Born in South Africa, dying black… Not everyone in South Africa supports the national rugby team

“We’ve been waiting for you!” Full of Box inside. » Vanessa Hearn is nervous and impatient. The 61-year-old, with long gray hair and a slim figure, doesn’t dare enter New Asia, a cavernous bar in downtown Port Elizabeth. It’s July 15, and supporters of the South African rugby team, the Springboks, are there to watch a match between their team and New Zealand during the Rugby Championship, a tournament that brings together the best teams in the southern hemisphere. Wrapped in a large black jacket with white embroidery “huge All Blacks fan”Vanessa Hearn feels very alone.

Out comes Charles Lottering, who is blamed for the delay. This ex-policeman exudes a sense of security with his legionary physique, arms like poles and a black beret screwed onto his 1.98m tall head. This mirror cabinet is one of three All Blacks fan clubs in Port Elizabeth. There are two more in Uitenhage, a city further north, two in the capital Pretoria and up to eight in Cape Town, described as “second country for New Zealanders”.

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There are a total of 21 clubs in South Africa with almost 40,000 members. Charles Lottering scans the interior of the bar he had chosen specifically to watch the match against his club in complete peace and quiet. Don’t worry, the whole floor is privatized.

About twenty of them meet in front of a huge screen. All are apparently dressed in black, personalized or homemade clothing. Some wave All Blacks flags, others mine the haka. When the New Zealand national anthem is played, everyone stands up and sings in unison. The audience is electric. The South Africans and the New Zealanders are great rivals, and each match makes a little more history for this confrontation, which celebrated its centenary in 2021.

Offensive Status “White of Honor”

But who was the first fan to turn his back on the national team? According to Russell Petersen, 61, vice-president of the All Black Supporters Association of South Africa (Saabsa), which was formed in 2015, it’s impossible to say. Russell’s father already owned the club “Friends of All Blacks” in the forties of the last century. “People supported the All Blacks even before apartheid [introduit en 1948]. Segregation only increased the number of supporters,” explains Russell Petersen, reached by phone from the seaside resort of Knysna, where the club is located.

Russell, Charles and many others are part of the Métis community known as colorful. She represents the majority of All Blacks supporters. The apartheid regime’s non-mixed policy systematically excluded mixed-race rugby players who wanted to play for the national team, such as Russell. “My heart and soul was with the Springboks, but that all ended because of apartheid and segregation.” he laments.

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At the same time, the All Blacks included non-white players and toured South Africa with four of them in 1970. The apartheid government assigned an abusive status to these colored visitors. “White of Honor”. Brian Williams, a dark-skinned Pacific Islander from New Zealand, scored 14 goals in 13 matches. The South African crowd, black and mixed race, who came to watch the matches, cheered from the corners of the stadium, where they are lowered to pitch level. New Zealand teaches its host a lesson.

The end of the apartheid regime in 1994 did not end racism and feelings of exclusion. Above all, some refuse to ignore this past that does not go away. ” We were treated inhumanely and now you want me to sit down [dans un stade] next to a white boss who mistreats our community, you want us to be patriotic, especially when it comes to rugby? », exclaims Jerry Seal, All Blacks fan and author of a book about sport during apartheid. He does not hesitate to compare South African rugby with “white man’s religion”. Charles Lottering, on the other hand, prefers to turn the page. “We’re not trying to get into that story. We like the way the All Blacks are playing, it’s not political anymore. he sweeps.

“Rugby is an aphrodisiac”

On 15 July, the New Zealanders delighted their supporters by beating South Africa 35 to 20. Charles then went to his car to remove the spring skin. Thrown to the ground, the skin is trampled. ” We killed the Boks, that’s what’s left of them.” Charles announces solemnly. Undaunted by the victory and a few beers, club members laugh. “Rugby is an aphrodisiac for us in South Africa, and even more so for All Blacks fans,” exclaims Jean Gentle.

Springbok fans in New Asia prefer to smile at the folklore of their countrymen. They mix with their competitors without hostility. “There is no problem between us, I have a lot of friends who are All Blacks fans. We all love rugby, it has to remain a priority. explains 63-year-old Gordan McCarthy, three layers of Springbok clothing on his body. When both camps meet in the stadium, sometimes insults and slips happen. But there are too many All Blacks fans in Port Elizabeth to be mad at them.

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We go to Bethelsdorp town, which is located in the north of the city. A black flag flies over Andrew Charles’ azure Citi Golf, showing us the way. Its rear windshield is covered with a silver fern, a symbol of blackness. Andrew Charles wants to show us his red brick house, which has a room decorated in New Zealand’s national colours. On his front porch, he talks about his love at first sight with his partner, Amina David. She is mixed race, he is black, the two are united by the sacred bond of all blackness. His son Leroy, on the other hand, supports the Springboks.

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On the way back, passers-by and taxis honk our car horns. Young boys, beers in hand, wander around in their black shirts. A citrus seller standing on a street corner rewards us with a hack. New Zealand has won and working-class neighborhoods are celebrating.

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This large city on the east coast was the birthplace of Sia Kolisi, the first black captain of the South African rugby team. “Even though I don’t support the Springboks, I’m proud of him,” admits Samantha Jantjies. Sia Kolisi came to present the World Cup trophy during the tour in Port Elizabeth in 2019 and many All Blacks supporters made the trip. “I was thrilled they won in 2019… because they didn’t play us! [les All Blacks] “, temper Charles Lottering.

The very good performances of the Springboks and the composition of their team, which is more representative of South African society, will not change the minds of these die-hard fans. “I will never support another team, if I die I want to be buried in an All Blacks kit.” insists Andrew Charles. “I will go to the grave with my tattoo” adds Vanessa Hearn, tugging at the sleeve of her left forearm to reveal black ink. Charles Lottering makes the same oath: “I was born an All Black, I will die an All Black. »

Georgie Collins

"Falls down a lot. Writer. Passionate alcohol maven. Future teen idol. Hardcore music practitioner. Food fanatic. Devoted travel fan."