Landing at Port Elizabeth airport on Thursday morning, a sudden storm hits, with rain teeming down. There is no airbridge to walk between the plane and the arrivals area, so the other passengers and I are drenched. My camera gear on my back, hoping the moisture won’t get into my equipment, I think, what have I got myself into? I’ve arranged to meet David Koraan, the Chairman of the Uitenhage All Blacks Supporters Club, one of several fanatical Eastern Cape-based clubs. He is waiting for me at the arrivals area with Charlotte, a friend of his, both resplendent in their All Blacks tracksuits. I say, "It’s raining pretty hard today!"
David replies, "It’s a blessing you’re here, and a blessing that it is raining."
Over the next few days, which includes watching the Rugby World Cup quarter-final between the All Blacks and France, I will come to learn that there is a deep-rooted love of the All Blacks here, that I as a New Zealander, have not seen before.
Such is the fanatical support in Uitenhage, Port Elizabeth, some community members adorn their homes with the silver fern as well as a Springbok being kicked. There are numerous South African All Blacks supporters clubs in the Eastern Cape, where regular social gatherings are held to discuss All Blacks rugby. Cornell Tukiri © 15 October 2015.
"We have been called unpatriotic and traitors all our lives because we support the All Blacks," David and Charlotte tell me as we wind our way 30 minutes inland to a town called Uitenhage, famous for its Volkswagen and Goodyear tyre factories. It’s also famous for its love of rugby, both for the Springboks and the All Blacks. But, as David explains, "wearing the Silver Fern is a form of protest [against the history of the Springboks]; fairness needs to come into rugby in this country. The Springboks are not representative of us. New Zealand has a lot of mixed race players, where the 'Boks are 90 per cent white."
I stay with David, his wife Brenda and their children and immerse myself in their world. They are very rugby educated and find forming clubs a great way to get together and share common values. Family is very important, with all the children supporting the All Blacks too, something that has been passed down through the family.
I meet 60 year-old activist Ivor Sias. "I’m old now, but I have always fought for the inclusion of mixed race and African players in rugby." Ivor saw the All Blacks play in East London in 1970 when they played Border, where he was mesmerised by the skill and audacity of former All Blacks halfback Sid Going.
"We had to sit behind the posts in cages to watch the game, it was very difficult to watch from there. We learned what apartheid was back then when rugby was played because there were seperate leagues dependent on your skin colour."
Ivor keeps supporting the All Blacks as he sees nothing "relevant" in the Springboks.
David Goliath, 80 years old, saw the All Blacks play in the 1960s and ‘70s and remembers being ‘caged’ with African and mixed race supporters at the end of the ground. If the local team lost to New Zealand, "we had to run out of the stadium, because they would hit us. Ever since those days I never looked at the 'Boks again."
A huddle takes place as New Zealand dot down for a try during the Rugby World Cup quarter final against France. The supporters believe the All Blacks will go all the way and defend their title. Cornell Tukiri © 15 October 2015.
As my time in Uitenage came to a close I watched the All Blacks demolish France with a fanatical crowd. A lot of people came to me to exclaim that they couldn’t believe how ‘we’ played.
"...the ‘brand’ coming through again."
David said something to me that will stick: "We are proud South Africans, but we are also proud All Blacks supporters—some of that comes through the political situation, some comes through not being included by the Springboks. But our children are free to choose who they support, as we live in a free country, so my hope is that 'Boks supporters see it as our choice too."
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