View from South Africa: Defeat to the Lions coincides with upturn in country’s fortunes

With Covid third wave having reached its peak, locals can at least drown their sorrows

A member of the South African Police Service detains a suspected looter outside a warehouse storing alcohol in Durban. Photograph: Guillem Sartorio/AFP via Getty Images

The British & Irish Lions' victory over the Springboks on Saturday has coincided with a much-needed upturn in fortunes for a beleaguered South Africa, which has been grappling with two major crises since early July.

A little over 24 hours after the Lions' gutsy win in the opening Test in Cape Town, president Cyril Ramaphosa told South Africans he was easing the lockdown restrictions they were currently living under as the peak of the country's third wave of Covid-19 had now passed.

Figures from the department of health released on Sunday show that 9,718 Covid-19 tests nationwide came back positive over the previous 24 hours, which is a drop of over 2,000 from Saturday’s figure of 12,056.

South Africa Rugby have confirmed that the second and third Lions Tests will be moved from Johannesburg to Cape Town. Photograph: Billy Stickland/Inpho

Ramaphosa said overall infections were down 20 per cent from the previous week, although the figures are still rising in three provinces, including KwaZulu-Natal (KZN), which recently saw widespread civil unrest.


Sadly, 287 more people have also died during that time frame after contracting Covid-19, taking South Africa’s official death toll to 69,775 since the first official case of the virus was recorded in the country on March 5th, 2020.

In the Western Cape province, where the Lions are based for the remainder of their three-Test series against the Rugby World Cup champions, the authorities say the peak of its third wave was passed by July 17th.

However, health officials have warned locals not to get complacent as there are still more than 28,000 active cases in the province.

While Springbok fans might be unhappy about the manner in which the Lions came from behind on Saturday to win 22-17, the easing of restrictions means they can at least buy alcohol now if they need to drown their sorrows.

In addition, restaurants and bars can open their doors again until 9pm, which gives rugby fans more options around where they can view the games. The night-time curfew has also been moved an hour later to start at 10pm, although it will still end at 4am.

Another positive development for the nation is that South Africa's security forces have managed to contain the unrest that swept through KZN and Gauteng provinces earlier this month, for the short term at least.

Sparked by former president Jacob Zuma’s jailing by the constitutional court on July 8th for being in contempt of court, at one point there were concerns the violence, which initially caught the government by surprise, might spread beyond the two affected regions.

More than 330 people died in the week-long mass looting and violence before it was brought under control by the police and army. The authorities have revealed they are investigating many of the deaths as murder cases linked to vigilantism.

Unfortunately, the sense of hope that the improved Covid-19 figures have given many people in the Western Cape has been somewhat offset by an outbreak of violence in the local taxi industry that has left over 80 people dead since the start of 2021.

Last Friday the situation reached breaking point, and the government was forced to deploy the army to Cape Town to help police to bring a conflict between rival taxi associations under control.

More than 30 people have lost their lives in July so far in what appears to be tit-for-tat killings by taxi association members seeking to control the routes. As of Monday, the Bellville and Paarl taxi route at the centre of the bloody taxi war was closed for two months.

In terms of how South Africa’s rugby writers have assessed the Lions’ triumph over the Springboks in the engrossing first Test, most believe the hosts can bounce back in the next Saturday to take the series to a decider if they can reclaim their 2019 form.

In his column for News24 media, Rob Houwing stated it would be wrong to think the Lions' demolition of the Springboks in the second half of last Saturday's game meant the writing was on the wall for the world champions.

“It would be illogical, knee-jerk and frankly disloyal of anybody Bok-inclined to already be compiling grumpy epitaphs to the 2021 Boks, who lost a first Test decided by fine margins,” he insisted.

He added that “many of the calm, clinical qualities that had characterised the Boks’ ascent to the RWC 2019 crown came pleasingly to the fore in the first half”. But he concluded it was their “fatally dozy start to the second period” that put the match beyond them.

Writing in SA Rugby magazine, Craig Lewis said that after all the unrest in South Africa amid a Covid-19 third wave, local rugby fans were more desperate than ever for the type of jubilant relief that a Springbok victory could provide.

“Yet, it wasn’t to be, and the manner in which the Springboks faded under immense pressure from the Lions was as frustrating as it was difficult to watch for partisan South African supporters,” he said.

Lewis went on to say that even though the first Test’s second half may have dented the Springboks’ pride, it will have also served to fire up the world champions to go in search of redemption next weekend.

“All in all, the Springboks will be better for having experienced Saturday’s 80-minute examination, and there would have been countless lessons learned in defeat,” he surmised, before adding “the true character of this Bok side is about to be unveiled”.