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Race quotas for South African rugby: Four Saffas chat

Cornal Hendricks takes the ball up against the Wallabies. (AFP PHOTO/GIANLUIGI GUERCIA)
Roar Guru
5th March, 2015
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3799 Reads

Four Saffas (Vic, Charl, Biltongbek, and Harry Jones) from different walks of life in a virtual barber shop discuss the South African rugby union’s latest attempt to satisfy the African National Congress demands that the Springboks be less white and more “African.”

Last week, SARU chief executive Jurie Roux announced that South Africa will include seven non-white players in their 23-man match-day squads ahead of the 2015 World Cup, and at least two of the seven selections must be black Africans, as part of a broader plan to reduce white representation in all domestic and national teams (sevens, schools, youth, Currie Cup, as well) by 2019 to 50 per cent or less.

Mr. Roux stressed this is “not a quota system,” but acknowledged it was a response to government pressure for “racial transformation.”

Heyneke Meyer’s first selection under the new system will come against a World XV in Cape Town on 11 July, 2015. Then, the ‘Boks will face Australia, New Zealand and Argentina in the Rugby Championship before travelling to the World Cup in England in September.

Apart from the Springboks national side, the SARU’s target of 50 per cent black representation by 2019 would apply to national sevens, youth and schoolboy teams and to the Currie Cup, the national inter-provincial rugby competition.

Biltongbek is well-known to The Roar’s rugby-sphere; a plain-spoken middle-aged Afrikaner loosehead prop who grew up with a little bit of money and a deep love of rugby. He always advocates for smarter rugby in South Africa, with a more attacking, unpredictable flair.

Charl works “in the bush,” is a student of politics; he prefers to remain relatively mysterious, but rumour has it that he is not a real fan of the ANC and they would probably classify him as “non-African non-Black non-White non-Indian.”

Vic does not suffer from any “white” stigma, he’s Zulu in fact, and is a family man who likes a joke and likes his rugby, and does not worry about being politically correct.

Harry grew up relatively white in the leafy and neo-Communist English-speaking Southern Suburbs of Cape Town, played loose forward with an attitude, and when he is not practicing international labour law and drinking interesting beers, writes about rugby history and culture.

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Harry: Guys, it seems like the root of this quota that must not be called a quota is a desire to transform our national rugby team into a more representative mix. Put another way, there is this belief that a national sport team must represent the nation’s peoples; it should not, for instance, be disproportionately white or black. What do you think?

Biltong: While it can be reasoned that a national team should be representative of its peoples, the reality is that a national team is dependent on the participation of its peoples, and if a sector of its peoples are not participating then it stands to reason that they won’t be represented.

Harry: That’s true, Biltong. You can’t make a culture love something they don’t, or engineer all of that.

Vic: Is that statement valid only for South African sports teams, or are we going to demand the same standard of all countries who have different races, cultures and colours?

Harry: Are we even going to demand it of our football team? But honestly, I don’t really care if Bafana Bafana is all black.

To me, a national sport team doesn’t have to perfectly or even approximately be the perfect calibration of colour of the South African rainbow. As long as a team is made up of the best South Africans playing their sport, I will be happy to cheer for a black African swimming squad or a totally coloured bobsled team in the Olympics.

Charl: A national sports team should be a selection of the best sportsmen of its peoples – be they black, white or other.

Colour has no place in selection of the elite sportsman. What “should” be part of it, is that all people should be given the opportunity to achieve the elite level if they have the talent and ability to. I do like the idea of an all Coloured bobsled team though.

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Harry: OK, guys, but the powers that be think we are wrong, and that the Boks and the Super Rugby teams are way too white. Assume that we need to have more of a mix, is a quota the only way to go? I mean I am pretty sure this breaks World Rugby and Olympic standards and charters.

Charl: The reason why the Springbok, Super Rugby and Currie Cup teams are mostly white is because they are the best players at the moment.

If enough time, money and effort are put into junior and senior rugby over the next 20 years by the government, it might be different. And yes, quotas are against Olympic and World rugby rules.

Harry: Unfortunately for the politicians, slow and steady wins the race when it’s about maintaining excellence.

