Being born South African, dying All Black… in South Africa, not everyone supports the national rugby team

“We were waiting for you! It's full of Boks inside

Being born South African, dying All Black… in South Africa, not everyone supports the national rugby team

“We were waiting for you! It's full of Boks inside. » Vanessa Hearne is nervous and getting impatient. This 61-year-old woman with long ash hair and a slender body does not dare enter New Asia, a cavernous bar in the center of Port Elizabeth. It's July 15 and supporters of the Springboks, the South African rugby team, are seated there to watch the match between their team and New Zealand during the Rugby Championship, a tournament bringing together the best teams. of the southern hemisphere. Wrapped in a large black jacket on which is embroidered in white "fan of the extreme of the All Blacks", Vanessa Hearne feels very lonely.

Charles Lottering disembarks, to whom the blame for the delay is addressed. This former police officer exudes a feeling of security with his legionnaire physique, arms like poles and a black beret screwed onto a head that stands at 1.98 m. This mirrored cabinet chairs one of three All Blacks fan clubs in Port Elizabeth. There are two others in Uitenhage, a township further north, two in Pretoria, the capital, and up to eight in Cape Town, described as a “second country for New Zealanders”.

South Africa has a total of 21 clubs with almost 40,000 members. Charles Lottering scans the interior of the bar he had specially chosen to watch the match with his club in complete peace and quiet. No worries, the entire floor has been privatized.

They are about twenty to meet in front of a giant screen. All of them are obviously dressed in black, in personalized or self-made clothes. Some wave All Blacks flags, others mime the haka. When the New Zealand anthem is sung, all rise and sing in unison. The spectators are electric. The South Africans and the New Zealanders are great rivals and each match writes a little more history of this confrontation which celebrated its centenary in 2021.

The offensive status of “Honorary White”

But who was the first fan to turn their back on the national team? Impossible to say according to Russell Petersen, 61 years old and vice-president of the South African All Blacks Supporters Association (Saabsa) created in 2015. Russell's father already belonged to a "Friends of the All Blacks" club in the 1940s. “People were supporting the All Blacks even before apartheid [introduced in 1948]. Segregation only increased the number of supporters,” says Russell Petersen, reached by phone from the club resort of Knysna.

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

At the same time, the All Blacks included non-white players and traveled with four of them on their tour of South Africa in 1970. The apartheid government imposed the offensive status of "honorary white" on these colored visitors. ". New Zealander Bryan Williams, originally from the Pacific Islands and dark-skinned, scored 14 tries in 13 matches. The South African public, black and mixed race, who came to watch the matches, jubilant from the corners of the stadium where they are relegated to pitch level. New Zealand teaches its host a lesson.

The end of the apartheid regime in 1994 did not put an end to racism and the feeling of relegation. Above all, some refuse to ignore this past that does not pass. "We were treated inhumanely and now you want me to sit [in a stadium] next to a white man, a boss who treats our community badly, you want us to be patriotic, especially when he's is rugby? “, fulminates Jerry Seale, fan of the All Blacks and author of a book on sport under apartheid. He does not hesitate to compare South African rugby to "the religion of white people". For his part, Charles Lottering prefers to turn the page. “We’re not trying to dig into this story. What we like is the way the All Blacks play, it’s no longer political,” he says.

“Rugby is an aphrodisiac.”

On July 15, the New Zealanders delighted their supporters by beating South Africa 35 to 20. Charles then went to his car to take out a springbok skin. Thrown to the ground, the skin is trampled. “We’ve massacred the Boks, that’s what’s left of them,” Charles announces solemnly. Uninhibited by the victory and a few beers, the club mates are laughing. “For us in South Africa, and even more so for All Blacks fans, rugby is an aphrodisiac,” gushes Jean Gentle.

The Springbok fans present at New Asia prefer to smile at the folklore of their compatriots. They mix with their rivals without animosity. “There’s no problem between us, I have plenty of friends who are All Blacks fans. We all love rugby, it must remain the priority,” explains Gordan Mc Carthy, 63, three layers of Springbok clothing on his body. When the two camps meet at the stadium, there are sometimes insults and slip-ups. But in Port Elizabeth, there are too many All Blacks fans to get angry with them.

We head towards the township of Bethelsdorp, to the north of the town. A black flag flies above Andrew Charles' sky blue Citi Golf which leads the way for us. Its rear windshield is covered with a silver fern, the symbol of the Blacks. Andrew Charles wants to show us his red brick house whose number is decorated in the colors of the New Zealand selection. In front of his porch, he talks about his love at first sight with Amina David, his partner. She is mixed, he is black, both united by the sacred bonds of the All Blacks. His son, Leroy, on the other hand, supports the Springboks.

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

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 a tour in Port Elizabeth in 2019 and many All Blacks supporters made the trip. “I was excited for them to win in 2019… because they didn’t play us! [the All Blacks],” tempers 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 diehard fans. “I will never support another team, if I die I want to be buried in an All Blacks outfit,” insists Andrew Charles. "I'll go to the grave with my tattoo," Vanessa Hearne chimed in, tugging at the sleeve of her left forearm to reveal the black ink. Charles Lottering makes the same oath: “I was born All Black, I will die All Black. »