The Roar
The Roar


International race policies may hold the key to South African transformation

Francois Pienaar receives the World Cup trophy from Nelson Mandela. (AFP PHOTO/JEAN-PIERRE MULLER)
Roar Guru
14th April, 2015
1351 Reads

One of the great champions of equality for all, Nelson Mandela, once said “Money won’t create success, the freedom to make it will.”

When viewed in relation to SARU’s controversial racial transformation plan, this quote creates some interesting juxtapositions.

Placed into a historical context, Mandela’s words were a plea for equal pay and job opportunities for black Africans in a country indoctrinated in oppression and rooted in systematic racial unbalance.

He was saying that you can’t just throw sympathy dollars at a problem or create a welfare state, you have to create a job market where all people are treated without discrimination. By balancing the ledger of social inequality, this is what the transformation plan is attempting to do.

However, as much as Nelson Mandela championed equal rights, opponents of SARU’s plan could now use his words to show how this plan is denying people the right to equal pay and opportunity. They would argue that a strict quota is inherently discriminatory because it denies a segment of the society an equal chance.

So it becomes a question of balancing social inequality versus clearing the slate and starting with equality for all.

History versus ideology, context versus idealism.

Both sides have claimed equality as their underlying motivation, but how does the outside observer break down the argument and which way is the right way to go?

Of course, Mandela himself was no stranger to social and political manipulation and he recognised the role of sport in entertaining and transforming society. The 1995 World Cup was his crowning glory, but just three years later, he was also involved in deposing his World cup ally, South African Rugby President Luis Luyt, because of nepotism in the sport.


Since then, the country has become increasingly divided about how to continue with transformation, particularly in the historically white sport of rugby union.

It is a truly complex issue in a country that has a history unlike any other. However, it is not an issue that does not have precedent in other countries. In fact, many countries have long-standing regulations based on race including racial quotas.

Perhaps in trying to find the solution to this problem, we should look to the approaches other countries have taken to achieving racial equality.

If we look around the world, there are many countries that have some form of racial quota system in various areas.

In diverse multi-cultural countries such as Fiji, Brazil and Malaysia, there are parliamentary quotas to accurately reflect the demographics of the country. In India, not only do they have racial quotas in parliament, but also quotas based on caste.

In Canada, there are educational grants and scholarships based on race in order to redress the harm that European colonialists imparted on First Nations people.

If we look at South Africa’s main rugby rival, New Zealand, we can see some parallels as well as points where the country’s social movements have intersected.

Only as recently as 1960 were the NZRFU refusing to select Maori players for their tour of South Africa. The NZRFU also bowed down to SARU on the 1970 tour when Maori players were allowed to play, but only as “honorary whites”. By 1981, the outrage among New Zealanders had reached fever pitch with a protester flying a Cessna overhead and bombarding the last New Zealand-South Africa Test in Auckland with flour bombs and flares.


There is no doubting that systematic racism played a part in the social demographics of modern NZ, but people will argue how much New Zealand has redressed their social imbalance.

In terms of social policy, the Treaty of Waitangi serves as a regulator for the reclamation of stolen land, in parliament, there are seven seats reserved for Maori electorates, while there are quotas and scholarships for Maori students at school and university level.

In rugby, there are Maori teams at just about every level of representation. A person without Maori blood cannot play for these teams and nor should they. These are teams set up in addition to all-inclusive teams with different goals than a regular team. The selection policy is unique to the purpose of the team and the purpose of the team is clear:

• to provide players with a connection to their heritage/culture;
• to provide players a pathway to all-inclusive teams;
• to promote Maori culture through rugby success.

These are goals that are in most cases better served with Maori players. These teams are not set up to segregate the population, rather to celebrate the culture and educate both the players and the public about Maori heritage.

These teams provide pathways for Maori players to other teams, so perhaps if South Africa wanted to emulate those goals for black Africans then they could create a black South African team, which would operate in the same leagues as the Maori All Blacks.

Again, historical context would play a part in how the goal of this kind of team would be perceived.

Perhaps the best country to make a comparison with is the US. Both countries have recent and continuing histories of violent racial oppression, although in comparative sports to rugby like American football, the US has transformation numbers that South Africa currently dream of.


22 per cent of the American population is non-white, however in the rugby-like sport of NFL, 61 per cent of the players are non-white (including a high percentage of Samoans). In the NBA, 75 per cent of the players are non-white while the MLB is around 35 per cent non-white – although they only have about 8 per cent African Americans.

So, how did the States get to these numbers?

After increased civil rights campaigning through the 50s and 60s, Affirmative Action was introduced by JFK in 1961 to ensure that hiring and employment practices were free of racial bias. Affirmative Action was a progressive base for change, but initially had no regulation to enforce.

Kennedy promoted equality but was against quotas.

Interestingly, his vice-president and successor, Lyndon Johnson, was on the other side of the fence saying in 1965,

“You do not wipe away the scars of centuries by saying: ‘now, you are free to go where you want, do as you desire, and choose the leaders you please.’ You do not take a man who for years has been hobbled by chains, liberate him, bring him to the starting line of a race, saying, ‘you are free to compete with all the others,’ and still justly believe you have been completely fair . . . This is the next and more profound stage of the battle for civil rights. We seek not just freedom but opportunity – not just legal equity but human ability – not just equality as a right and a theory, but equality as a fact and as a result.”

Johnson instituted quotas in several areas such as public works that were seen as too white, however this was all quashed when the anti-quota, Richard Nixon took control in 69.

Influenced by the arguments for “reverse discrimination” Nixon adjudged the quotas as unnecessary and worked to have them removed. From this point on, Affirmative Action remained mostly as an ideology rather than a strict regulation.


In 1995, President Clinton called for the elimination of any program that had a quota and in 1997, the Supreme Court ruled Affirmative Action unconstitutional for the first time.

The vote was only 5-4.

Since then, non-white representation in American sports has grown. The avoidance of strict quotas in sports seems to have created a fair marketplace for athletes. The American consumer culture has transformed teams into efficient money-making machines – machines whose only selection policy stems from commercial success.

The US sporting figures are no longer indicative of demographics, rather they are indicative of sporting talent.

Opponents of the transformation plan will say that the American example shows that strict quotas promote discrimination which ideologically hinders their effectiveness. Proponents, however, will argue that no change ever happens without regulation to back it up and will point to the cases of regulated Affirmative Action as catalysts for change.

I tend to think that regulation does act as a catalyst, but this change will inevitably happen once there is a shift in the social mindset. This happened for the States in the 1960s and around 20-30 years later in South Africa. This tends to suggest that the answer is time rather than force.

To SARU’s credit, they have invested in that answer as well by beginning a programme to identify the top 40 rugby-playing black schools and assist them with support and finance. These are pathways that will ultimately be more rewarding than the quotas.

Going back to Nelson Mandela’s quote: “Money won’t create success, the freedom to make it will.”


The freedom he talked of is an ideological one, it is a freedom with no influence or coercion, a freedom that will probably never exist in the way that he wanted it to. However, regardless of policy and regulation, the shift in mindset has taken hold and will only be propelled forward as new generations of sportspeople benefit from the battles that he and other activists have fought.

Breakdown of SARU Transformation Plan
At least seven non-white players (five black Africans and two mixed race players) must be included in all 23-man match day squads with the aim of having 50 per cent non-white players in all domestic and national teams by 2019.

The goal is for South African teams to more accurately reflect the demographics of South Africa while providing pathways for non-white rugby players to the top level.