To be at OR Tambo International Airport on Tuesday was to witness the coming together of South Africans from all walks of life, writes SIMON BORCHARDT
After the Springboks lifted the Webb Ellis Cup in Yokohama last Saturday, coach Rassie Erasmus said he hoped it would inspire hope and help uplift South Africa.
'We need this. Our country is faced with a lot of challenges, but this is what is going to bring us together.'
It certainly brought people together at OR Tambo on Tuesday. When I walked into the international arrivals terminal at around 15:00 there was already a huge group of fans singing and dancing, with hundreds of others looking on from the first and second-floor railings.
The first group of Bok players arrived at around 15:30. By the time the second arrived at around 17:00, the terminal was jam-packed and the roar deafening when they walked through.
Just over a minute later, the players had been whisked off to a press conference and the fans faced a long wait for the arrival of captain Siya Kolisi and coach Rassie Erasmus, whose plane had been delayed.
The party continued over the next three hours, though, with singing and dancing inside the terminal, while other fans walked across to the hotel where the Boks were staying to try to catch a glimpse of their heroes.
The highlight of the day for me was when a small band came into the terminal, with fans following them around like the Pied Piper. They sang and danced while walking around the first floor of the terminal and then took an escalator up to the second (while still singing and dancing). It gave me goosebumps.
We had heard that Kolisi and Erasmus would land at around 19:25, which they apparently did, but it would be another hour before they finally walked through the terminal. No one I was with moaned, though; they just kept singing, dancing or chatting happily among each other.
When the captain and coach were finally spotted by the crowd, the roar went up again and you couldn't hear yourself think when Kolisi lifted the glittering gold trophy, which must have been given another polish during the flight.
A couple of minutes later, Kolisi and Erasmus were gone and most of the fans began to disperse.
Some have said it would have been better to reward those at the airport by conducting interviews with the Boks on a stage where everyone could hear what they had to say.
They have a valid point, but those fans who were at OR Tambo will still never forget the day they welcomed their heroes home.
ALSO READ: Springbok Trophy Tour - Full details on Gauteng route