground became unavailable, to shift the match to Soweto rather than another more traditional rugby venue, should be applauded by all South Africans,

Rainbow Nation.
Photo source:

Perhaps Basha Pillay best sums up the current mood amongst South Africans:

5 years ago would you have believed that we would have seen a Super 14 semi final being played in Soweto in a sea of blue and hundreds of Vuvuzelas being blown? Makes me proud to be South African!!!

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