When braai conversations turn to one-on-ones
A couple of months ago, Public Service and Administration Minister Faith Muthambi caused something of a stir by not only admitting that she’d hired nine relatives to work in her department, but also wondering out loud in Parliament what was wrong with doing so.
It was a shrug of the shoulders that all but resulted in Muthambi’s mugshot making its way into the dictionary alongside the entry for the word ‘nepotism’.
Yet when it was announced this week that Western Province’s Rob du Preez would join his father Robert and brothers Jean-Luc and Dan in Durban next season, there was hardly a shrug in rugby circles about the move, despite the Sharks starting to look like the Du Preez family business.
Maybe it was because the move had been mooted for most of the season, but having Du Preez coach all three of his sons brings up the question of when appointing family members is nepotism and when it isn’t?
The dictionary definition of the word is “the practice among those with power or influence of favouring relatives or friends, especially by giving them jobs”.
In all fairness to the Du Preez clan, Robert Senior found twins Jean-Luc and Dan in the Sharks system by the time he took over as head coach, so Robert Junior is the first family signing he has made since going back to Durban.
Fly half Rob was the top points scorer in the Currie Cup and overshadowed his opposite number Curwin Bosch in helping Province win last weekend’s final, while the twins are Springboks.
But the strict definition of nepotism hardly factors in performance once the job has changed hands. Besides, the thing about professional sportsmen is that they need two things to thrive – ample opportunity and backing from the coach. If said coach happens to be your old man, there’s no shortage of faith. An example of this is how young Dan started the Super Rugby season injured with Tera Mtembu playing number eight for the Sharks. Once he was fully fit, he came on during halftime and hasn’t looked back.
A more acute case of this backing has to be former Lions coach Johan Ackermann with his son Ruan. Not content with introducing him into the Lions Super Rugby squad when he was just 20, Johan took Ruan with him when he got his job with Gloucester in England.
Talk about keeping a close eye on your laaitie’s development.
But what is a father supposed to do? As a dad, you have one job – give your children every opportunity. If you’re a rugby coach and they happen to play rugby, surely directly overseeing their career is the easiest way to do it?
But in South African rugby, it almost feels like having relatives in the system (the right ones, anyway) invariably means a guaranteed path to the big time.
A most recent case in point is Divan Strydom, the son of former Bulls manager Wynie Strydom. Until New Zealander John Mitchell joined the Bulls, Divan was the Bulls’ technical analyst and kicking coach, and was moved to the junior teams’ kicking coach and handler of team public relations and administration.
There’s a precedent in this regard for the Bulls in that former Springbok assistant coach Johann van Graan was technical analyst at the franchise when his father, Barend, was chief executive. But should Van Graan Junior, having proven to be good at his job, mean a template for hiring the sons of the other fathers working for the union?
The way rugby is going is that it is fast becoming the family business for a select, not to mention connected, few.
That may not be an issue for some, but try telling Tera Mtembu and Curwin Bosch they get the same oneon-ones with the head coach as Rob and Dan do.