Melanie Verwoerd: Our response to the Springboks victory shows we're more united than divided

The celebrations we've seen since Saturday didn't just suddenly get resurrected when we won the Rugby World Cup. Our desire to be one nation has persisted since 1994, despite a few very hard knocks, writes Melanie Verwoerd.

I wasn't going to write about the rugby. After all, what can be possibly be said that has not been said already? Then a day ago, I got a text from a friend. "Please write about how we keep the spirit of RWC 2019 alive?" he pleaded.

This friend of mine has been particularly gloomy about South Africa's future. He is also a big rugby fan. Three days after the final he was still tearing up when talking about the match.

I have to admit I also shed more than a few tears on the day. I thought back to 1995. I was a member of Parliament then. On the day of the opening match in Cape Town, we had a morning session in the National Assembly. Frene Ginwala was in the Speaker's chair. As it got closer to lunch time, it suddenly became apparent that there was not a single man left in the House. In fact, I don't think there was a single man in the precinct. If ever there was a time for the women to launch a coup that would have been it.

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In 2007, I was living in Ireland and watched the final with a group of Irish supporters in a pub as South Africa lifted the trophy once again. As was the case this year, the Irish were delighted when we defeated the English.

This year, I was on a plane from Dubai when the match started. Luckily there was live streaming of the match on the plane. (Thank you, Emirates!) Let me tell you, a plane is a FUN place to watch such an important match. People went ballistic – much to the confusion of many of the foreign passengers.

Unfortunately we landed about 27 minutes into the match. The South Africans sprinted off the plane and once we had cleared customs it was half time. I got home in record time. With almost no cars on the road I was in time to see the second half and Siya Kolisi lifting the Webb Ellis trophy.

Afterwards I took a short stroll to my local café as cars were speeding by with our flag flying out of windows and the hooters sounding from every direction. It reminded me of the 1995 victory. Like then, we were proud and we had reason to be. Funny memes flew around, people hugged each other and cried with joy.

Then Mbuyiseni Ndlozi of the EFF tweeted: "Congratulations to Siya Kolisi… the rest go get your congratulations from Prince Harry." This of course set off a series of very nasty tweets.

Sigh!

A lot can be said and questioned about this tweet – such as why only Kolisi and not all the other black players – but let's leave that. Ndlozi's tweet raised something that I have been thinking of for a long time.

I don't believe that we are as divided as the politicians (and many match commentators) would like us to think. On a human, person-to-person level I think most South Africans not only want to get on with their lives, but also care deeply about their countrymen and women – irrespective of race.

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The celebrations we saw from all corners of our society didn't just suddenly get resurrected when we won the Rugby World Cup. Our desire to be one nation has persisted since 1994, despite a few very hard knocks.

Of course we have horrible racists in our country (as there are in almost all countries in the world). It also goes without saying that we have inhumane inequalities which are largely along racial lines. These HAVE to be addressed.

However, on a personal level, I believe most South Africans want to get along. Of course it doesn't suit many politicians and political parties to allow us to live harmoniously. As was the case under apartheid, it is far easier to create fear and hatred than to come up with workable solutions to deal with our inequalities.

The same was true for example in Northern Ireland. For many years after the Good Friday Agreement was signed political parties tried to retain the politics of hatred and division. Ultimately though, the people were fed-up with violence and ignored the politicians, to the point where the politicians and their parliament became largely irrelevant.

Fearmongering politicians in our country could easily suffer the same fate.

Last night I was watching an episode of "Madam Secretary" on TV. At the end Téa Leoni's character gave a beautiful speech which I belief is apt as we contemplate how we can take Saturday's joy and sense of patriotism forward. She said:

"Even more dangerous than nuclear weapons is… hatred. Blind hatred that one group can have for another. I believe nationalism is the existential danger of our time. Nationalism is not the same as patriotism. It is a perversion of patriotism. Nationalism [and racism – my addition] promotes the idea that inclusivity and diversity represent weakness. That the only way to succeed is to give supremacy to one race over all others.

"Patriotism is about building each other up and embracing our diversity as a source of our nation's strength. Our heroes did not die [play] for a race or region. They died [played] for the ideals enshrined in our Constitution. Look where isolationism has got us in the past. Never again can we go back to those dark times when fear and hatred, like a contagion infected our world.

"We must never lose sight of our common values and our common decency."

What was highlighted again on Saturday was that most of us share a common identity, common values and common decency. Let's take that forward with us and ignore those politicians who want us to believe otherwise.

- Melanie Verwoerd is a former ANC MP and South African Ambassador to Ireland.

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