The Gwijo squad are adding a unique flavour of festivity at stadium around the country, writes SIBUSISO MJIKELISO.
When Nelson Mandela strode to the podium to collect the William Webb Ellis trophy and presented it to Springbok captain Francois Pienaar at Ellis Park in 1995, he had a vision of a South Africa that would beam its colourfulness to the world.
He dreamed of an inclusive sporting culture, with the stadiums becoming a multicultural kaleidoscope, encompassing all 55-million South African shades. More than two decades later, a boisterous group of passionate rugby fans calling themselves the Gwijo Squad, have taken a giant leap towards making Madiba’s dream a reality – at least in the stands. In Springbok captain Siya Kolisi they have an ally.
And the Springboks, along with their followers and the rest of the country, have a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. Kolisi has been in the front seat of a movement that could see unity and inclusivity in one of the country’s most historically divisive sports.
The skipper’s involvement, and his acknowledgement of the Gwijo Squad after each rugby game, has piqued interest in the group that perhaps would not have been there had he not lent his gravitas toward the singing of ‘Amagwijo’. South Africans, of all languages and backgrounds, black and white, now want to get involved in the ‘Gwijo Movement’.
‘You can see the change,’ says former mSouth Africa women’s hockey team goalkeeper Sanani Mangisa, who is a member of the squad.
‘You see it in people next to you wanting to know, “What are you singing?” Or them wanting to get involved, just by clapping, regardless of skin colour or understanding of the language.
‘They understand that we will stand up to sing when there’s a break in play but we will sit down again when play restarts, so that people can see the match. People behind us get involved even though they don’t know the words.
‘The days of the stadium announcer playing a song over the stadium PA system are from a bygone era. People want to sing. The beauty is that people can record voice notes and you pick up the songs.’
It all started when a group of pals from the Eastern Cape gathered to support Kolisi when he was anointed Bok captain – the first black African to receive the honour – before the three-Test series against England last year.
The first game was, fittingly, at Ellis Park, the arena where Madiba’s dream was born.
‘The guys had been going together to games before then, but from there we kept moving on from one game to the next,’ says Mangisa. ’We realised that, hey, there’s a lot of us who want to enjoy sport like that.
‘I could get a box ticket and a drink and watch from a nice cosy booth. When you’ve consumed sport like that for so long, you want to do something authentic and fun with your mates. You want to sing and enjoy yourself. It all clicked at the right time.
‘What we are seeing on the field is also translating off it. There were a lot of black players in that game against England at Ellis Park. It’s all translated into what the fans are doing, what Siya is doing and what the team looks like.’
The Gwijo Squad fire has also been stoked by the singing of ‘Amagwijo’ at Newlands, driven by the Ubumbo Club members, who were fundamental in getting Stormers players like Kolisi, Scarra Ntubeni, Bongi Mbonambi and Sikhumbuzo Notshe to join in.
‘We’ve got a very good relationship with Ubumbo,’ says Naledi Mdyesha, a long-time squad member. ‘We are like a big family. As much as they’ve got their initiatives and we’ve got ours, we involve each other in a lot of what we do.
‘We allocate Johannesburg-based Test match tickets to guys coming up from Cape Town, Ubumbo guys, to come join us. There’s no competition.’
The squad is made up of a wide range of professionals, from lawyers to CEOs and former players who give their time and skills towards the growth of the collective.
Names such as Mdyesha, Mangisa, Sijadu Mzozoyana, Qhayiya Linda, Lusindiso Dabula and Nondwe Maqubela ring in high corporate boardrooms. Their voices, however, ring even louder in gangways.
‘I’m more grateful for the fact that so many people believe in what we are doing,’ says the chairman of the group, Chulumanco Macingwane. ‘We have a committee of 13 and they are the kind of people who, if one were to pay for their skills, it would be expensive.
‘They are highly accomplished in their own fields. The folks taking care of our legal stuff are partners at Sandton law firms; we have CEOs of media companies, and the depth of skill and expertise that lends itself to making this come to life is the secret weapon behind the Gwijo Squad.
‘We are armed with professional expertise and knowledge. We have Nondwe Maqubela, who is the engine behind the Gwijo Squad. Her understanding of how to put things together is right up there with the best.’
With this professional artillery, they were able to attract 200 rugby fans to purchase tickets to experience the Springboks vs Wallabies game at Ellis Park on 20 July, ‘Gwijo Squad-style’.
It took incredible co-ordination to pull together. When the day came, the Boks reciprocated with a stunning 35-17 win. Kolisi – accompanied by S’bu Nkosi, Makazole Mapimpi, Lood de Jager and Trevor Nyakane – went to the Lower East stand and requested a personal song from the Gwijo Squad: ‘Khanimeni!’ (Hold up!)
A part of the song goes: ‘You’re talking about trials, tribulations and all that stuff. Hold up!’ It’s a song for fun-lovers, who want no stress. A song that promotes entertainment and good times. It’s no wonder Kolisi loves it. Good times could return to rugby stands again.
– This article first appeared in the September 2019 edition of SA Rugby magazine