Siya Kholwa Futhi? The Rugby World Cup and The Politics of Hope

“So which one is Siya Coolisi?” a white elderly woman asks.

Picky picky mabelani sala sala gentlemane; that one I respond as not being an avid watcher of rugby, more truthfully not being a watcher of rugby at all, I too have no idea. However, I have less than half of the squad to choose from so, although I am not a gambling body the odds of being correct were somewhat stacked in my favour. Furthermore, as far as tannie Marie press and curl is concerned my Blackness makes me an authority where anything relating to the Black players is concerned. A few moments later, somewhere amidst tossed balls, hierologic-like-formations and impassioned grunts, South Africa had won the 2019 Rugby World Cup. The resounding cheers and celebrations ebbing from across the country drowned out the aggravated conversations of Rainbow Nation disillusionment and calls for decolonization which had previously permeated much of the social political discourse post Rhodes Must Fall. In a mere 80 minutes Siya Kolisi had managed to complete the unfinished feat of Tata; racism had officially been defeated in South Africa; hello polyester patriotism and according to twitter being Xhosa was trending. Ssshhh, and let’s just forget that one of the players on the national squad; Eben Etzebeth is currently facing racism and assault allegations which were brought to light before he boarded for the World Cup in Japan.

We did not leave immediately after the game had wrapped up, I insisted on staying longer and observing until the moment Siya Kolisi lifted the cup. This moment of witnessing meant something to me for some reason. I also cannot deny that there was a swelling of some kind of complicated, familiar yet distant feeling (call it deceptive hope), as I watched scenes of the Black players dancing to Distruction Boyz with the cup in the locker room; a congregation of Black joy that History had written as impossible. One could argue that the politics and politicization of hope or what Lauren Berlant names as a “cruel optimism,” have been used as organizing tools of social pacification since water has been wet. “To speak of the “Politics of Hope” is to denaturalize or demystify a certain usage of hope” (Warren, 2015; Pg.218). Cue scenes of Black churches packed to the rafters during Antebellum Slavery, cue scenes from Truth and Reconciliation proceedings, and cue scenes of exploitative Christian churches travelling to Africa (Jesus himself sometimes in toe)  to capitalize on a hope or cruel optimism birthed from ontological and socio-political deprivation. The economy of this deficit hope or cruel optimism is organized around a currency of pursuit for that which is unattainable. This is what sustains it, the destination is a constructed idea that works to pacify thus, arrival is not guaranteed but the spirit that drives it will always self-generate.

“This idea of achieving the impossible allows one to disregard the historicity of anti-[B]lackness and its continued legacy and conceive of political engagement as bringing one incrementally closer to that which does not exist—one’s impossible object. In this way, the Politics of hope recasts despair as possibility, struggle as triumph, and lack as propinquity. This impossible object is not tethered to real history, so it is unassailable and irrefutable because it is the object of political fantasy.” (Warren, 2015. Pg.221).

I cannot expect this moment to have meant the same thing to others as it did to me, I cannot expect it to have further illuminated the still ebbing suffocating contradiction, injustice and servings of complicated feeling stitched into our nations socio-political tapestry. I myself am still working through the small swelling of pride that rose from my belly as I watched Siya lift the Rugby World Cup trophy; wounded attachment is a complicated space to operate within. However, I do think that these moments coloured with sepia hope tend to work towards making invisible the politics of loss that are part of this complicated and dialectical family tree and we cannot, must not, forget the other side of this tainted historical coin.

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