On Monday, South Africa’s President, Cyril Ramaphosa, announced a public holiday to celebrate the national team’s Rugby World Cup victory — but not before students will have completed their final exams.
Many in the country, where rugby stirs strong passions, had hoped for an extra day off, possibly this week, to bask in the glory of Saturday’s 12-11 win over New Zealand.
They were only partially appeased, with Ramaphosa declaring December 15 a public holiday.
“This victory rightfully calls for a moment of national recognition and celebration of our rugby players and their achievements,” the president said in a televised address to the nation.
“I know that many of us want us to have a holiday now to celebrate. But we should all agree that we should give our matriculants time to focus on their exams and celebrate afterwards.”
School starts in January and ends in December in South Africa and most students in their last year of high school took the first test of their matriculation exam on Monday.
The Springboks, with iconic captain Siya Kolisi to the fore, beat New Zealand in a gripping final for a record fourth title in Paris on Saturday, sparking jubilant scenes across South Africa.
The win had a particular significance in the country, where rugby is seen as a unifying force able to bridge racial and social divides, as well as a welcome distraction from poverty, unemployment and other challenges.
The Springboks were once seen as a symbol of apartheid, as, for 90 years, selectors chose only white players.
That slowly started to change after the advent of democracy in 1994 with Nelson Mandela famously rallying behind the team, which a year later won its first World Cup.
In recent years, Kolisi, 32, the first black player to wear the captain’s armband in a Test match, has been pivotal in bringing many young, black South Africans closer to the sport.
Ramaphosa, who is facing a general election next year, used his speech to paint a rosy picture of a country on a path towards a better future, after the coronavirus pandemic, corruption scandals and an ongoing but abating energy crisis.
“I am confident that through the actions we are taking now, we will overcome the challenges we face and build a society that works for all of its people,” he said after showcasing his government achievements.
“We have much more to do. But like the Springboks, we have the determination and commitment to overcome any challenge.”
The Springboks are expected to arrive back in South Africa from France on Tuesday.