Ki­wis hailed as he­roes at New­lands

Pretoria News Weekend - - OPIN­ION - Dougie Oakes

NEW Zealand rugby teams have long re­garded games at New­lands as the next best thing to play­ing on their home grounds – and when the All Blacks run on to the field this evening, they will see why some lo­cal fans re­gard Cape Town as “Lit­tle New Zealand”.

Kieran Read and his team will re­ceive a wel­come re­served for re­turn­ing he­roes.

Their army of black-clad lo­cal sup­port­ers will stand up as one when the an­nouncer asks spec­ta­tors to “please rise for the play­ing of the New Zealand na­tional an­them”. Thou­sands of right fists will be placed over hearts as the first strains of God De­fend New Zealand”sweep across the ground”. Then they’ll start singing God of Na­tions at thy feet, in the bonds of love we meet, with all the pas­sion of New Zealand sup­port­ers in Waikato, Welling­ton, Wan­ganui and a host of other cities and towns of the small Pa­cific na­tion.

Dur­ing the match, they’ll cheer ev­ery All Black ma­noeu­vre and jeer ev­ery Spring­bok mis­take. The ques­tion is: Why? There are three main rea­sons for this. Some South African fans sup­port the New Zealan­ders for play­ing rugby that is fast, skil­ful and ex­cit­ing – and be­cause they know how to win.

A se­cond group sup­port the All Blacks and teams from other coun­tries be­cause they have never for­got­ten and, in­deed, they never want to for­get, what so-called in­ter­na­tional rugby meant to them dur­ing the apartheid era.

To them, these “test” matches were played by white su­prem­a­cists. And for this rea­son, they held – and con­tinue to hold – the Spring­boks in ut­ter con­tempt, even though na­tional teams have no longer been all-white for a num­ber of years.

Strangely enough, dur­ing the apartheid era, these fans sup­ported vis­it­ing teams, even though these vis­i­tors were more than happy to play against all­white Spring­boks.

The third group believe that black play­ers and, in fact, black South Africans were be­trayed by the politi­cians dur­ing the run-up to the first demo­cratic elec­tions in 1994 – and even more so since.

They have been able to back up their views with com­pelling ar­gu­ments.

Their premise is that the South African Rugby Union (Saru) can never be a cred­i­ble agent for the pro­mo­tion of non-racial sport, and par­tic­u­larly non-racial rugby, in this coun­try.

They point out that South African rugby in the era of democ­racy has a sad his­tory of prom­ises made… and quickly and ca­su­ally bro­ken.

They ar­gue that, de­spite the by-now tire­somely reg­u­lar hands-on-heart com­mit­ment to trans­for­ma­tion and the prom­ise of new op­por­tu­ni­ties for black play­ers, far too few black play­ers have been given these op­por­tu­ni­ties.

Of course, Saru is not ex­clu­sively to blame for this.

Gov­ern­ment – at na­tional, provin­cial and lo­cal level – are the big­gest cul­prits for sport­ing codes such as rugby not hav­ing gone through a gen­uine process of trans­for­ma­tion.

The ANC, which be­came the gov­ern­ing party in 1994, dragged, es­pe­cially, the non-racial sport­ing codes to the ne­go­ti­at­ing ta­ble – even be­fore one-per­son­one-vote elec­tions.

Far too many is­sues that were of gen­uine con­cern to the non-racial sports fra­ter­nity were blithely ig­nored. These were mat­ters, it was said, that could be dis­cussed at an­other time. Far too much was given up by those rep­re­sent­ing the non-racial codes in these ne­go­ti­a­tions.

The racist sports codes, rep­re­sented in many cases by apartheid sup­port­ers, sat back – and with very lit­tle ef­fort were al­lowed al­most im­me­di­ate en­try into in­ter­na­tional sport.

It was far too easy for them. They gave up noth­ing. They made no real ef­fort to help build a new South Africa via sport.

Due mainly to the com­mit­ment of the “Fa­ther of the Na­tion”, Nel­son Man­dela, to rec­on­cil­i­a­tion, the na­tional rugby body, the SA Rugby Foot­ball Union (Sarfu), which later be­came Saru, was al­lowed to keep the Spring­bok as its na­tional sym­bol.

Dur­ing South African democ­racy’s hon­ey­moon pe­riod, a mas­sive feel­good fac­tor, cou­pled with what some peo­ple de­scribed as “Madiba Magic”, saw the Spring­boks sweep to vic­tory in the 1995 Rugby World Cup in South Africa.

But even then, omi­nous warn­ing signs were emerg­ing.

The most sig­nif­i­cant of these was that just one black player – Ch­ester Wil­liams – was deemed good enough for the Spring­bok run-on team.

Over the years, the ad­min­is­tra­tion of the game in South Africa has proved to be hugely prob­lem­atic.

Be­cause of po­lit­i­cal and so­cial is­sues, which have seen the yawn­ing gap be­tween rich and poor – and in this con­text, see it as the gap be­tween “white and black” – grow even wider, it has be­come dif­fi­cult to build a reser­voir of black play­ers to play at the high­est level.

What needs to be done – ur­gently – is the cre­ation of a level play­ing field for all play­ers.

How can this be achieved? At a rugby level, the Spring­bok sym­bol should be put out to pas­ture. It has be­come so di­vi­sive that it serves no use­ful pur­pose.

Also, the records of apartheid Spring­boks should be purged from of­fi­cial sta­tis­tics. These should be placed in an apartheid mu­seum. They are cer­tainly not needed in a rugby mu­seum.

Records should be­gin in 1994 – and there should be a com­mit­ment from Saru to work out of the box, to work harder and to strive to cre­ate proper op­por­tu­ni­ties for ev­ery young­ster who is in­ter­ested in play­ing the game.

Oakes is the Op-Ed ed­i­tor for In­de­pen­dent Me­dia.

New Zealand per­form the Haka dur­ing the 2015 Cas­tle Rugby Cham­pi­onship rugby match be­tween South Africa and New Zealand at El­lis Park. The writer says much more needs to be done to make rugby a sport all South Africans can back.

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