Sharuko on Saturday
ON June 24, 1995, a South African pilot, Laurie Kay, guided his giant Boeing 747 — then the world’s biggest passenger plane — over Johannesburg’s Ellis Park packed with more than 63 000 fans in a spectacular stunt that was fraught with danger in the event something went horribly wrong.
The massive plane flew so low, just clearing the roof of the stadium, some aviation experts have, in recent years, suggested the jet could have stalled with disastrous consequences for both pilot and those on the ground.
The Presidential security personnel that day were sent into panic mode while snipers at the roof of the stadium were forced to duck as the booming giant plane whistled overhead at such low altitude its massive vibrations shook the coffee mugs in the VVIP Section as if an earthquake had just struck.
However, the plane was just a friendly giant bird whose pilot had come up with a unique, if not outrageous, way of wishing his beloved national rugby team good luck ahead of their biggest match in history.
Captain Laurie Kay was the pilot who guided his Boeing 747 dangerously low in that fly-past over Ellis Park, with time appearing to stand still as his plane performed its stunt, on a mission in which he simply wanted to briefly join the party unfolding inside that stadium, albeit for some fleeting seconds, from his vantage point in the air.
His plane carried a huge message, with three giant words — “GOOD LUCK BOKKIE” — scripted on its belly just as his beloved Springboks, just having come out of international isolation, lined up to take on odds-on favourites All Blacks in the final of the 1995 Rugby World Cup.
Brendan Gallagher of the British newspaper, Daily Telegraph, ranked that stunt as the greatest moment in the history of the Rugby World Cup, even relegating that iconic moment when the then South African President Nelson Mandela was presented to the Ellis Park crowd, just before kick-off, into second place.
“The sensational South African Airways 747 fly-past at Ellis Park before the 1995 World Cup final, the single greatest stunt and PR coup in sporting history,’’ Gallagher noted. “Completely unexpected, brilliantly executed, totally thrilling. The sight of security snipers on the stand roof ducking, seemingly to avoid the great bird as she came around for a second, even lower, pass will live forever.’’
Five years ago, in April 2013, Kay — the pilot who came up with that stunt — died at the age of 67 after a suspected heart attack in the Kruger National Park where he flew helicopters on patrols aimed at stopping rhino poachers.
Merna Cremer didn’t perform any such spectacular stunt when she flew her Air Zimbabwe Boeing 767 plane from Harare to Bulawayo this week, but her message to her country, on the eve of one of the most important adventures undertaken by the national cricket team, was just as powerful and evoked some memories of the late Kay.
Merna was the pilot who flew the Chevrons from Harare to Bulawayo this week and, among her special passengers, was her cricket playing husband Graeme — who is the captain of our national cricket team — on this big mission for their country which gets underway in the City of Kings tomorrow.
She took to Twitter, just before the flight from Harare, with a message that was pregnant with a lot of both raw patriotism — as demonstrated by her undiluted love for this country which has seen her working at Air Zimbabwe for more than a decade now — and an understanding of the importance of the mission which this team was undertaking for their nation.
“So great to have the Coach, Captain @GraemeCremer&@ZimCrickettv team on board, delivering them safely to the City of Kings. All the very best, this is OUR soil, this is OUR home. Do your country proud,’’ she tweeted accompanying her powerful message with a Zimbabwean flag and cricket bat.
The tweet, provoked a number of responses, including from one as far afield as India where an Indian doctor, Satendra Singh, replied with his picture in a Chevrons jersey and the message, “wow!!! Best wishes from India, in the colours today.’’
Another respondent said it “would have been lovely to have one of the visiting teams on board while having Captain Cremer flying Captain Cremer,’’ while another one called for a “million likes to Captain Merna and Captain Cremer. Taking #Zim to new heights.’’
The best response, it appears, came from Darrent Chikwira, who said, “all the best, go represent our country, make us proud, we will be fully behind you, have a fresh mind and go for it, all this is in your hands.’’