There is no comparison between 1993 and now, in terms of the diversity and inclusiveness at schools, club, professional, and national levels, not just with players, but also fans, coaches, referees, and administrators.

But if we want to maintain excellence, we should not fast track a third or fourth-best player into the national XV, because once you make sport the servant of politics, you have corrupted the whole point of competitive sport.

Biltong: I have a question. Once the Springbok team is transformed, where will all these inspired African kids play rugby?

Harry: On lovely fields built next to lovely lakes built by the ANC? I heard Jurie Roux say that 84 per cent of U18 rugby players in South Africa are black African, and I took that to mean that the ANC is telling SARU that if that (84 per cent figure) is true, the only reason the Boks are about 85 per cent white is institutional racism. What do you say to that?

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Charl: 84 per cent of U18 rugby players are “black African” – really? And then they disappear without trace?

Biltong: There is no evidence to support the quoted figure of 84 per cent, the statement is therefore not worth consideration. It is bull. Not blue bull. Just bull.

Harry: I think it was a typo. 84 per cent is the body fat percentage of Coenie Oosthuizen. Okay, but now we get to something that really makes me crazy.

In this new protocol, the government slices and dices the non-white community into two parts (or maybe three, because we won’t know how many Indians must be in the ‘Boks by year 2025). They won’t let SARU “solve” the “too white Boks” problem by only increasing Coloured representation. It must be more black Africans, even more than Coloured.

Vic: I say why not. Why not discriminate on hue – at least that will be new. But if I were a slightly lighter hue than, say, me, I’d sew. I mean sue. Because I’d want retribution for the wrongs of the past done to the darker hue in me.

Harry: But seriously, man. Why take backward steps? If Nizaam Carr’s elevation to the Boks causes the Muslim communities in the Cape to turn on to the sport in a new way, why demote him in favour of Oupa Mohoje?

This obsession with “black African” is silly; as if Coloureds are not African (what are they, then?) or if 300 years of living in the same African wine-lands doesn’t make Jean de Villiers’ family “African” enough.

Biltong: What if we have three representative rugby teams, one with the best players in the country, we will call them the Proteas. Then an all-black African team, we will call them the Impis and one Coloured team we will call them the Inbetweeners? They each get to play four Tests per year.

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Charl: Bring it on.

Harry: So, it seems the ANC is really saying that social problems can be addressed – maybe even solved – by sport. Will we more unified when the Boks are more black? When they are the Springblacks?

Biltong: Hell, if making the Springboks black will solve education, corruption, crime, unemployment, housing, healthcare and every other problem in our society, I am all for it. In fact select 23 African players as I will gladly sacrifice the Springbok to make our country great. Just one question, who will the ANC blame if it fails?

Charl: The ANC will blame Jan van Riebeeck [Dutch sailor who “founded”Cape Town in 1652]. The only time I will sacrifice the Springbok is if players are not chosen on merit, and merit alone. Then they don’t deserve to wear my Springbok. And yes it is mine, and every other South African’s who respect and love it. It represents my country. And my people. And if you don’t want it, create your own team. Leave mine alone.

Vic: No, we won’t unify around the Springboks. We are now more divided than ever. And this is encouraged if not orchestrated by the ANC, who take the taxes of the people, but encourage them to kill.

Yes, President Zuma – you and your friend Julius [Malema; disgraced former ANC leader]. Social problems will be addressed if we hold our government to account. If we get rid of the corrupt. The greedy. The criminals. If we demand accountability and responsibility and transparency. If we demand equality for all. If we demand that the lightest and the darkest of hues are provided with equal opportunity and the safety and security to be able to fulfil their potential.

If we demand that hue is not a criteria for anything but sunscreen. If we demand that everyone is held to equal responsibility.

The message we give to black kids is that they are not good enough to achieve without a hand. The message we give to black countries, and black politicians, is that they will never be held to the standards of white countries, because shame hey, they’ve been hard done by. Sorry, I get a bit worked up!

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Harry: I like it. Have a beer, Vic. Look, I seriously doubt the SARU budget would be enough to even finish the Prime Minister’s second house.

