As the Springboks celebrated their astounding Rugby World Cup win on Saturday, 28 October, President Cyril Ramaphosa was standing next to Siya Kolisi as the captain held the Web Ellis Cup aloft.
A few moments later, Ramaphosa held one side of the trophy and then both – holding it to the sky like one of the jubilant players. As the camera panned up and over the crowd of excited Springboks in that Paris stadium, was the man who had engineered all of it. From installing Kolisi as the country’s first black Springbok captain, to winning the World Cup in Japan in 2019, the British and Irish Lions series, and now a historic back-to-back rugby win, it was because of Rassie Erasmus.
On South Africa’s kant
There he was, standing at the back, eschewing the glory and letting the players – deservedly – bask in the limelight. Not so much our non-practising president, who held a family meeting the following Monday night (October 30). It ended up being more of an ANC election manifesto than the Springbok congratulations it was billed as.
“We are making progress in the fight against corruption, including bringing those responsible for state capture to justice,” Ramaphosa said, after the usual platitudes that the “determination and resilience of our teams have given credence to Madiba’s words that sports unites the nation”.
Ramaphosa crowed that the NPA’s Investigating Directorate has taken 34 state capture and corruption cases to court.
And yet, in Stade de France, standing next to the president throughout that historic World Cup final was Sports Minister Zizi Kodwa – a man who the Zondo commission said should be sacked for his unethical conduct with former EOH executive Jehan Mackay.
“The commission accordingly recommends that the president considers the position of Mr Kodwa as deputy minister of state security having regard to the fact that Mr Kodwa appears to find himself in a position where he is beholden by Mr Jehan Mackay,” Chief Justice Raymond Zondo wrote in his report. “Mr Kodwa is beholden by Mr Jehan Mackay to whom he owes more than R1.7m. On his own version, this is a debt which he cannot immediately repay.”
So much for holding his ANC inner circle accountable.
What that tells South Africa, is you can take a nearly R2m “loan” from a controversial “friend” trying to score government contracts and then be rewarded with a deputy and minister role afterwards. This includes a business class trip to Paris and five-star hotels that you and I are paying for, and no doubt a lot of champagne.
Like most sporting events, the Rugby World Cup – and the concurrent cricket competition – have reminded us why X / Twitter is still a useful and relevant social platform. The person who seems to have clocked this is Erasmus himself. Part of the genius strategy to win back-to-back finals has been to tone down the outspoken director of rugby’s criticism of referees – which he clearly achieved.
How else would the world have discovered that England flanker Tom Curry isn’t a “white c**t” but just can’t understand Afrikaans? A youthful Twitter sleuth found the exact moment that Bongi Mbonambi screams the Afrikaans phrase “wyd kant”.
Curry’s sour grapes – and arguably narcissistic ego that led him to believe Mbonambi took time in the heat of a frantic World Cup semi-final to insult the flank – prompted a frankly glorious embrace of this humble Afrikaans word. Even Ramaphosa’s office found its funny bone to conclude the government’s congratulatory statement that the famous “Webb Ellis [trophy] is in South Africa’s kant!!”.
If only politicians worked as hard as our sports heroes, instead of taking all the credit and the limelight. That’s the kantry we need.
This column first appeared in the Daily Maverick