Last night I ventured into the heart of Afrikanerdom to observe a long-standing tribal ceremony with all its attendant ritual, symbols and zeal.
The “temple” I visited was the Loftus Versveld stadium in Pretoria – the spiritual home of Afrikaner Rugby and the place where foreign teams come to the slaughter.
And what a slaughtering it was last night; as the Blue Bulls (the team formerly known as Northern Transvaal) led 15 bewildered Australians to the alter and in 80 minutes, literally massacred them, 92-3...a score almost unheard of in the annals of South African rugby.
The faithful started gathering in the environs of Loftus in the late afternoon, bringing out their symbols of faith in the power of the Bulls – braaivleis (Bar-B-Q), boerewors (fat sausages) biltong (dried meat – delicious for the initiated); boere musiek (Afrikaner music) blaring forth from massive speakers...and everybody, like ancient Druids, slathered in blue woad – faces, hair, beards, stomachs (some rather larger than the national average) to affirm their allegiance to their team: the Blue Bulls. Many wore helmets adorned with bull horns, some had bull horns fixed to the front fenders and hoods of their “bakkies” – powerful utility vehicles used for farming, building and deliveries.
By the time we arrived, the pre-sacrifice fervor was well underway. Thousands of the faithful were streaming into the stadium; those that weren’t moving into the stadium were still partying in anticipation of the blood-letting to come (I’m not sure how many of them actually made it to the game...). Vendors were doing a roaring trade in blue t-shirts, blue hats, blue flags and handing out posters which read: “Ons Bloed is Blou!” – “Our blood is blue!”
I was fortunate to have been invited to sit in a reserved box, with a grand view of the floodlit gladiatorial arena, and a constant flow of beer and biltong; the fuel that keeps the fervor going.
By the time the game was ready to start, the stadium was filled to capacity – around 50,000 of the faithful, a veritable sea of blue from end to end. Flags waving, music blaring over the massive sound system, giant screens flashing advertising videos, the electronic scoreboard lit up and raring to go.
The unfortunate Aussies didn’t have a chance even before they set booted foot on the manicured field. They were defeated even before the whistle went – the sheer overpowering support of the locals was enough to demoralize even the toughest of opponents.
First blood actually went to the Australian team – known as the Queensland Reds – when they scored a penalty kick in the first three minutes: but this was to be the last time they were ever to see the goal posts. Perhaps the Blue Bulls felt it was fitting to give them a modicum of dignity in their demise.
One of the most enduring rituals at Loftus Versveld is that whenever the Bulls score a try (now worth 5 points by the way, not the traditional 3), the opening bars of the hugely popular Afrikaans song “Liefling” (My Love), something of an anthem, is pumped out over the powerful sound system, as the crowd sings along in unison.
“Liefling” was to be played 13 times that night. As a local radio DJ quipped later in the evening: “If I hear Liefling once more, I’ll blow my brains out!”
And so the devoted masses celebrated time and again as their gladiators, huge men with shoulders as wide as ox yokes and thighs the circumference of oak trees, pounded their way to victory and literally “donnered” (mauled) the visiting Aussies into the bright green Loftus turf.
But what was really happening here? In an incongruous yet even appealing way, this was a clear demonstration of the more successful aspects of the new South Africa. Wait, you may ask, wasn’t this pure tribalism, the mass psyche of superiority which characterized to the worst excesses of apartheid?
The Blue Bulls (“Die Blou Bulle”), which was always the nickname of the Northern Transvaal team in the old days, is now a totally racially integrated team. There are four blacks on the team and they are cheered and adored by the crowds as much as any Afrikaans boy might be. The team has a squad of eight gorgeous cheerleaders, The Bulls Babes, who parade around the perimeter of the field, dancing, doing flick-flacks and generally exhorting the crowd to even greater cheers. Three of these girls are black.
After the game, the crowds gathered in a parking lot where a beer tent and braaivleis area was set up together with a gi-normous sound systems blasting out the latest popular rock song to get the Afrikaners swinging: a number by a leading black artist from Soweto – the township south-west of Johannesburg.
So here we have what was perceived in the bad old days of apartheid, as the hard core of racialism, embracing other South Africans unreservedly and enthusiastically in a spirit of good natured openness and acceptance which has come to epitomize the new South Africa.
At the same time, we have a specific community group, Afrikaners to their very marrow, asserting the best of their heritage loud and clear: “We are Afrikaners, we are proud to be Afrikaners – and we are proud to be NEW South Africans.”
What an amazing demonstration of the way this country has adapted and accepted the momentous changes which were wrought without bloodshed just over a decade ago.
Now, all they have to deal with is crime, graft, corruption, cronyism, public servant inefficiency....
But who cares about that when rugby still rules, ja!