JOHANNESBURG – South Africa’s world cup winning rugby team paraded on Thursday the Webb Ellis Cup in front of tens of thousands of people who lined the streets of Johannesburg to welcome the team back from Japan.
The Springboks began their victory lap at the Union buildings – the seat of government in Pretoria – where they were welcomed by President Cyril Ramaphosa.
“We are very happy and proud to be here with the trophy today, it’s been a lot of hard work,” captain Siya Kolisi told the crowd.
He received a hero’s welcome in South Africa and made history by being the first black captain to lift a trophy with the Springboks.
“I think the most important thing is the country, it’s the Springboks badge in front of our chest, not our own ambitions.”
Ramaphosa thanked the coach Johan “Rassie” Erasmus for the victory, saying it contributed to social cohesion in the country, where rugby is much more than just a sport.
During Apartheid and in the years after, rugby was closely associated with South Africa’s white minority.
Having kicked off the tour in Pretoria, the Springboks made their way to Johannesburg, the country’s most populous city, just 65 kilometers south of the administrative capital.
The team was slated to make stops in several areas of the city, including Soweto, a large township.
The victory tour was by no means scheduled to finish up Thursday.
In the coming days, the Springboks are to make an appearance in Cape Town, Durban, and Port Elizabeth.
On Saturday, South Africa overcame England 32-12 in Toyko to be crowned Rugby World Cup champions for the third time in its history, having achieved the feat in 1995 and 2007.
The players returned from the Asian nation in batches on Tuesday and Wednesday and were welcomed at the airport by crowds of jubilant fans, for whom the occasion provided light relief to an otherwise gloomy outlook in the country.
Besides rising crime rates and constant power cuts, South Africa’s economy has ground to an almost complete halt in recent years, despite it being one of the most developed nations on the continent.
Joblessness sits at around 30 percent and although the country celebrated its first democratic elections 25 years ago, the wounds of institutionalized racism, rampant during Apartheid, are fresh.
The Springboks have grown to be one of the greatest examples of positive change in South Africa.
The most famous testimony dates back to 1995 when South Africa hosted and won the World Cup in a final attended by Nelson Mandela, the country’s first black president.
He appeared at the stadium wearing a green and gold Springboks shirt in a gesture of unity beyond race.