CATO LOUW: 'Die Bok leef' - The Mother City's emotional gift to our rugby champs
The Rugby World Cup Winning Springboks made their way triumphant victory lap through Cape Town.
The two busses bedecked with the words ‘CHAMPIONS 2023’ packed with the squad and their families slowly made their way past ecstatic fans. As the media bus trailed behind, there were three young girls sitting on top of a car’s roof in Loop Street, completely overwhelmed with emotions.
“Are you okay?” we asked. And all they managed to get out amongst the waves of tears is, “I just love the Bokke so much”.
It’s almost unbelievable to think that one team made this come true for our nation. I say almost, because what Siya Kolisi and the team consistently do is to prove that the seemingly impossible is in fact possible, and therefore believable. Attainable, almost.
They are real. The mammoth men of the mighty Bok squad are real.
Damian Willemse blowing kisses to the crowd, Eben Etzebeth in his Viking cut encouraging a group of men to cheers and have a sip of beer as he does the same. Ox “Salads-Don’t-win-Scrums,” Nche signing shirts and rugby balls as they get chucked at the bus from every angle. These men are real, and that means the ‘magic’ we all witness from afar is real.
What got to us on the media side of things Friday were the unforgettable scenes as we were leaving the city. We already knew the routes had been blocked off for safety. In my mind, because we were heading onto Nelson Mandela Boulevard highway, we would see only a few fans until we got to the next stop. That was not the case.
What followed was unbelievable.
Overpasses were stacked with people, with cars parked on the side of the road. It was like a scene out of an apocalypse. An awesome, benign apocalypse, though. One you choose to be a part of, if that even exists.
On the opposite side of the oncoming traffic, cars were at a standstill. People were hanging out of their vehicles, honking hooters that almost drowned out the sound of persistent police escort sirens; thousands of South African flags and huge smiles - pure flippen joy! It hit me right in the feels, as they say.
There was not one part of the road to Langa and Bonteheuwel that didn’t have some form of celebration on it. South Africans were hoping for just one glimpse of the World Cup winners.
As much as people wanted to physically see the Bok team in real life for pictures or videos, and to say “I was there”, I also got the feeling - and this is what I believe stirred the players’ emotions and mine, again - that this is how they wanted to say "Thank you" to the team, and pay tribute.
Residents in the community of Bonteheuwel are waiting patiently for the #Boks to arrive. Making their way from Langa, the bus is surrounded by scores of people struggling to contain their excitement pic.twitter.com/GD2A2z9k5o' EWN Reporter (@ewnreporter) November 3, 2023
I felt a lot of pride and gratitude from the crowd. And the crowd oozed that feeling of being at school and spotting your parent in the crowd when you’re on stage after receiving an award. Seeing them smiling back at you with tears in their eyes knowing how hard you worked for it.
That’s when you really feel proud, which makes it feel like you’ve achieved something great.
And then, Jesse Kriel got the Langa crowd going with a Gwijo song, pointing and singing “Zumpe-yaaaah”. Hordes of people ran as close to the bus as they could while belting it at the top of their lungs.
We were trailing just a couple of meters behind the team bus. At the back was Etzebeth, who every now and then between his waving shook his head in absolute disbelief and wonder while peering out to the sea of fans.
This quality of love from the crowd is indescribable, no matter how many times you may imagine it and listen to the many changeroom speeches of “We play for something bigger than ourselves”. Witnessing it firsthand is remarkable, and not something they are taking for granted.
Bonteheuwel was just as vocal - families were standing on top of their houses, on fences, kids were in trees, grown men scaling a traffic light to get eye level with their heroes. Constant cheers of “Vier keer! Vier keer!” driving home the rugby history that was made and how proud they were of the Springboks winning four Rugby World Cups. The most victories of any team.
At one point, there were men in blue overalls that decided that to get the best view, they would use their crane. Putting work aside like 90% of the city, they hoisted themselves up, and that’s where they stood for the procession through the final leg of the Mother City victory parade.
The team were blown away. I was blown away. And talking to some of the media who were part of the parade in 2019, they said this year’s title took it to another level in terms of attendance and reaction from the crowd. They had never seen something like this either.
It was beautiful to get to witness both the individual players’ reactions and the fans that came out, some driving hours to get there in time. There was even one poster that read “Matric Finals < Watching the Boks”.
I know President Cyril Ramaphosa only declared 15 December as a Public Holiday, but it certainly felt like Capetonians had their 15th on the 3rd of November. The day, in terms of work, was a write-off in the best possible way.
My final thoughts after the day are that this Springbok team, led by coach Jacques Nienaber and captain, our captain, Siya, had to go to some dark places to win three incredibly tough games (amongst the other pool games) in this year’s World Cup before they could even start thinking of the glory that would follow.
The weight of critics and a nation was on them. Yes, they said they were not distracted, but that takes incredible discipline and focus. A dark, lonely place on the biggest stage in rugby.
This week, this “welcome back home” victory drive through the rainbow nation, accompanied by their families and every single individual fan shouting their names, getting tattoos, shedding tears of joy - is what I believe brought these players back to the light and warmth of home.
This gave them permission to let it all in after eight weeks of a grueling campaign. Warm and welcoming South Africa. Home.
To quote Bok fly-half Handre Pollard’s social media: “Die Bok leef!”
Thank you, enkosi, and dankie, Boks!