The Springboks and thousands of fans brought Sandton to a standstill on 1 September 2011 during a spirited send-off ahead of the Rugby World Cup in New Zealand.
With the farewell coinciding with the start of the new season, the event was fittingly dubbed SpringBok Day.
South Africa’s national rugby team left the country last night to defend the Webb-Ellis trophy, which they first won in 1995 and again in 2007. This year’s tournament starts on 9 September and ends on 23 October.
Mandela Square at Sandton City mall, northern Johannesburg, was a sea of green and yellow as masses of supporters, many wearing Bok shirts, filled the area.
An estimated 65 000 people filled the square to give the team an overwhelming send-off, said Lead SA’s CEO Yusuf Abramjee.
Lead SA encourages citizens to make a difference in the country in whichever way they can.
The diversity of fans united as one brought back memories of the 2010 Fifa World Cup and the euphoria following the Bok’s 1995 Rugby World Cup win when, just a year after the first democratic elections, sport was able to transcend racial boundaries and bind the nation.
With the nation already in full Bok Friday mode, thousands of supporters turned up at the square, hoisting placards that read: “Moer hulle Boks”, Afrikaans for “beat them Boks”; “Viva Boks Viva” and “Go Bokke, 110% behind you, make us proud”.
The Bok Friday campaign calls on South Africans to show their support for the national team by wearing Springbok jerseys at the end of every working week.
United for victory
Lead SA along with the Boks’ official sponsor, Absa, and the International Marketing Council of South Africa (IMC) initiated the send-off to show the team the country was behind them.
Abramjee said: “We are here to show our team that we as citizens of this beautiful country are united in rallying for their triumph.”
The IMC stirred up national pride at the event by handing out flags, t-shirts and copies of the national anthem to supporters.
The IMC’s Play Your Part campaign also calls on citizens to do what they can, big or small, to make the country a better place to live in.
Many high-profile individuals made it to the send-off, including Minister of Sport and Recreation Fikile Mbalula, President of the South African Football Association Kirsten Nematandani, South African Rugby Union CE Jurie Roux and Absa’s Happy Ntshingila.
Musicians as well as media personalities turned out in their numbers. Danny K, Khanyi Mbau, Freshlyground, Tumisho Masha, La Vuvuzela and the top 10 contestants from Mnet’s Idols were among them.
Children from Ikageng School in nearby Alexandra were also there to cheer the team.
Mpho Santho, one of the school’s pupils, said: “I’m happy to be here, to see my favourite player, Brian Habana, and to wish the Boks good luck.”
Bafana Bafana, the national soccer team, and the Proteas, the cricket national team, sent their televised messages of good luck to the Boks.
Bok arrival and send-off
As the Boks walked along the red carpet towards the stage, the crowd cheered and shouted their favourite players’ names.
“We stand here, black and white, red, yellow and purple … as a rainbow nation. Go to New Zealand and make us proud,” Mbalula said.
The minister’s stirring words made the crowd erupt in song with a rendition of Shosholoza.
Bok skipper John Smit was handed a booklet with good luck wishes from other high-profile South Africans and ordinary citizens.
Bok coach Peter de Villiers said: “I was always nervous of having a public send-off as we have not won anything to celebrate, but when you see how South Africa is rallying behind the Springboks, you cannot but be humbled and grateful.”
Smit added: “I’m sure as Nelson Mandela stands looking at us (pointing at his statue in the centre of the square), he’s with us in spirit and appreciates what is happening.”
After the singing of the national anthem, the Boks walked to the nearby Gautrain station to ride on the train to OR Tambo International airport, where they caught their flight to New Zealand.
The Boks’ first game will be played on 11 September against Wales in Wellington.