SPRINGBOKS AND THE POWER OF SPORT TO BREAK BARRIERS AND UNITE A NATION
Somehow, as if by design, the guys at DStv chose this week to bring back Invictus, the 2009 American blockbuster movie directed by Clint Eastwood and featuring Morgan Freeman, as Mandela, and Matt Damon, as the Springbok ’95 World-Cup winning captain Francois Pienaar, on our television screens.
The powerful movie is centred around Mandela’s surprise, but effective, decision to make his fellow black South Africans rally behind the Springboks — the very team which was viewed as sport’s extension of the brutality of the system of apartheid in which blacks were treated as fourth-class citizens in their country — in that World Cup.
The Boks were so hated, by the black South Africans, it was normal for the black people in that country to support whoever was playing against this team and the fury against the Boks was not only local, but even global and they were the reason 26 of the 28 African countries boycotted the 1976 Olympics.
The African countries were protesting the tour of New Zealand to South Africa and demanded New Zealand be excluded from the ’76 Olympics and, when the International Olympic Committee decided otherwise, the African countries boycotted the Games.
A tour of the Boks to New Zealand in ’81 was met by fierce protests, with two games being cancelled, the visitors being kept in areas that were protected by barbed wire security while one game saw some daring New Zealanders fly a hired Cessna plane over the stadium where the Boks were playing and dropped some flour bombs.
In fact, the South African Sports Committee, had even elected to disband the Springboks, but Mandela made a swift and decisive intervention, to the surprise of his comrades in the African National Congress and some of his closest advisers who felt he was risking his political future by supporting a Boks team hated by the majority of those who had voted him into power.
“I am aware of your earlier vote. I am aware that it was unanimous. Nonetheless, I believe we should restore the Springboks; restore their name, their emblem and their colours, immediately,’’ Mandela said.
“Let me tell you why. On Robben Island, in Pollsmoor Prison, all of my jailers were Afrikaners. For 27 years, I studied them. I learned their language, read their books, their poetry. I had to know my enemy before I could prevail against him. And we DID prevail, did we not? All of us here . . . we prevailed. Our enemy is no longer the Afrikaner. THEY ARE OUR FELLOW SOUTH AFRICANS, OUR PARTNERS IN DEMOCRACY. AND THEY TREASURER SPRINGBOK RUGBY. IF WE TAKE THAT AWAY, WE LOSE THEM. WE PROVE THAT WE ARE WHAT THEY FEARED WE WOULD BE. WE HAVE TO BE BETTER THAN THAT.
“WE HAVE TO SURPRISE THEM WITH COMPASSION, WITH RESTRAINT AND GENEROSITY. I KNOW, ALL OF THE THINGS THEY HAVE DENIED US. BUT THIS IS NOT THE TIME TO CELEBRATE PETTY REVENGE. THIS IS THE TIME TO BUILD OUR NATION USING EVERY SINGLE BRICK AVAILABLE TO US, EVEN IF THAT BRICK COMES WRAPPED IN GREEN AND GOLD.
“YOU ELECTED ME AS YOUR LEADER, LET ME LEAD YOU NOW.’’
And lead them he did and by the time the Springboks lined up for their 1995 Rugby World Cup final showdown against the All Blacks at Ellis Park, millions of black South Africans had embraced the team and thousands were inside the stadium to cheer it to a success story which some analysts say provided the foundation on which this nation was built.
That a sporting discipline, which was sport’s extension of the brutality of the apartheid system, could transform itself into one that broke the racial barriers and began the difficult path of reconciliation, is one of the world’s greatest tales and ironies.
The unity didn’t only manifest itself in the black versus white tale that has been narrated for the past 20 plus years, but also the white versus white divide in which cracks had begun to emerge between some radical Afrikaneer-speaking Boers of the nation’s highveld, Johannesburg and Pretoria included, and the English-speaking liberals of the coastal cities.
