Bok heritage alive

Wed, 25 Sep 2013 21:36
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Rugby historian Paul Dobson reflects on the opening of the Bok Experience museum.

Much have I, now an old man, travelled around the world and inevitably visited many museums and exhibitions, but never, not even closely, have I experienced such emotion as I did on Heritage Day this year when I visited the brand new South African rugby museum at the V&A Waterfront in Cape Town.

No other similar project has ever grabbed me as tightly and sent me reeling the way this one did - not the Smithsonians in Washington, the Louvre in Paris, the British Mueum in London - nor any others. There were times when I wanted to cheer as loudly as at a Test victory, there were times when I was transported in wonder and times when I wanted to cry because I was so touched. It was wonderful, and I experienced it all in a crowd. I cannot wait to go back when there are fewer people.

And yet the people were part of it that day. They were so much at the heart of the emotion of the day. There were 30 Springbok captains, each called out, each receiving a present, starting with Des van Jaarsveld of 1960, I had never met him before, the Bald Eagle, balder now than ever he had been. The list ended with loud, loud cheers for Jean de Villiers, the special captain of 2013.  There was Theuns Stofberg, tall and strong, and there were Nelie Smith and Joost van der Westhuizen in wheelchairs.

I met such good men - Wynand Claassen, Dougie Dyers, John Bekkers, scrumhalves Dawie de Villiers and Norman Mbiko, cheerful Toks as friendly as ever. Tiaan Strauss, looking fit and strong enough to be running out onto Newlands on Saturday. Errol Tobias gave me a hug. Cecil Moss, the second oldest living Springboks was there looking fit and cheerful at 88. And, bless them, the whole Springbok team was there - the men playing the Wallabies on Saturday.

I saw Doc Craven in several places, including in his slogan We can change South Africa on the rugby field. If you watched the film as you exited, you realise that it was not only possible but happening. There were life-size statues, staring with George Ogilvie. I saw the cap given to Fred Alexander who had played in South Africa's first Test series, in 1891. His grandfather had been Napoleon's jailer on St Helena.

I met Mr Ederoos whose grandfather was called Gamat, the tailor to Western Province and the Springboks for nearly 50 years, such an elegant man whose autograph I got in 1949. I found a lady weeping at a case with Pinkie Julius blazer. In 1988 Ian Kirkpatrick and I had gone to Paarl to meet gentlemanly Mr Julius, dressed in his blazer and wearing muffler they were given for the inland tour by the SA Coloured Rugby Board's first team who were Springboks. The lady weeping there was his daughter. I met Hymie Sibul of Kloof who has such a great collection of books and memorabilia and it so generous with it.

The whole event had such class - Dan Nichol as MC, Jurie Roux giving the keynote address, the kind staff offering things, but nothing prepared me for what was inside.

Everything was so generous and so classy.

There was a crowd inside. There was music. A touch of your finger could call up a hero. It was all so much. I was stunned. I had visited the site when the two ladies from Mather & Co of Wimslow, the two Sarahs, were planning what they were going to do. I could never in a thousand years have visualised what the wonder of what they have achieved. It was to me a breath-taking revelation, a great experience - Springbok Experience and I long to go back, quietly, taking in as much knowledge and emotions as I can.

By Paul Dobson

I have produced this as a personal experience as I simply could not take in enough to make it factual.

But here are some facts:

Address: Portswood House, V&A Waterfront, Cape Town

Opening Hours: 10.00 to 18.00 every day (except Christmas Day)

Adults (18 +): R50
Scholars (5-18): R30
Children under 5: free
Over 60s: R30
Groups of 10+ by arrangement: R40 per person
School groups by arrangement: R20 per person