How the Gwijo Squad began – and where it is going

2019-07-27T10:06:05+02:00

Founder and chairman of the Gwijo Squad CHULUMANCO MACINGWANE explains how they were formed, why igwijo is for everyone, and their ambitious goals for the next four years.

I visited my girlfriend, now my fiancée, in Durban in June 2017. She had got us tickets for South Africa A’s match against the French Barbarians at the Moses Mabhida Stadium, which was played on the Friday night before the Springboks’ Test against France at Kings Park. It was a fantastic game but there was a tiny crowd and funeral-like atmosphere. I remember thinking that the powers-that-be could have given tickets away for free and brought people in who could have created an atmosphere.

The following weekend, South Africa A were set to play the French Barbarians at Orlando Stadium ahead of the third Test at Ellis Park. I thought a couple of my friends would be interested in going to the game in Orlando and that we could make a road trip of it. I made a few calls and by the end of the week we had a group of 35. We hired a bus and attended the game. The Gwijo Squad was born.

We were so excited by that experience that we decided we had to do it again, this time at a Bok Test. We hadn’t gone to the Test in Joburg because the tickets had been R450-plus each and to gather a whole bunch of people at short notice at such an expense would have been a challenge. So that November, we decided we were going to attend a Test in June 2018. We knew roughly how much the tickets would cost and had people put money away every month over the next seven months.

When SA Rugby announced that England would be coming to South Africa in June, we were thrilled, because they were ranked No 2 in the world at that stage. Rassie Erasmus had been appointed Bok coach and then Siya Kolisi was named Bok captain. So the Gwijo Squad’s first Test happened to be Siya’s first as skipper – we couldn’t have planned it any better! Aphiwe Dyantyi and S’bu Nkosi also ended up making their Test debuts and they both scored tries right in front of us.

What is igwigo? It is a song that takes the form of a leader or a small group of leaders and has a crowd response. Igwigo always needs a leader and one cannot igwigo alone, in fact, the bigger the group, the better. Igwigo is ubiquitous in most South African cultures and sung in most group gatherings, whether we are happy, celebrating or mourning – there are gwigos for every occasion.

Many of us in the founding group of the Gwijo Squad are Xhosa, so we tend to sing Xhosa songs, but we don’t want to exclude others. The challenge is that for igwijo to happen it needs a knowledgable leader and a Xhosa leader is obviously going to be most comfortable leading Xhosa songs. We hope that as we grow we will start to see more languages included in our repertoire of songs.

We are very ambitious in terms of where the Gwijo Squad can go from here. We’ve spoken about our desire to have the majority of a rugby stadium crowd being able to sing with us. For that to happen, though, we would need to teach the country how to igwijo and we began that process with the campaign around ‘Siwelele’.

We want to make it clear to people that we want to be inclusive, that this isn’t specific to any colour or creed. We’ve taught our songs to non-Xhosa people, and white and coloured guys who don’t speak any African language at all. Some of them fly up from Cape Town or Durban to attend Tests in Joburg because they really believe in this positive transformation that is happening in South African rugby.

Gwijo Squad

Fans flying up to be part of the Gwijo Squad

It’s extraordinary and unprecedented that a Springbok captain would be so involved in a supporters’ group. At the Boks’ hotel in Joburg last week we taught Siya a song called ‘Khanimeni’, which has its own simple choreography.

After the game, a group of players – including Siya, Aphiwe, S’bu and Makazole Mapimpi – came over to us. We were already singing a song, but Siya started doing the choreography for ‘Khanimeni’, as a request for us to sing it, which we did.

The Gwijo Squad have set ourselves goals for the next four years. In 2020, we’d like to have 500 people at the All Blacks Test. The British & Irish Lions will tour South Africa in 2021 so we plan to follow them around the country. And then in 2023, we want to take 1,000 people to France for the World Cup. Can you imagine how amazing that would be?

As told to Simon Borchardt

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