Boks heading for ICU as race becomes only game in town?

Springbok rugby heading for ICU

Nearly a quarter of a century after race classification was scrapped in South Africa race has become the only game in town, with Springbok rugby its latest victim.

The national rugby team is but one example of the destructive impact on the South African society by the obsession with race of the leaders of the country’s governing alliance. For now it, however, offers one of the most clearly defined examples of the toxic nature of ‘neo-racism’ in post-apartheid South Africa.

Dominance of obsession with race

How dominant the obsession with race has become in some circles, is illustrated by the statement issued by governing alliance partner Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU) after news broke of Heyneke Meyer’s resignation as Springbok coach.

In the COSATU statement of just under 500 words, consisting of nine paragraphs, no fewer than seven references are made to the issue of race in one way or another. There is not a single word about his abilities as coach, something about which we have our own doubts, or about the strategic or coaching abilities, experience of rugby or other skills a future coach should have.

It is all about the racial composition of rugby’s structures in the country – from players, clubs, “white and black” sport facilities, administrators and even “referees of the game” dressed up as “transformation”. Not a word is said about reforms aimed at improved results on the playing field.

Another disturbing reason for concern coming through in the COSATU statement is how they translate their right to an opinion into one of a right to intimidate through a sustained campaign against the leadership and funders of rugby.

Transformation vs reform

In a previous piece on the subject of the Springbok team as a ‘national asset’ we argued that rugby is in need of reform from the bottom up, starting at school level, to ensure that the national team will become truly reflective of the potential of all the talent in the country. Transformation for the sake of transformation alone will not do the trick.

Transformation should and will be the result of reforms, utilising the skills and experience in the existing reality.

If one analyses the existing reality, the picture that emerges is that there are around 40 private or semi-private schools, which over the past two decades have produced most of the Springboks.

Yes, that is too narrow a base, and yes, most of the pupils in those schools – but not all – are white. That does not mean that the national and other senior teams in the country are not selected on merit, maybe not in terms of basic talent, but certainly from the pool of players available.

If you then look through a racial lens at the teams elected, and are honest, you have to admit that there are also white players who are disadvantaged by the way the system operates at present.

And it is not only South Africa that has a reform battle on this front, as an article on the state of rugby in England recently highlighted.  

Not just a rugby problem

In an article last week, titled Who is entitled to determine the race of a person?, Sara Gon of the South African Institute of Race Relations relates how race classification in terms of the Population Registration Act of 1950 in South Africa was scrapped in 1991 as negotiations for a political settlement in the country got underway.

In a Let’s Think piece a while ago we pointed out how very few, if any, South Africans can claim absolute purity in terms of ethnic origin.

In a letter published in Business Day last month, Jeff Rudin, the ANC’s parliamentary researcher on the labour committee responsible for the Employment Equity Act (EEA) of 1998, writes how apartheid-style racial classifications were deliberately left out of the Act. He argues that parliament has since allowed regulations to be introduced under the Act that are directly in conflict with the Act itself and the Constitution.

Rudin refers to the Constitutional Court case brought by coloured employees against the Department of Correctional Services in the Western Cape. The Department promoted black employees over them by using the criterion of national demographics, which has no grounding in law and is discriminatory, they claim.That there are official statistics on the number of African and coloured prison officials is in itself an egregious violation of the law, Rudin writes.

This argument can be extended to just about the whole field of so-called affirmative action as practised at present.

Real reform, and eventually complete transformation in South Africa, should shift its focus to grass-roots level on all fronts. Real reform will come from fixing a broken education and skills development sector and ensuring equality of opportunity based on individual potential and drive to develop that God-given potential.

The big irony of the drive by the ‘neo-racists’ in terms of the Springbok team is that without the ground-up drive, the national team will see a dramatic drop in its competitiveness in the international arena. This will, in turn, play right into the hands of the traditional old time racists to claim “the blacks buggered it up”.


A friend, acting as consultant to companies struggling with Black Economic Empowerment Certification, told me last week about racial tick boxes on the forms supplied. Typically there are boxes for White, Black, Coloured, Asian and then Other.

If ‘Other’ is chosen, it is mostly followed with a line designated as Specify. Many clients have a problem with identifying themselves as belonging to a particular race – particularly those born from ‘racially mixed marriages’. In such cases my friend’s advice is to write: “Who knows”.

The sooner the “who knows” becomes a “who cares”, the sooner South Africa as a united country will achieve its full potential on all fronts.

                                                                                                                                                                                          by Piet Coetzer

Also readHow SA slept through the BEE revolution

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