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by Gerhard Papenfus

For the Springboks to have won the rugby world cup, certain elements were vitally important to make that possible. These elements are important for success in all spheres of life.

In the case of the Springboks, these vital qualities included a shared focus, a coach with a unified coaching team; a common approach in respect of plan and style of play, based on a sound strategy and playing according to the team’s strengths and weaknesses. It included the freedom to select the best team – without exception, regardless of race. It required hard work, discipline and the sacrifice of self, all for the sake of the country they love. All of this taking place in an environment of trust.

These rugby ambassadors in Japan – coaching staff and players – have shown what can be achieved if people of different colour and background work together towards one goal. They have shown that these attributes, practiced for months prior to the world cup and displayed during the tournament, can make South Africa a global winner, a beacon of light.

These attributes enabled the Springboks to beat the wealthiest rugby nation, with the largest pool of rugby players in the world.

As a result of both the unity displayed within this squad, and their successes, the whole of South Africa united behind the Springboks.

Unfortunately, there is a flip side to this coin; the scenario currently unfolding in South Africa, the one reflected upon in somewhat shocking detail by Minister Tito Mboweni in his budget speech last week; a South Africa which, far from winning, is actually in a process of accelerated decline.

The day before the Springboks and South Africa’s glory and jubilation, Moody’s changed its outlook on the government of South Africa from stable to negative with an expectation to downgrade to junk status in the not too distant future, if the government fails to arrest the deterioration of its finances.

Why is the one winning and the other one losing?

If the Springboks’ campaign in Japan was to be based on the South African ‘transformation model’, they would not have won a single game. Even worse, they would have suffered record defeats.

Not only would the ‘selection’ model have caused the deprivation of talent, it would have resulted in unmerited entitlement and strife, which would have destroyed any chance of uniting the players. Government’s ‘coaching manual’, after all, promotes an attitude of “profound self-interest”, not only between the different positions in the team, but also along racial- and factional lines. The potential of certain ‘players’ is deliberately undermined; even if they want to make a positive contribution, they are prevented from doing so. As if this is not sufficiently destructive, ‘players’ even practice to eliminate each other.

It is within this context that it is no wonder that ‘team South Africa’ keeps on losing. In this ‘game’ territory is important but, since ‘teammates’ play against one another, no territory is gained, the ‘advantage line’ is never crossed. The ‘team dynamics’ and its ultimate consequence is described in Matt. 12:25: “Every kingdom divided against itself will be ruined, and every city divided against itself will not stand.”

This is a universal truth which we cannot escape. It lies at the root why we simply fail to get it right. As a result of policies and attitudes that divide, the performance of South Africa is among the worst in the world. Unless this is changed, the current downward trajectory will continue.

If retribution was incorporated as part of the Springboks’ game plan, they would have been nowhere in this world cup. If their strategy included the marginalisation or even elimination of some players, the team would have been an embarrassment.

The Springboks succeeded because they embraced the philosophy of “StrongerTogether”. Instead of causing diversity to be a dividing factor, it became this team’s strength. The coaching staff made a difference because they broke away from the coaching model of the past. They have set an example for all of us to follow.

Let us replicate the approach of TeamSA in Japan here in South Africa. Let us learn from them that you cannot fix the past by repeating past mistakes. A winning culture is not based on the unproductive tactics contained in the old ‘coaching manual’. The same issues which are currently pulling South Africans apart, can, if utilised wisely, become our strength; if we are prepared to fundamentally change our attitude – and that applies to all of us.


Quotes from the world cup:

“Thank you South Africa: we can achieve anything if we work together as one.”
Siya Kolisi

“We were a tight unit.”
Duane Vermeulen

Matthew Pearce, Super Sport commentator:

The Springboks were “united in their vision; united in their success.”

“… a team that in its diversity has brought more viewers to this sport. … a team with many mother tongues and backgrounds, but a team that celebrates its differences, its diversity, and has used it as a powerful force for success; a team that has proved that in an environment where many has seeked to divide us, we are indeed StrongerTogether.”
“A country that so desperately need to smile collectively and cohesively has been given an emphatic reason to do so.”

Gerhard Papenfus is the Chief Executive of the National Employers’ Association of South Africa (NEASA).

NEASA Media Department

Privileged and challenged to be South African.
We are all in this together.