The Agony and the Ecstasy

by belinda

So we won the Rugby World Cup huh. Who would have thought? One minute this country is in despair and devoid of hope, and the next minute we’re ecstatic. This is the dichotomy of living here. It’s why people struggle to live anywhere else, because love it or hate it, there is nowhere else that makes you feel more alive. Is this a “normal” way to live? Veering from agony towards ecstasy within a few days? I doubt it. But what is normal anyway?

There are basic things we want for a well functioning society and South Africa is devoid of many (most?) of them. But watch how we come together to celebrate something like winning a sporting championship and you catch a glimpse of what we could be, of our potential, and this feeling rushes through our veins and through our hearts. It swells our loyalty once again, even though we know pragmatically that our old problems still exist. That none of them have gone away. But still, you see what could be achieved, if the right people were leading us, and if we worked together. And you can’t help but get addicted to that feeling, and a little bit excited. That tiny glimpse at a shining future that may just be within our reach.

The other thing about a country like this, is that it builds exceptional people. I’ve been privileged to interview some through my job and I can tell you that many of their stories have brought me to tears. Siya is another example of this. And while we should certainly be inspired by the mighty captain’s rise, let it not dull us to the fact that it’s not true to think that mere hard work can help every South African follow a similar trajectory. Children shouldn’t have to go hungry, and we shouldn’t sit back and say that if Siya can do it, then every child can do it, because that is completely unfeasible and limiting, as this article articulates. Society needs to change, and we need to change it, so that all of our citizens are safe, loved, educated and supported.

We went to see the Springboks on Monday, on the final leg of their Champions’ tour of the country, as they travelled around the streets of Cape Town on an open top bus. We took our 6-year-old and let me tell you that when I am old and grey(er), I will remember the way his face lit up, and how his eyes shone with admiration, and how his little chest puffed out when he met a few of his heroes.

They were all so gracious and friendly (Beast especially!), given how exhausted they must be, and they seemed to radiate positivity, or perhaps that was just their bright yellow shirts;). When Siya arrived to board the bus I saw him shake every single player’s hand and give them a man hug, and there looked to be these very strong connections between them all, which is not surprising given what they have gone through over the past few months. It made me want to bottle up that connection and replicate it wherever we can, because they looked like more than teammates – they looked like brothers.

Watching them in that final was like reading poetry or listening to music. Our hearts did the same thing, rising and falling with each note, or word. I don’t know a lot about rugby, but I have spent many years watching it, and it was clear to see that something clicked in that final game, that they were playing on instinct, passing the ball to places they KNEW their team mates would be, without even looking. This is an instinct that is honed through countless hours of practise and strategy and it was magic to witness it. They were playing for more than just sport and watching their defence, you could see that. This wasn’t rugby, this was like a war. It was also a glimpse at greatness.

After we won the game, we went out to a bar crammed with South Africans of all ages and races and we sang We Are the Champions of the World at the top of our voices (twice) and we danced on tables and hugged strangers. It was euphoric. And perhaps we only feel quite so euphoric because of how low and drained we have felt this year, needing any bit of hope to cling to in the wild seas of a country we call home.

When it was time to head back from our night out, I looked for my phone in my bag, only to find that it had been stolen. Along with three of my friends’ phones too. A classic South African story, really. In the midst of our celebrating, we were prime targets for expert pick pockets. Perhaps I am desensitised to crime (and I know that I am also lucky to have things like insurance and a cellphone contract), but I wasn’t even that bothered. I blacklisted my phone, and then discovered I was due a free upgrade. Plus all my stuff was backed up. C’est la vie.

I suppose the question is how do we live a balanced life within the constructs of this wild swinging of our emotions? How do we deal with inner turmoil when faced with both joy and despair, so regularly? I don’t have the answers, having lived here for around 30 of my 40 years. I don’t feel like I get any better at it either, or that much wiser. I just know that my love for this country and its people is often difficult to verbalise, but that I saw it echoed on that rugby field that day, in the heroes we met on Monday, and in the faces of the fans that adore them. And maybe that’s enough for now.




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Jo November 14, 2019 - 6:51 pm

Brilliantly put … the highs and lows of living in South Africa are truly unique!

stephanie videira November 16, 2019 - 5:42 pm

So true


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