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Fikile Mbalula. Photo by Lee Warren/Gallo Images.
Fikile Mbalula. Photo by Lee Warren/Gallo Images.

Written by: Andre du Toit

‘Springbok rugby’ – the newest phrase to evoke a gag reflex in South Africa, as the great rugby minds (those whom haven’t been exiled to Europe, anyway) prepare for South Africa’s first-ever coaching indaba to jolt South African rugby out of its current state. Coetzee and co. will discuss many issues, most of them of utter importance to ensure South African rugby will not find itself in the same space it is now, further down the road. One issue, however, will remain sidelined.

Oh, but of course, it has to be the quota system, the transformation policy, the black player reservation system – the brain child of Sport Minister Fikile Mbalula. I remember reading an article online labeling Mbalula as a particularly useless individual, and I am inclined to agree with that statement. It feels as if every time a major issue confronts the ANC government, Mbalula cracks his mythical whip of utter sporting despair, so the attention of the general public is diverted for a couple of weeks.

Setting racial targets for the South African Rugby Union creates a number of issues.

Firstly, SARU has to figure out a way to pluck quality Africans out of thin air. This is because the Department of Sport and Recreation invests just about the same amount of money into black rugby development, as they invested in the design of the Olympic team’s attire – which, of course, is damn near nil.

Secondly, apartheid was before my time – but isn’t trying to exclude a certain ethnic group to the benefit of another ethnic group, the essence of apartheid? “Ah-ha”, the eager quota system supporter shouts out and redirects our attention to the Constitution, where fair discrimination is indeed enshrined. This ignores the fact that the word ‘discrimination’ does not lend itself to be fair. Is it fair to be disqualified from achieving a lifelong ambition when you tick all the right boxes, and instead be replaced by a player which not only the provincial coaches, international coaches, and public feel is below standard, but the statistics prove it as well?

Lastly, to have achieved racial targets today, the proper structures had to be in place 20 years ago. Black coaches and players should have been identified years ago, and not placed in teams because of their skin, but should have had their talent nurtured, honed, and improved behind the scenes. This, in turn, would have made it easier to reach black communities, and grow black talent further.

I truly believe transformation is necessary, but in its current state, transformation is not working. The results of transformation, I feel, will not be conducive to the South African sport scene. While sitting in bars and watching the game, as we rugby lovers do, one can feel an uncomfortable atmosphere as a black player knocks a ball and misses a tackle. Of course, white players do the same, but the public, and even the players on the field, will never know if that player is there because he should be.

Author: Andre du Toit is a second year psychology and criminology student at the University of Pretoria. He qualified to become a rugby referee in 2014, and has taken up coaching at a local school in 2016. He is an executive member of the Afrikaans Debating Union at UP and has coached various teams.

  • Eye Patch Morty

    Another perspective:

    “While sitting in bars and watching the game, as we rugby lovers do, one can feel an uncomfortable atmosphere as a black player knocks a ball and misses a tackle. Of course, white players do the same, but the public, and even the players on the field, will never know if that player is there because he should be”

    That’s how some of us have always felt when watching the 99% Lilly white teams on the field. We didn’t buy that these teams were previously chosen based on merit alone.

    As someone who went to a “former model C” high school, we constantly saw coaches choosing players because they have a rapport with them or were good friends with their fathers, while completely overlooking players of color that were playing fantastically.

    Whether this was just our perception or the reality, we always felt that we never had a fair chance to make it into the team.

    It seems like when white people see a 100% white team, they just assume that these must be the best players in the country. No one ever wrote thought pieces like the one above, questioning whether there was any racial bias in selecting players.

    As a person of color I always assumed that it was the same high school system just happening on a larger scale and when I heard that they were instituting quotas, i thought “finally those deserving players of color will now get a fair shot.”

    I don’t think that people of color being skeptical when they see 90% white teams (especially with our country’s history) is completely irrational. We’ve been burned once before, so forgive us for not trusting so easily.

    Obviously this could all be in our heads and maybe there was never any racial bias when selecting players before the quota system. But assuming that not a single one of these old white coaches have any sort of racial bias is also a little naive, don’t you think?.

    just my 2 cents

    • al.viljoen@yahoo.com

      A very short reply.
      All racial discrimination is wrong and Apartheid was truly bad but you can’t correct it by bringing in reverse apartheid – this just carries on the evil.
      Having said that I don’t think Mbalula’s approach has anything to do with transformation. He is as racist as John Vorster was and I think the aim is more to destroy a “White” sport than improve black rugby performance.