The feeling of nationalism

South Africans of all colours, shapes, sizes and ages had gathered in the hotel lobby and waited patiently for the players to come down from the elevator to the entrance of the hotel, where the team bus was waiting to take the players to the Newlands ground.

BY SUNIL GAVASKAR

Shaun Pollock has always come across as a captain who plays the game hard.-— Pic. N. SRIDHARAN

I HAPPENED to be staying in the same hotel as the South African team in the beautiful city of Cape Town and witnessed the highly emotional scenes when they left for the ground for the first mach of the World Cup 2003. South Africans of all colours, shapes, sizes and ages had gathered in the hotel lobby and waited patiently for the players to come down from the elevator to the entrance of the hotel, where the team bus was waiting to take the players to the Newlands ground. A cordon had been made to allow the players to pass through. Not knowing that the team bus was to leave around the same time, I had come down to check out and to my great embarrassment, had to walk through that cordon as the gathering was clapping and singing patriotic songs. I then went behind the cordon and stood there waiting like the others to see the South African team come down and see what the players' reaction to the ovation would be.

By now, the clapping and singing was getting louder and some of the South African players who had come down early were heralded to an area near the elevators to wait for the captain Shaun Pollock to come down. He must surely have been informed of the throng waiting in the lobby for him and his team, but still he seemed genuinely surprised by the applause and the singing that greeted him as he stepped out of the elevator. Pollock has always come across as a captain who plays the game hard but has an impish sense of humour, and his smile was as wide as can be, even though he seemed clearly overwhelmed by the applause. The other players followed him with most of them having grim visages, excepting for the irrepressible Jonty Rhodes who was smiling, and Makhaya Ntini who was not only grinning from ear to ear but was also shaking his torso in rhythm to the singing that was reaching a crescendo. Even to an outsider like me, it was an emotional moment and I had gooseflesh seeing people of different colours and also ages stand shoulder to shoulder and wish their team as they departed for their first match.

South Africa as a country have had massive problems in the past with their policy of apartheid which has left some indelible scars and in the decade or so that the policy has been dismantled, there has been reconciliation between the people of different colours to a great extent. The chief reason has been the manner in which Nelson Mandela has guided the country since his release. If he had shown even a slight trace of bitterness at his incarceration in a jail which was so tiny for 27 years, then the whole country would have gone up in flames. Today, Mandela is an icon and even the whites talk about him with affection. He has made the transfer of power and transition a lot smoother than would have been the case otherwise.

South Africa calls itself a rainbow nation because of the multitude of people of various colours and hues. The way it has come together is really a lesson for others and the feeling of nationalism and the pride in the country that every South African feels is palpably noticeable. It is a big country, the biggest in the African continent and yet one hardly hears people from different regions being referred to by the region they come from. So a person from Johannesburg does not refer to a person from Cape Town in any particular manner like we do in India. We regionalise people by referring to them as Bengalis, Punjabis, Biharis, Bambaiyyas, Madrasis, etc. That hardly helps in unification and one is not even talking here of referring to people of various faiths by the religion they follow. This is not to suggest that there is no unity in diversity within Indians, but it only tends to be obvious at times of war and when India is participating in a major event.

Sure, there's referring by regions in countries like England and Australia, but that is invariably in a lighter, jocular vein like `Oh these Londoners' or `these Yorkshiremen' or in Australia like `those Victorians' or the `so-and-so Queenslander'. Very very seldom is it in a derogatory vein and this is the crucial aspect. Lest it be misunderstood, this is not an intention to lecture on national integration, but just to relate how to an outsider, the South Africans had put past prejudices and injustices behind them to come together to support and encourage their team to go on to win the Cup.

No host team has ever won the World Cup, and with South Africa losing their very first match, perhaps this edition of the World Cup may also see some other nation winning the World Cup. But of course, teams that have not performed well in the first part of the tournament have gone on to win the Cup like Pakistan did in 1992. Whoever wins the final on March 23, if it is as good and close as the opening game between South Africa and West Indies, then it will be a wonderful finale to the event after all the controversies that have dogged it. Apart from the first match, the first week itself has seen some fancied teams taking a tumble and by the time this appears in print, there could be some more too as the tournament begins to warm up.

Two major talents and entertainers are out of action already in what was supposed to be their last World Cup and there are others who are also playing in their last World Cup before calling it a day. In 1996, it was Sanath Jayasuriya who was the man of the tournament and in 1999 it was Lance Klusener, the difference being Jayasuriya was a member of the World Cup winning side while Klusener wasn't. The first week has thrown up many players who might go on to win the Player of the Tournament Award, but will the winner also be there to join his teammates in lifting the Cup, or will he like Klusener be a case of `so near and yet so far'?