Ms Carolyn Steyn, and the organisers of the 67 Blankets for Nelson Mandela Day, thank you for allowing me the opportunity to participate in this lovely initiative of yours.
Former President Thabo Mbeki, you certainly can share a unique and personal point of view of the Springboks, as we unveil this special commemorative blanket today.
In 2007, when South Africa won the Rugby World Cup for the second time, you were on the field in Paris, upon the shoulders of Ashwin Willemse, when you held the Web Ellis Cup in your hands.
Rassie, John and Tendai, it is good to have you sharing in this experience, as we see this school’s rugby field covered by the handy work of what Carolyn calls her “KnitWits”.
When Carolyn bounced the theme, for this event, of #StrongerTogether with me, I was immediately on board.
I am incredibly pleased that the entire project has finally come to fruition, even though the recent Covid-19 restrictions have unfortunately limited the scale of today’s event.
As some of you might know, rugby is a big passion of mine. I played it in my younger days, wearing the Number 14 jersey for the Orientals Rugby Club.
These days, I watch it from the comfort of my living room. Or, as I did in 1995 and 2019, I watched the victorious Springboks at the Rugby World Cup in person. It was electric.
Rugby, as does the work of the 67 Blankets-family, has the wonderful potential to foster social cohesion and to build a united nation.
Like with the 67 Blanket theme of #StrongerTogether, so can rugby make us, stronger, together.
It happened in 1995, when uTata Nelson Mandela held the Webb Ellis Cup aloft and South Africans, irrespective of whom they were, held their heads up high and their hearts were full of national pride.
John, you can tell us first-hand how it felt to lift the 4.5 kg trophy, as you also held it in your very own hands. You had experienced how the nation responded as one, as you were captain of the Springboks when we won the Rugby World Cup in 2007.
We again burst with pride as one nation in 2019, in a full-circle moment, when our Springbok captain Siya Kholisi took possession of the World Cup on our behalf. On the one hand it mattered that he was black, on the other, it did not.
But achieving social cohesion and nation building through rugby, cannot happen in a vacuum, it must be aggressively cultivated from grassroots.
I want to align myself to what former President Mbeki said after the 2007 Rugby World Cup win: “We need to build up sport and use this victory to accelerate the process of getting all our young people, black and white, involved in sport.”
We all know that sport, and rugby as a team-sport, teaches life and personal skills and also creates opportunities for our youth.
There is massive untapped sports talent in this country, because not enough is invested in sports development at school-level. That is as true today, fourteen years later, as it was in 2007.
We should also finance sports, and rugby academies in particular, to hone our sport stars of the future.
Rugby is good for our country, and the Springboks are our national pride. We are stronger, together!
We again congratulate them on the 2019 win, and wish the Springboks the best of luck for 2022, if Covid-19 allows.
To all the KnitWits, thank you for your hard work and congratulations on this successful project. I am not sure how you are going to manage improve on the next one!