As the nation celebrates 20 years of democracy I thought about all the great sporting moments South Africa has enjoyed over the last two decades. There is a school of tought that for a nation as small as underdeveloped as ours with our socio-economic challenges and general geographic isolation, that we are punching above our weight as a sporting nation. Nevertheless, this country has produced several outstanding athletes and thus I have put together a list of 20 great sporting moments since Nelson Mandela became the country’s first democratically-elected president. Of course there are great moments that had to be scrapped from the final list and this kind of thing is always more subjective than objective. Therefore feel free to add your super sports moment from the last 20 years and see how this list compares. Let us begin then in chronological order.
1 10 May 1994: President Nelson Mandela’s first match as head of state was the inaugural Nelson Mandela Challenge. This Ellis Park fixture between Bafana Bafana and Zambia and at half-time the score was still 0-0. Mandela went to visit the dressing room at the break to offer a few words of inspiration. Well, two minutes into the second half Brendan Augustine and Doctor Khumalo had handed South Africa a 2-0 lead. Chipolopolo would find a consolation but what was to become known as “Madiba Magic” was born.
2 20 June 1994: Ernie Els brings home the country’s first Major golf event since 1978 by winning the US Open. The 24-year old won the first of his four major titles on the second sudden-death hole to defeat Loren Roberts, after Colin Montgomerie was eliminated in an 18-hole playoff. Els would win the US Open again in 1997 as well as two British Open titles in 2002 and 2012.
3 20 August 1994: Vuyani Bungu entered the ring against IBF Junior Featherweight champion Kennedy McKinney as the rank underdog at the Carousel. Twelve rounds later two judges scored it 116-112 and one 117-111 in favour of The Beast and the new champion of the world from Mdantsane. Bungu’s victory was so remarkable that The Ring rated it as their upset of the year. Bungu would go on to defend his title 13 times before vacating and moving up to featherweight.
4 20 June 1995: South Africa had struggled to adapt to the rigours of international rugby post-isolation. Could the Springboks win the Rugby World Cup on home soil? The tone was set by dispatching of the world champion Australians in the opening match 27-18. Francois Pienaar’s men went from strength to strength displaying an immovable defence as they outlasted the ostensibly invincible New Zealand in extra time in the final 15-12. And who could ever forget that Joel Stransky drop goal?
5 16 December 1995: How appropriate that on the country’s Day Of Reconciliation, Orlando Pirates would achieve South Africa’s greatest club achievement in Africa? The African Cup of Champions Clubs was won by seeing off ASEC Mimosas of Ivory Coast over two legs, including an almost unthinkable 1-0 victory away from home.
6 3 February 1996: Bafana Bafana defy the odds by winning the Africa Cup of Nations. Although the score was 0-0 at half-time, Mark Williams struck twice in the final against Tunisia to ensure Clive Barker’s side lifted the trophy. Along the way South Africa annihilated African powerhouses like Cameroon and Ghana in the opening match and semi-final respectively.
7 July/August 1996: First it was Penny Heyns who became the first South African athlete in 44 years to win an Olympic gold medal. Not content with one, Heyns added a second gold to capture the breaststroke and backstroke golds. Then on the final day of the Games, Josia Thugwane became the first black South African to win gold by finishing first in the marathon. Three gold medals was the country’s best ever return from an Olympics.
8 16 August 1997: Bafana Bafana needed to beat Congo and their flight to France 98 was booked. In an understandably nervous mach the winning score was only 1-0 but oh, what a goal as Phil Masinga struck from long range on 14 minutes to send South Africa to its first ever FIFA World Cup™.
9 September 1998: To date the only cricket tournament to be held at the Commonwealth Games was won by a slightly under-strength South Africa. Despite needing 34 runs from the final wicket partnership against Sri Lanka in the semi-final, Nicky Boje and Alan Dawson saw the South Africans home who then defeated a full-strength Australia in the final to win the gold medal.
