South Africa won its fourth Rugby World Cup, a rare moment of joy for a nation grappling with everything from an energy crisis to joblessness.
The defending champions — the Springboks — beat New Zealand’s All Blacks to be the first to win four titles.
Saturday’s match was the second time these two titans of rugby met each other in the final. South Africa had triumphed over New Zealand just a year after Nelson Mandela’s rise to power as the first democratically elected president in 1994 in a scene captured in the blockbuster movie, Invictus.
Rugby, once associated with White-minority rule, has played a symbolic and significant role in unifying the nation.
The Springboks are led by their first Black captain, Siya Kolisi, and the team’s path to victory in Paris galvanized people across all races — masking, for a while, deep economic and social woes.
Residents poured into the streets in cities, including Cape Town, to celebrate the achievement, while President Cyril Ramaphosa was in the stadium in the French capital to watch the encounter.
“The 1995 nation-building project continues to run its course,” said Charles Molapisi, chief executive officer of main sponsor MTN South Africa. “South Africans are under a lot of pressure — and a Springbok victory brings joy, instills hope and brings the nation together.”
The tournament has provided a distraction from South Africa’s challenges — record power cuts, a flailing rail and ports network, unemployment of more than 30% and gaping inequality that have all helped to curb growth in Africa’s most industrialised economy.
“It’s not just about the game,” Kolisi said after the match. “Our country goes through such a lot. This team shows what diversity can do for our team. For our country.”
After South Africa eliminated hosts France from the tournament in the quarterfinals, Ramaphosa joked that he was trying to call President Emmanuel Macron to console him.
“South Africans are revelling in this incredible success that our boys have achieved in Paris,” Ramaphosa told a Cape Town conference on Oct. 16, the morning after that match.
“Many of them felt that we should declare today as a public holiday, and I declined, and I said we would only consider that when they win the finals.”
The buzz around major sports events, like the Rugby World Cup, often comes with economic windfalls, such as an uptick in consumer spending as people crowd restaurants and pubs and buy national flags and replica team shirts.
The respite is likely to be brief, though.
Celebrations of a Springbok win won’t reverse the damaging impact of social unrest in 2021, flooding that caused havoc in the industrial province of KwaZulu-Natal and a recent outbreak of avian influenza, said Casparus Treurnicht, a portfolio manager at Gryphon Asset Management.
“Our consumer is still under pressure,” he said. “The ability to celebrate is diminished.”
Still, prevailing in what was a tight, bruising encounter between the world’s top-two ranked sides is a welcome diversion for millions of South Africans from local — and global — gloom.