Sports commentators believe there was a deliberate, pragmatic and highly determined plan for South Africa to win the 2019 Rugby World Cup.
It is a plan that provides inspiration for South Africa’s economic revival.
The belief in some quarters is that a decision was made beforehand that the Springboks would do their utmost to win the competition because the country so desperately needed a national morale boost. The plan involved hiring the best coach, regardless of his background; deliberately nurturing young black talent; uniting and motivating the team and its followers, and putting in place every step necessary for a victory.
“What we see in the champion team is a group of South Africans who had a plan to win,” says award-winning rugby writer Sim Xabanisa, in an interview with the Dolphin Bay Brief. “They chose – and by all appearances have succeeded – to put aside their differences and work together. If they can do it, why can’t the rest of us?”
Like many South African rugby fans, Sim remembers the parlous state of the national game in 2016, when the Springboks lost seven out of eight test matches. “The pragmatic solution was to appoint a coach whom they thought was the best person for the job, and so they did. They left aside issues of politics and political involvement. This meant, for the coach position, that they appointed Rassie. He appointed Siya Kolisi, a black man, as team captain – again the best person for the job, and someone whom Rassie had known since giving him his first professional contract at the age of 18.”
“What we see in the champion team is a group of South Africans who had a plan to win. If they can do it, why can’t the rest of us?”
Rugby writer Rob Houwing agrees. “Rassie has always being meticulous planner, and that goes back even to his to his playing days,” he says. “You could see that he was a genius-in-waiting, and that has simply transferred itself into his success now as a World Cup-winning coach.”
Rob adds that Rassie has long spoken about the need to address South Africa’s social imbalances. “I suspect that’s why he was given such a free rein: because of his understanding of the ever-present context in which South African sport is played. There’s no doubt that he took that all-embracing strategy and multi-pronged vision into the Rugby World Cup, where it was executed spectacularly.”
Dr Iraj Abedian, Chief Executive at Pan-African Investment & Research, believes the government and President Cyril Ramaphosa have a similarly deliberate, multifaceted plan to salvage South Africa’s ailing economy, and the president is well focused on it.
It includes rebuilding the institutions of governance such as the SARS, the NPA and the Hawks to re-establish the rule of law; restoring government’s focus on the economy; taking all measures possible to avoid any further credit-rating downgrade; continuing to attract foreign and local investment across key sectors of the economy; re-establishing constructive government and business engagements; rehabilitating all the State-Owned Enterprises; and promoting hope among South Africans.
The president “certainly” has the character to refocus the nation on the importance of unity and social coherence, Iraj said.
“Salvaging an economy that has been badgered for over a decade is not easy – nor is it something that government alone can do even in the best of conditions.
“What is clearly necessary is a great deal more proactive involvement by the business sector, and especially by businesses in the real sector of the economy where jobs are created, and economic growth is revived. Government’s fiscal and non-financial resources are extremely limited and unproductive. As such, it is the private sector that needs to be the real force for the turn-around of the economy.”
Dr Azar Jammine, chief economist and owner of Econometrix, believes the government and President have a market-orientated philosophy that includes improving education standards so that more people can be employed. He also points to plans for infrastructure spending and development, cutting back on government numbers and encouraging small business by reducing “punitive regulations”.
Could Ramaphosa be the Erasmus-like leader the country needs? Azar is cautiously optimistic. “Ramaphosa has the character to change things, but a lot of damage has been done,” he says. “He understands what needs to be done but the ruling party has split. There is a sense of frustration and impatience around the issue. On the one hand, there are those who want him to act decisively. On the other hand, legal processes take time and if he went too fast, he could self-destruct, considering some of the opposition from within the party.”
Discussions are underway about getting outside investment into the country’s struggling State Owned Entities (SOEs), but such plans could be stymied by opposition from within the ANC and other organisations. “Outside investors see this as critical. It is only when governments bite the bullet that things turn around.”
Azar said the National Development Plan is also being used to try and make positive changes, but opponents are attacking Ramaphosa, saying he is not implementing decisions taken within the ANC, such as those involving the Reserve Bank and land expropriation.
Like the Springboks’ remarkable turnaround, a national economic recovery will take time, planning and patience. After all, in the 13 months leading up to the Rugby World Cup, the team was beaten by Argentina, Australia, New Zealand, England and Wales.
“It has taken over 10 years to bring the South African economy to its knees,” says Abedian. “It will take five to seven years of consistent efforts and focus to revive it.”
However, as the Springboks have demonstrated, a glorious recovery is certainly possible.