I am sick of white tears and last week there were a lot of them, mostly provoked by Sports Minister Fikile Mbalula’s pronouncement that South Africa’s major sporting codes of rugby, cricket, netball and athletics will not be allowed to host international tournaments until they transform.
Oh, how the tears did fall.
Oh, how the critics cried foul.
Retired Protea cricketer Jacques Kallis tweeted that he was “embarrassed” to call himself a South African.
Responding to Kallis’s comments, Mbalula expressed surprise that he would make such a statement. “It means he was fake the whole time when we looked at him as a hero,” he is reported to have said.
Renowned former fast bowler and coach Alan Donald bemoaned the fact that South Africa was sanctioning itself. Clearly missing the point that not all South Africans are united in their acceptance of the status quo, which retards the progress of young black athletes.
In the Sunday Times, Chris Barron went out of his way when questioning sports scientist Ross Tucker to paint Mbalula’s move as a political ploy before local government elections. A view Mbalula has dismissed as “hogwash” and “nonsense”.
Of course, the issue of white South Africans leaving the country because of uncertain sporting futures reared its head in Barron’s interview.
Craig Ray, in the same paper, used two talented black Jeppe High School rugby players, who have represented SA Schools and are considered potential future Springboks, as pawns in a narrative aimed at emphasising the harm Mbalula’s decision could do.
Using these two rugby players to do this was a disingenuous ploy, especially when the issue at hand is how many black rugby players actually run on to the field for the Springboks.
Imagining a future where black players just walk into the Springbok side on merit despite the racism inherent in the structures of the sport, and then using that as an argument against a decision to ensure transformation takes place today, is fool’s logic.
Having used the two black players’ futures as a device, his piece goes on to explain how Mbalula’s decision has essentially torpedoed the bid by the South African Rugby Union (Saru) to host the 2023 Rugby World Cup and how these two talented young black players may not get to play in a home World Cup.
Critics have laid the blame for this at the feet of Mbalula, not at the feet of the sporting federations that haven’t transformed.
These sob stories that are trotted out every time transformation of South African sport is on the table are essentially racially loaded acts of microviolence.
Using a young black athlete to critique a system being introduced to help other young black athletes is spurious.
Focusing on white mediocrity sob stories in the face of the challenge of giving all South Africans equal opportunity to excel in sporting codes is just insulting to all the black South Africans who were denied those opportunities.
When the white tears flow, the quota system is wheeled out as the instrument that destroys black athletes’ confidence, as if the years of not being giving opportunities under white coaches and administrators leaves these athletes brimming with the stuff.
It is merely emotional blackmail.
Most black athletes in South Africa reach the top despite these obstacles; the existence of black excellence is not an argument for the status quo.
Mbalula hasn’t gone far enough for me, but I’ll give him credit that he still has some weapons in his arsenal.
In an interview with City Press he said this was, in fact, the case.
“Those who are intransigent and do not implement the recommendations and meet their targets will feel the full might of the department as we will unleash our entire arsenal,” he said, “which can even lead to a federation losing its membership as well as national colours.”
Mbalula could take this threat one step further. We could ban teams from competing in international competitions until they are transformed.
Intentions and actions
The lily-white team Saru allowed coach Heyneke Meyer to take to last year’s Rugby World Cup illustrates that the rugby powers that be are not taking transformation seriously.
It’s not the only clue.
As an ardent Springbok supporter since our readmittance into international rugby, I felt as though I had to draw a line in the sand as a supporter.
I couldn’t get behind this team.
When Japan scored the winning try against the Springboks in their opening game of the World Cup, I was jumping for joy, much to the chagrin of my fellow Springbok supporters around me.
Finally the world could see the white mediocrity that Saru was empowering, when black players were at home champing at the bit to get their chance.
At some point every rational, thinking South African rugby fan has to ask themselves: Does Saru care about transformation? Is Saru just talking the talk or is it prepared to walk the walk?
History suggests the former.
When Eastern Cape franchise the Southern Kings first participated in the Super Rugby tournament after much procrastination from Saru, they were a huge hit.
That season they had the second-highest crowd attendance of all the South African franchises, just behind the Stormers.
But what was more impressive was that the punters were of all races; they had the most transformed audience in the country and one of the most transformed teams.
“What’s unique to this region is that we have equal support from the black, coloured and white communities, and that’s why it’s such a vital cog in the transformation of rugby in this country,” Southern Kings chair Cheeky Watson told SA Rugby Magazine that year .
Given this positive tool in the fight to transform rugby from a largely white sport, what did Saru do? It kicked the Kings out of Super Rugby and replaced them with the Lions, a move that may have kept entrenched interests in the rugby hierarchy happy but was not in the interests of transformation.
The appointment of Allister Coetzee and Mzwandile Stick as coaches for the Springboks is a positive move; after all, you can’t expect white men to lead transformation in sport.
Naturally, white tears flowed amid cries that Stick didn’t deserve the job. Cries from the same white voices that in four years’ time will point to the lack of black coaches when picking a new Springbok coach, and argue that there are none who deserve the position. Just like they did to Peter de Villiers and have done to Coetzee.
After all, transformation is not only about the team on the field but also the coaches, support staff, management, selectors and administrators of these sports.
Appointing black rugby coaches for the Springboks is a positive step, but Coetzee and Stick’s success or failure in my eyes will be the transformation of the team under their watch.
They have my support, but if the Springbok team remains lily-white they will not have it for long.