In this rugby adventure, somehow, against all the odds, they found a common cause and being crowned champions of the world was more significant to them, in terms of patching their differences, than what had divided them all along.
FOR US, IN THIS NEW POLITICAL DISPENSATION, THIS FEELS LIKE OUR INVICTUS MOMENT
Just four months after the seismic political events which unfolded in this country, sweeping away the 37-year leadership of our former President Robert Mugabe and ushering in a new political dispensation, we have been handed the responsibility by the world to host the International Cricket Council World Cup Qualifiers which get underway in Harare and Bulawayo tomorrow.
Where the former President and his family used to enjoy retreats to Dubai in the United Arab Emirates, we now have the UAE cricketers in our country as part of scores of athletes from 10 countries who, for the next three weeks, will be battling for two tickets to the ICC Cricket World Cup in England and Wales next year.
From Papua New Guinea Down Under in the south-western Pacific, Afghanistan, Hong Kong and Nepal in Asia, the UAE in the Gulf, the European group of Ireland, Scotland and the Netherlands and the West Indies in the Caribbean on the other side of the world, this is a real collection of nations who are truly representative of the world.
President Mnangagwa gave the tournament his seal of approval by gracing the welcome dinner for the teams in Harare on Sunday night and even holding the trophy that will be handed to the winners on March 25.
With our country set for general elections in a few months’ time, the political differences which usually divide us, as is usually the case when these battles for power are fought, are starting to emerge and in such a situation it’s always important that sport, which unites us under the banner of our proud identity as Zimbabweans, steps in to cheer our spirits and provide the bond of unity.
The Chevrons, just like the Springboks before them, have a tainted history of having been a sports team that used to be viewed as being representative of a certain minority section of our country, with its playing and administrative staff being entirely white.
That’s why even when they shocked the world by beating mighty Australia at their first World Cup adventure in England in 1983, that great result didn’t trigger the grand celebrations in this country which such a beautiful story merited.
For many blacks here, back then, it was a triumph for a team that represented the interests of just a few white people who drank at Harare Sports Club, and not a national adventure that could be seen as representing this country.
That a number of talented black cricketers, who tried to express their talents in that sport ended up being frustrated by a rigid system that made them feel unwanted because of the colour of their skin, only strengthened the wedge that used to exist between this team and the majority people of this country.
Of course, a lot has changed since those dark days and today’s Chevrons are widely embraced and celebrated as a true sporting representative of this country and in this ICC Cricket World Cup adventure they have a massive responsibility to cheer the spirits of this nation at a time when this country badly needs some feel-good stories after having staggered in the darkness for some time.
After all, that which unites us as Zimbabweans is far greater than that which divides us on a number of fronts, be it religious, political or even racial.
For all our racial differences, which this cricket team proudly parades for the whole world to see and appreciate our nationhood built on a coalition of races, we are just one collection of 14 million Zimbabweans.
We have our political differences, of course we do, but when everything has been said and done we remain Zimbabweans and the Chevrons have a duty — just like the Springboks before them — to help this country in this nation-building that its leaders have embarked upon by cheering the spirits of our people.
“ED is Zanu-PF, I am MDC but we are both Zimbabweans,’’ Nelson Chamisa, the leader of the MDC said this week. “At no point should our partisan numerator identities diminish our universal denominator character (of) being Zimbabweans.’’
For us, in this new political dispensation, this feels like our Invictus moment and the Chevrons have to fight long and hard to ensure that they give this nation something to cheer its spirits.
The Springboks were not expected to win the ’95 Rugby World Cup, the All Blacks, according to many experts were floating on a different planet and in Jonah Lomu they had a freak of nature and the most destructive player this game had ever seen, or will ever see again.
But, inspired by a united nation, and powered by the will to do something that meant more than just winning for themselves, they found a way to achieve greatness and, the rest, as they say, is now just history.
To God Be The Glory
Come on Chevrons!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
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