Today we look back to a very sad public memorial for Springbok and Bulls hero Joost Van Der Westhuizen that took place last Friday at Loftus Versfeld Stadium in Pretoria, the home of the Bulls and Joost’s favourite and home ground.
The emotional fans were out in full force in their green and gold to say goodbye to our Springbok hero and to support his beloved family. When asked to give a minutes applause for Joost, instead of a minutes silence the fans obliged in style standing, cheering and applauding loudly!
Some of Joost’s 1995 Rugby World Cup winning teammates were also there to bid him farewell. Joost was a key part of the victory against New Zealand in the Rugby World Cup 1995 final. He made a crucial tackle against the All Black giant Jonah Lomu stopping him from scoring. And who can forget that brilliant pass Van Der Westhuizen made to Joel Stransky that led to Stransky’s World Cup winning drop-kick! In a touching tribute, the 1995 Springboks, their manager Morne du Plessis, and Captain Francois Pienaar, carried Joost’s casket out onto the field to cheering fans followed by Joost’s family who were all smartly dressed in black and white.
Joost was honoured with a provincial funeral. The national flag at all flag stations in Gauteng was flown at half-mast on Friday. The South African flag was draped over the casket for the duration of the ceremony. The SAPS performed a touching ceremony honouring and saluting the sports star. Later towards the end of the service SAPS members, in an honourable ceremony, took the flag off the casket and handed it to the Minister of Sport Fikile Mbalula who in turn presented the flag to Joost Van Der Westhuizen’s parents. The Minister of Sport Fikile Mbalula gave a touching address to the fans at the memorial. “For Joost is not only the golden boy of Loftus Versfeld‚ he is a national star and international sport icon in the league of George Gregan of Australia‚ Jonah Lomu and Dan Carter of New Zealand‚” Mbalula said. “We speak of him in these glowing terms because we believe his undying spirit will live on for many years to come‚ inspiring future generations of this rugby and sports-living nation.” Mbalula announced to a cheering crowd “My bloed is blou”.
Joost’s brother Pieter paid an emotional tribute to Joost by saying that his brother worked hard to make his country proud. “He was very determined to succeed. We were a simply family – he took us further and became a Springbok. When he told me he will become a Springbok at school – I thought it’s just another wish. He worked very hard to become the Springbok that he is today,” he said. “No matter what the situation, Joost always took the positive out of it,” said Pieter.
Joost Van Der Westhuizen’s 1995 Rugby World Cup winning captain Francois Pienaar gave a powerful tribute to Joost. He said Joost was the ultimate competitor. “He loved to win.” “Joost became a legend not once, but twice”, says Pienaar. “He always pushed the boundaries. An individual spirit that would do anything for his teammates. On the field he played like a rock star and off the field he partied like a rock star, because after all he was a rock star.” “He was funny and naughty… and always, always smiling.”
Amor Van Der Westhuizen, Joost’s estranged wife gave a very emotional and beautiful tribute saying that Heaven has gained another angel. She said she feels lucky to be part of a legacy even if only for a while. She said they may have separated, but they still managed to build a life together. She said Joost fought so hard because he wanted to be there for his children. “Thank you Joost for being my first love, for giving me my greatest gift, Kylie and Jordan. We love you and we miss you,” an emotional Amor said.
Among the musical performers was Ampie du Preez and a Touch of Class performed an emotional version of Hallelujah. Joost’s niece Sumari Botha wrote a song for Joost titled Number 9. She so bravely and emotionally sang her tribute song for her beloved uncle at his memorial – a beautiful song sang by such a beautiful voice. PJ ‘Thandeka’ Powers sang an amazing version of World In Union, the 1995 Rugby World Cup’s anthem that she sang at the opening and closing ceremonies in 1995.
Joost’s entire family were called up to the stage during the later part of the ceremony to pay their last respects. They all, including Joost and Amor’s children Jordan and Kyle, laid beautiful white roses on his casket. White doves were released which flew over Loftus in Joost’s honour. Then Joost’s brothers, his son Jordan and other male family members carried Joost Van Der Westhuizen in his casket through the Loftus Versveld tunnel one last time to a huge applause from the crowd.
Rest in Peace Joost. You have truly inspired a nation. You have inspired many people through both your achievements on the rugby field and through your efforts to find a cure for Motor Neuron Disease. Your legacy will live on for many years to come.