GUILDFORD, England (AP) — The murder of a Johannesburg school teacher who was an avid Springboks supporter is giving South Africa added motivation to win their Rugby World Cup semifinal this weekend.
Star winger Bryan Habana opened a news conference Tuesday by saying he wanted to honor the memory of Zukisa Kela and play for all South Africans when he takes on New Zealand on Saturday.
“We are playing for each other as a team and for all South Africans from all walks of life who experience the highs and lows of life on a daily basis, but this week there is one fan who is particularly in our thoughts,” Habana said.
Kela’s last words to his school principal reportedly were a popular South African chant: “Long live, Springboks, long live.”
The South African Rugby Union said Kela and a friend drowned after being tied up and thrown into a lake by a gang of 12 in Johannesburg on Saturday. One of the men’s partners was raped, and another escaped and called for help.
“On behalf of the Springboks, to Zukisa Kela’s family, friends and school community as well as to the families of the other victims of the attack, you are in our thoughts and prayers after Saturday’s tragic incident,” Habana said.
As a sport’s co-ordinator, Kela helped revive rugby at the Westbury Secondary School where he worked.
South African media reported Kela said “viva ‘maBokoBoko viva” to his school principle before he left to watch the Springboks beat Wales in their World Cup quarterfinal on Saturday.
“For us, to see the passion he had for the Springboks, makes playing for the Boks and representing South Africa so much more special,” Habana said. “Thinking of everyone back home and from a Springbok point of view, we hope to instil some pride back in this jersey.”
Habana said Kela’s death puts losses on the sporting field into the perspective. South Africa lost to Japan in the group stage in the biggest upset in the history of rugby.
“Losing a quarterfinal, losing a semifinal, even losing a final of a World Cup would never be ideal, and losing is certainly not something we have on the back of our minds — but the loss of life is not something you can put a value on,” Habana said. “Rugby has been really fortunate to have given our country back so much, to have united in a way like no other, and inspired and given hope like never before.”
Habana was referencing the iconic moment when Nelson Mandela, wearing a Springboks jersey, give captain Francois Pienaar the World Cup trophy after South Africa beat New Zealand in the 1995 final in Johannesburg. It was South Africa’s first appearance at the Rugby World Cup after international sports sanctions were lifted post-apartheid.
“So going out there on Saturday we’d like just to inspire, to give back and to hopefully unite a nation that so dearly needs it at the moment,” Habana said.
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