Money is flowing around in strange ways in the ANC. Very little of it is funding fields and togs and shoes and energy bars and referees and tackle bags and coaches in black townships.

So, what about this “fairness” argument by the ANC for why they must penalise a guy for being white or Coloured: any unfairness to a specific white or Coloured player is justified due to history, greater good, and the imperative to transform rugby.

Charl: Two wrongs do not a right make. Unfairness in society needs to be addressed on an individual level.

How about we start at the top. With the politicians. And the President. Let’s look at where those millions, sometimes billions, in their bank accounts come from.

Let’s hold them accountable for the degradation of services, the lack of housing, the complete destruction of our hospitals and medical services, which prior to the ANC taking over the country, were on par with the best in the world, but now are a shambles.

Having a Springbok team full of black players will never right these wrongs.

Vic: History. An interesting point. How far back do we address the issues? Do we only count injustices done during colonialism and after?

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I mean, should the English not demand to be overrepresented in the Nordic teams? And the French in the German teams? And women in men’s teams?

If someone invades your country, and you allow him to, you should not be compensated for it. Full stop.

The imperative to transform rugby has nothing to do with righting the wrongs of the past. It has everything to do with wanting to take the one thing away which Zuma and Co believe means something to white Afrikaners.

It is punishment. No noble thoughts involved at all.

Harry: Yeah, if there is one thing I’ve learnt in life, it’s that you can only really structure justice along individual lines. You can install minority right protections in law, but really, when it all comes down to it, injustice to one is injustice to all.

There are a lot of talented young forwards in South Africa who are getting sound advice right now from a sport agent, and that agent is telling them: “move.” To Ireland or Scotland or Australia or Canada or somewhere that does not penalise them for their skin colour.

Biltong: Yes, we have a shameful history, so let’s not learn from it, but repeat it.

Harry: But guys, is there any real harm in this “positive” discrimination? It’s just sport.

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Biltong: Sport is escapism for people from their mundane lives, from the economic climate, the crime, and every other social problem, so yeah, it is just a sport.

Charl: No, there is no real harm in it. But there is no real good in it too. Because what will happen is we will lose. And then we will lose interest. And then we will lose sponsors. And money. And it will slowly drift into obscurity. Just like the rest of Africa. But who cares?

Harry: Well, these are jobs, and high-paying jobs at that. And there are codes and regulations that govern professional sport. And there is pride. And there is history. Sport isn’t life or death. But it’s not just games, either. To me, it’s hard to understand someone who opposed apartheid, favouring quotas. Maybe I’m confused, but this seems terribly unprincipled. More like might makes right.

Charl: You know, there is harm. Seriously. Racism means to judge someone negatively because of his race. To not offer him/her the same chances and opportunities. To exclude, to deny, to harm. It is harmful to decide that a race is not able to achieve without a hand-up.

It is harmful to say that the same standards cannot be reached if we don’t offer places for free, where others have to compete and prove their worth. Apartheid is alive and well in South Africa is preached and practised by my esteemed government all day long. And the world turns a blind eye. Quotas are racist.

***

South Africa has either 48 million or 52 million inhabitants depending on how many refugees are counted. They speak IsiZulu, IsiXhosa, Afrikaans, English, Sepedi, Setswana, Sesotho, Xitsonga, SiSwati and a dozen or more other languages.

Government figures show just less than 80 per cent are “black African,” and both white and Coloured communities at just under 9 per cent each, with an Indian community of about 2.5 per cent.

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South Africa has the highest death rate in the world, and the fourth-highest HIV/AIDS prevalence. GDP per capita is only (US) $11,500 with tremendous disparity between the top and bottom. 51.5per cent of South Africans are unemployed.

The ruling party, the ANC, has 62 per cent of the legislature under its direct control, but one opposition party, the EFF, is their more radical wing (6 per cent) advocating armed land seizure, violence against white South Africans, and nationalisation of most industries.

The most effective opposition party, DA, has 22 per cent of the parliament and does have a governing majority in the Western Cape. The government spends only 6 per cent of its budget on education.