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South African captain Siya Kolisi holds the Webb Ellis Cup aloft after South Africa defeated England to win the Rugby World Cup final at International Yokohama Stadium in Yokohama, Japan, Nov. 2, 2019.

Thando Makasi has always been a rugby fan, she says — a rare black supporter in a sport long associated with her country’s white minority.

But times are changing. On Saturday, South African rugby fans of all racial backgrounds cheered as a black player from her small, impoverished hometown, helmed the national rugby team, the Springboks, to a decisive 32-12 victory over England in a historic Rugby World Cup final.

And so, for Makasi, this was about more than just a game.

“This tournament has just brought so much hope,” she said in Johannesburg as she watched the match at a downtown restaurant with her husband and 17-year-old son. “... We really are rallying behind the Boks and we are one together, strong together. We are stronger together. That’s a win. That’s a win for South Africa.”

The win, many fans said, is reminiscent of the nation’s 1995 triumph at the same tournament. South Africa ended the racist apartheid system in 1994. The next year, the country’s first black president, Nelson Mandela, walked onto the pitch, wearing a green-and-gold Springbok jersey, to congratulate team captain Francois Pienaar. Their warm embrace showed this divided nation a path to racial reconciliation.

Siya Kolisi, the squad’s first black captain, was clearly aware of the implications beyond the pitch.

South African Rugby Captain’s Win Unites Divided Nation video player.
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“I’ve never seen South Africa like this,” he said after the final match, in Yokohama, Japan. “I mean, obviously in 1995, what the World Cup did for us, and now, with all the challenges we are having, the coach just came and told us the last game, we’re not playing for ourselves anymore, We’re playing for people back home.”

That’s a message that was heard loud and clear by fans in Johannesburg, South Africa’s largest city and a melting pot of different races and nationalities. Many young black South Africans, affected by high unemployment and persistent inequality, acknowledge that Mandela’s dream of racial reconciliation isn’t quite complete.

But, says 28-year-old fan Madi Ramahuma, events like this help.

“In South Africa, it’s not about color,” she said. “Since 1994, we are just trying, eventually we’re getting there, just to be South Africans, But one thing I love about sports is it always bring us all together. It doesn’t matter where you’re from, what you have, what you don’t have, it’s sports.”

Even non-supporters agree. In this crowd, though, Nigel Ngwenya stood out — and not just because he plays rugby for the University of the Witwatersrand and weighs 120 kilograms.

Ngwenya, who was born in Zimbabwe and educated in South Africa, is an England fan, and wore their red jersey. But, he said, he gives the Springboks their due.

“They have that fighting spirit,” he said. “They’ve got that never-give-up, never die spirit. Whatever you bring to the table, they try to catch up and actually do better, which they’ve done in the past games.

"Siya Kolisi, ah, man — guy’s coming from far… It’s a shame I’m not supporting him. I’d have preferred him to play for England.” He laughs.

A newspaper seller poses for a photograph on Nov. 3, 2019 in Johannesburg with the banner headlines of South Africa's Rugby World Cup win over England on Saturday. South Africa beat England 32-12.

It was a strong and exciting match, with both tries scored by non-white players against a uninspired English team. For fan Devon Seoble and his friends, who are members of South Africa’s mixed-race community, that was icing on the cake.

“It obviously makes us feel awesome,” he said “I mean, coming from 1994, it shows how much the country’s grown, having a black captain, having an African black captain leading our team. It’s something brilliant, it shows the change, it shows democracy.”

By the final whistle, even Ngwenya — the England supporter — was a changed fan, swapping his red jersey for Springbok green. He laughed as he congratulated other fans, and Kolisi spoke to his excited nation, and to rugby fans around the world.

“We can achieve anything if we work together as one,” he said.

Drought has resulted in dozens of cattle dying in southern Zimbabwe.

CAPE TOWN (Reuters) - A record 45 million people across southern Africa face severe food shortages in the next six months, with around a quarter of them currently enduring drought-induced “crisis” food insecurity, three United Nations agencies warned on Thursday.

The 16-member Southern African Development Community is in the grips of a severe drought, as climate change wreaks havoc in impoverished countries struggling to cope with extreme natural disasters, such as Cyclone Idai which devastated Mozambique earlier this year.

“We’ve had the worst drought in 35 years in central and western areas during the growing season,” said Margaret Malu, acting regional director for southern Africa at the World Food Programme (WFP).

“We must meet the pressing emergency food and nutrition needs of millions of people, but also invest in building the resilience of those threatened by ever more frequent and severe droughts, floods and storms,” Malu said in a statement.

WFP, the Food and Agriculture Organization and the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) appealed jointly for urgent funding to help mitigate the effects of climate change in Africa.

Southern Africa’s temperatures are rising at twice the global average, according to the International Panel on Climate Change, and the region includes six of the nine African countries set to be hardest-hit by adverse weather in coming years - DR Congo, Malawi, Mozambique, Tanzania, Zambia and Zimbabwe.

“With the region so prone to shocks and afflicted by high rates of chronic hunger, inequality and structural poverty, climate change is an existential emergency which must be tackled with the utmost urgency,” said Robson Mutandi, IFAD Director for the Southern Africa hub said. (Reporting by Wendell Roelf; Editing by Giles Elgood)

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