A long walk beneath the rainbow awaits
What touched the world were pictures of Papwa receiving his trophy outdoors in the rain
It never ceases to amaze me how shallowly (or little) you have to scratch for the so-called rainbow nation of Nelson Mandela to show its true colours.
Just a little scratching and you know that terms such as “When you shoot a zebra in the black stripe, the white dies too” are just some form of window dressing.
In honesty, South Africa is still as divided along colour lines as ever. No apologies for generalisation.
Take Sports Minister Fikile Mbalula’s release of the 2014/15 Eminent Persons Group Transformation Status Report on Monday.
No sooner had he announced that the rights of four sports federations, Cricket SA, the SA Rugby Union, Netball SA and Athletics SA, to host international events had been withdrawn than different people’s true colours emerged.
Some commentators fell just short of calling him a racist, and simply made innuendos to that effect.
A chorus of protests emerged, mainly from the white section of the population, while the opposite became the order of the day from the black side.
This got me asking: Why are we still so divided 22 years into democracy?
I still haven’t found an answer but do feel that there are just too many underlying issues that we, as a nation, just papered over instead of addressing head-on to come up with solutions, no matter how painful.
One of these is “privilege”, which is oft described as “a special right, advantage or immunity granted or available only to a particular person or group”.
I still find that some of those who benefited from being privileged by the system that reigned supreme in this country prior to 1994 find it hard to accept this fact.
So it was that a tweet from Edris Hlongwane, in which I was tagged, which read “@edrishlongwane How transformed is SA Golf? @garyplayer heads team to #Rio2016 but #Mbalula is silent,” got me thinking.
It took me back to the story of South African golfer Sewsunker “Papwa” Sewgolum (1930-1978, may his soul rest in peace).
His story, after becoming “the first golfer of colour” to win the Natal Open tournament at the Durban Country Club in 1963, touched the whole world. But wait for it! It was not his achievement or his unusual style of playing the game with a back-handed grip – with his hands positioned the opposite way to the traditional grip – or the fact that he beat 103 white golfers, that made him famous or popular.
What touched the world were pictures of him receiving his trophy outdoors in the rain, because, due to apartheid laws, he was not allowed to enter the clubhouse – which was packed with the white golfers he had beaten – even to receive his trophy.
It is part of history that Sewgolum, born of a blind mother, became a symbol of the sports-boycott movement and went on to beat Player to claim his second title in the same event in 1965.
With all the restrictions of that time, Papwa went on to win the Dutch Open in 1959, 1960 and 1964, as well as the Cock of the North tournament in Zambia in the same year.
History also informs us that he “won a number of nonwhite golfing championships in South Africa”.
Who can argue against the belief that, with all things being equal, Sewgolum would have gone on to become a golf icon just like Player, if not even better?
But thanks to this country’s laws at the time, which were declared a crime against humanity by the UN, his achievements were limited.
So the issue of privilege does need to be addressed and acknowledged.
It is also clear that many black South Africans still bear scars that bleed at the softest touch when the race and transformation issues come to the surface.
Just recently, I observed a group of white compatriots squirming and showing a lot of discomfort when I retold stories of how one of my relatives was made to address his white boss as “Baas” and his wife as “Miesies”, with their children getting the titles “Kleinbaas” and “Kleinmiesies”.
So you can’t blame me for being sceptical when Mbalula tells me: “We should not be negotiating transformation at this stage – it should be happening automatically.”
We do need to exorcise the demons of the past for attitudes to change before we reach a transformation utopia.