Quit whining and work for racial diversity in sport

Few and far between: Bongiwe Msomi (left) and Zanele Mdodana of the 2012 Proteas netball team. (Reg Caldecott/Gallo)

Few and far between: Bongiwe Msomi (left) and Zanele Mdodana of the 2012 Proteas netball team. (Reg Caldecott/Gallo)

Social media has a way of coming to the point rather abruptly: “It’s like saying that if there was a transformation programme in America, white people would dominate football and basketball – it doesn’t work like that. The Afrikaner is the African-American of South Africa, end of discussion.”

The nameless person who posted the above may think it is the end of the discussion, but it is in fact the beginning. The disconnect – for clearly, there is one – is not physical; it is social.

Professional rugby in South Africa is dominated by white, Afrikaner players because it has been a career path for generations. Every year the elite schools churn out physical specimens perfectly suited to the rigours of professional rugby. The vast majority are white and Afrikaans-speaking.

To put that into context: this week the Wildeklawer Super Schools Festival featured 20 of the 30 top-ranked rugby schools in the country. Two of those schools, Louis Botha from Bloemfontein and Selborne College from East London, were thoroughly representative of the diversity present in South Africa: transformed, for want of a better word.

The other 18 were not and between them boasted a total of three black African players. Try to guess which two teams played each other on a B field away from the television cameras on Monday.

The same festival featured the top 12 netball-playing schools in the country. Again the demographics were telling, with Ben Vorster High School from Tzaneen being the sole showcase for black African talent.

If the minister of sport had been in attendance, he would have seen plenty of evidence to back up his decision to ban netball and rugby from tendering for major international events.

And yet the premier of the Northern Cape, Sylvia Lucas, and the executive mayor of Kimberley, Kagisho Malusi, were both happy to endorse the festival.

In the official programme, Lucas said: “In commending Wildeklawer (Pty) Ltd, the Northern Cape provincial government encourages the private sector in our province to join hands with government (both provincial and local) in fostering social cohesion, therefore further transforming the way we interact with each other in our daily routines.”

Malusi said: “Both rugby and netball are a growing sport in Kimberley and the broader province, and still have a long way to go in reaching out to the community. We hope that a tournament of this magnitude will promote the games of rugby and netball, including forging new friendships throughout the province.”

Crucially, both the officials recognise that Wildeklawer the company is a vital cog in the economic wheel of the province. It employs more than 1 000 people, with 400 permanent staff and 600 seasonal vegetable pickers. The prime asset of the company is its sweet onions, with 2.4-million a day harvested during high season.

Its owner, Louis de Kock, bought the Barkley West farm out of bankruptcy in 1987. According to the company website: “Our farm [had] weak, sandy agricultural soil. Through hard work we have converted the farm into one of South Africa’s most productive and effective farming businesses.”

De Kock’s enthusiasm for rugby persuaded him to sponsor the Griquas Rugby Union more than a decade ago. The Wildeklawer festival grew out of that association, being based at Diamantveld High School in the heart of Kimberley. Now in its ninth year, the festival reflects the character and home language of Wildeklawer’s owner.

It is superbly organised, well promoted and, naturally enough, Afrikaans.

The question to be asked is whether there is anything inherently wrong with that. It is De Kock’s money and surely he can do what he likes with it? Technically speaking, there is a simple way to expand the number of black schools on the invite list; all they have to do is play their way into the top 30 in the country.

And there’s that disconnect again, because it is simply not going to happen. So for the foreseeable future the Wildeklawer festival will remain as Afrikaans as koeksisters and roosterbrood. And, before we get judgmental about that fact, it’s worth remembering how little the sports minister achieved with his announcement last week. He did not impose quotas or alter the status quo in any way; all he did was ban four sporting bodies from tendering to host “mega” international events.

Practically, Fikile Mbalula achieved nothing other than a lot of column inches and some politically incorrect rants such as the one at the beginning of this article.

If he was genuinely concerned by the demographics of South African sport he would be marching into the hallowed halls of Paarl Boys’ High, Paul Roos, Affies, EG Jansen and a host of others, demanding that they give free schooling to black Africans.

Again, it’s not going to happen, which is why the elected officials of the Northern Cape are happy to endorse Wildeklawer. More than that, they celebrate a local success story, one that guarantees employment through the excellence of its product.

Somewhere in there is a moral for South African society at large: stop whingeing about representation, roll up your sleeves and get to work.

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