Rewind

Finweek English Edition - - INSIGHT - Garth The­unis­sen

There is per­haps no bet­ter ex­am­ple of how South Africa treats its tal­ent than that pro­vided by one of its favourite sports, rugby. To un­der­stand this ar­gu­ment, con­sider for a moment the treat­ment of two World Cup win­ning rugby coaches, one from Eng­land and one from South Africa.

In 2003, Clive Wood­ward coached Eng­land to World Cup glory in Aus­tralia. Re­turn­ing from the tour­na­ment he was hailed as the saviour of English rugby and was duly knighted by the Queen the fol­low­ing year. He now goes by the ti­tle Sir Clive Ron­ald Wood­ward OBE.

Four years later at the 2007 Rugby World Cup in France, a South African by the name of Jake White coached his team to vic­tory. His re­ward for re­turn­ing home with the Webb El­lis tro­phy was to be forced from his job by the South African Rugby Union.

The dif­fi­cul­ties White faced dur­ing his ten­ure are too numer­ous to men­tion but it is known that what really soured his re­la­tions with his em­ploy­ers was his stub­born re­fusal to ac­cept the po­lit­i­cally in­spired se­lec­tions they tried to force on him. The most bizarre case of this po­lit­i­cal in­ter­fer­ence was the ab­surd be­stowal of honorary black sta­tus on a white player, Luke Wat­son, who was se­lected for the Spring­bok team on the back of his fa­ther’s strug­gle cre­den­tials. White even­tu­ally ca­pit­u­lated and se­lected Wat­son in a move that was so dis­rup­tive to team mo­rale that former Spring­bok cap­tain John Smit la­belled Wat­son a “can­cer” in the team in his au­to­bi­og­ra­phy.

It should not be for­got­ten that White in­her­ited a Spring­bok rugby set-up just af­ter the tur­moil of Kamp Staal­draad, a so-called team-build­ing camp that pre­ceded the dis­as­trous 2003 World Cup tour­na­ment in which naked team mem­bers were forced at gun­point to en­ter a freez­ing lake in the mid­dle of the night. Other ex­er­cises in­cluded fist fights, naked singing of the na­tional an­them and al­legedly the killing of chick­ens for their sup­per. Let’s not for­get too that the man who re­placed Jake White was Peter de Vil­liers, whose out­landish post-game com­ments prompted Aus­tralian rugby writer Greg Grow­den to call him the Billy Con­nolly of rugby.

But per­haps the most galling thing about the en­tire episode out­lined above is where Jake White finds him­self to­day: Aus­tralia. Af­ter years in the rugby wilder­ness, White was ap­pointed as head coach of the Can­berra-based Brumbies last year fol­low­ing this team’s worst ever sea­son in Su­per Rugby, an an­nual tour­na­ment be­tween pro­vin­cial teams from SA, Aus­tralia and New Zealand. In just 18 months, White has trans­formed the Brumbies into a for­mi­da­ble force that cur­rently tops the Su­per Rugby stand­ings.

Watch­ing the Brumbies dis­man­tle the Sharks in Dur­ban re­cently prompted many a South African to won­der out loud why on earth White’s coach­ing skills were not be­ing put to use in his own coun­try, rather than abroad. Un­for­tu­nately the news gets worse.

The Univer­sity of Can­berra has just launched a schol­ar­ship in White’s name ex­clu­sively for South African stu­dents who want the op­por­tu­nity to live and play rugby in Aus­tralia. White al­ready has at least two South Africans in his Brumbies team and more could soon fol­low. More­over, White is also be­ing widely touted by Aus­tralian me­dia as a fu­ture coach of the coun­try’s na­tional team. The prospect of a South African coach­ing an Aus­tralian rugby team, and one po­ten­tially laden with his coun­try­men, to vic­tory over the land of his birth is a sce­nario too hor­ri­ble to con­tem­plate.

Sadly, there are all too many Jake Whites scat­tered across the world. South Africans un­able to f ind ad­e­quate op­por­tu­ni­ties at home are now work­ing as nurses, teach­ers, doc­tors, engi­neers and busi­ness­men in vir­tu­ally ev­ery cor­ner of the globe.

While the brain drain is not unique to South Africa, the fact is that our na­tion’s devel­op­ment needs mean it can ill af­ford to lose its most tal­ented and skilled in­di­vid­u­als. Treat­ing our tal­ent bet­ter might go at least some way to­wards stem­ming the tide.

Jake White

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