10 1 September 2000: Dingaan Thobela had not been a recognised world champion since 1994. Morever the Rose of Soweto had bulged from a lightweight to a super middleweight. However there was one great fight left in Thobela yet. A twelfth round knockout of Glenn Catley saw the Rose annex the WBC Super Middleweight belt for one last moment of glory at Carnival City.
11 July/August 2003: 22-year old Graeme Smith is the new South African cricket captain. Smith immediately proves his doubters wrong with back-to-back double centuries at Edbaston and Lord’s. Even though the test series is drawn Smith would return five years later to win the series before taking his troops to Australia to win a Test series Down Under. The feat would be repeated again in 2012 as Smith would go on to statistically become the country’s greatest ever captain.
12 3 July 2005: We take it for granted these days that the Bryan brothers will rock up at a tennis tournament and win. Well Bob and Mike were in for a surprise on this day. South Africa’s Wesley Moodie and his Australian doubles partner Stephen Huss got the better of the brothers 7-6, 6-3, 6-7, 6-3 to win Wimbledon.
13 19 May 2007: For years South African sides had been the poor cousin of the Super 12/14 tournament. Not in 2007 though when two of the country’s teams qualified for the final thus guaranteeing a South African victory. Bryan Habana scored a last-gasp try as the Bulls snatched victory from the jaws of defeat against the Sharks in Durban. The Pretoria franchise would go on to win the competition again in 2009 and 2010, when they beat the Stormers in another all-South African final.
14 20 October 2007: Some say South Africa were fortunate in that they did not face Australia, New Zealand or host nation France on their way to winning their second Rugby World Cup title in 2007. The fact is, it is not Jake White’s fault the Wallabies and All Blacks were eliminated in the quarter-finals. The Springboks were flawless in France for the most part and never looked troubled en route to their second William Webb Ellis Cup, apart from a slight wobble in a group game against Tonga which they eventually won anyway.
15 30 December 2008: South Africa had already chased down 414 to win the first Test in Perth against Australia and were now moving in for the kill. Dale Steyn took 10 wickets and JP Duminy stroked a superb 166 at the Melbourne Cricket Ground as the once mighty Australians were vanquished by nine wickets and the Proteas had won their first ever Test series in Australia. Just for good measure Graeme Smith and his men returned four years later to do it all again.
16 June 2009: The British and Irish Lions came to South Africa in 1997 and won a series that they perhaps should not have. In 2009 the Springboks set the record straight by winning in Durban first, and then at Loftus as Morne Steyn first made a name for himself in the green and gold. The Boks would go on to enjoy a dominant year in which they won the Tri-Nations for only the third time to boot.
17 11 June 2010: For six years South Africans were waiting for the FIFA World Cup™ to kick off. It had taken 80 years for the tournament to come to Africa and the first goal could not have been more appropriate. Siphiwe Tshabalala beat the Mexican defence down the left flank, moved into the penalty area and unleashed a fierce left footed bullet that flew into the top of the opposite corner to put the host nation 1-0 up. It was as if a bomb had exploded at Soccer City.
18 July 2012: No South African had ever scored a triple century in Test cricket. Not until Hashim Amla came to the wicket against England at The Oval. Amla struck an unbeaten 311 as the Proteas posted 637/2 declared and won by an innings and 12 runs.
19 July/August 2012: South Africa were dismal at the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games winning just one silver medal thanks to Khotso Mokoena. However in 2012 the picture was very much different in London. Cameron Van Der Burgh first won a breaststroke gold medal before Chad Le Clos defeated the great Michael Phelps to win butterfly gold. Matthew Brittain, John Smith, James Thompson and Sizwe Ndlovu then nicked a third gold in the rowing boat as three golds made up a total of six medals to compLete the country’s best showing at the Games.
20 19 November 2013: World and European champions Spain were in town and even the staunchest of Bafana Bafana fans were fearing the worst. Nobody told Bernard Parker who netted the only goal as South Africa shocked the Spaniards at FNB Stadium to win 1-0.