Planet Rugby

Letter of the Week

09th December 2013 13:04

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Planet Rugby readers are never short of a voice and our mailbox is seldom empty. This week, a South African reader argues for the Springbok number 6 jersey to be permanently retired!

Got an opinion? We'd like to hear it, so why not send an email to: planetrugby_opinions@teamtalkmedia.com

The Springboks' Greatest No. 6
-By Hagan de Villiers

It was June of 1995 in South Africa. Nelson Mandela was our first truly democratically elected president and the long, slow process of a nation healing was finally under way.

But it wasn't the stuff of storybooks. We weren't quite the Rainbow Nation yet. The untenable human rights violations that occurred during Apartheid left a legacy of enduring pain and sorrow.

It was a difficult time to live in South Africa. A necessary time. But the healing was hard and no one was really certain of our future. Some would even say that we teetered on the brink of civil war.

Somehow, our country hosted the Rugby World Cup that year. Even more surprisingly, a mediocre Springbok team beat France in the semis and earned the right to face the mighty All Blacks in the Final. It was more than any Springbok fan could have hoped for. But it was not what all South Africans had hoped for.

Many black South African rugby fans had supported the All Blacks during the Apartheid era. A snub to the government, and rightly so. Rugby in South Africa was thought of as a white man's sport - the Apartheid sport of the Afrikaaner. There was a great deal of tension and debate surrounding the Springbok emblem. And consequently, the Springbok's didn't have a nation behind them.

That was, until Nelson Mandela changed everything. And I remember the moment clearly. By pulling on the No. 6 Springbok jersey, in an instant, with one beautiful gesture, he showed all South Africans what it would take to heal our damaged country: unconditional forgiveness and love.

To say it was cathartic is an understatement. It meant everything to everyone. And it was while reliving those memories the day after his passing that this silly, controversial and potentially polarizing idea occurred to me:

What if the South African Rugby Union permanently retired the No. 6 Springbok jersey in honour of Madiba's immeasurable contribution to South Africa?

Now, I know this will cause some problems for some people. There will be fierce debate. There will be arguments. Heck, we're South African, there might even be a fist fight.

What number would replace it? Will it be left blank? What about future players that want the number? Are we depriving them? Will the IRB even allow it?

I don't have any of those answers, but I do like to think that a bunch of rugby fans from all walks of life, all races and religions coming together to figure out a solution that will make everyone happy is precisely what Nelson Mandela would want. That's the stuff of storybooks. That's the story of his life.

If you agree with this idea, I could really use your support. My plan is to garner as many names as possible and then approach SARU and the IRB to consider it. Please go to "Madiba No. 6" on Facebook to Like and Share it:

Thank you.

Viva Madiba!

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