Rugby, Politics and Race in South Africa

January 13, 2024
9 mins read

Go Bokke, Go!
Monday, October 29, 2007.
By Andile Mngxitama
As the final whistle blows, a united South Africa burst into a deafening mindless celebration. Vuvuzelas scream, cars hoot and spin, blacks and whites exchange heart felt hugs in suburban sport bars.
Townships rupture into dance and song. Die Bokke have done it again – We are the World champions second time in 12 years! The Sowetan scribe Andrew Molefe says it better: “Colour didn’t matter. We hugged; we cried and kissed across the colour line. Our collective blood was green”.

Just how important this victory is for the country was signified by the tears of pride jutting from the eyes Frediricks Pieteresen one of the two black players as he sang the national anthem.
Who would have though that Rugby would unite a sad country? A country terrorised by crime, ravaged by HIV/Aids, and battered by poverty of its black citizens?
When our President was hoisted high by the Bokke, lifted the cup as a symbol our collective victory many throats found lumps forming even against their owners desires, the incredible miracles of our beloved South Africa! Indeed green blood coursed through our collective blood vessels.
Well, take another look at the above picture, carefully, critically and you would see that actually this victory was victory against transformation of South Africa and sad admission that we have no project of change to speak about. This was victory for the acceptance as normal our abnormal society.
If you look with care, you would have also noticed the reluctant handshakes our president received, and that actually he was hoisted by black bodies. This was victory against the quota system and proportional representation. A victory for colour blindness. In short, it was a victory for white supremacy in this Black country of ours.
The national rugby team in its compositions and victories is a perfect metaphor for our country and the place of blacks in it. We cheer for our defeat from the touchlines. Imagine if you knew nothing about South Africa and watched the World Cup on TV, you would be forgiven for thinking that actually we are a white country which has the accident of having a smiling black president.
South Africa is a white country populated a by an impotent invisible black majority. I wonder what other African countries think about us? And the black Diaspora? What do they think about it? Since 1994, our Rugby team could only produce two black players for the national team. Incredible!
But there is also another element in the picture which can be now be more clearly seen, ours is a country which thrives on superficiality and a devastating lack of a perspective which is centred on the valorisation and well-being of blacks.
Blacks in this country want to celebrates their “own goals”, to borrow from a sporting metaphor. We are perhaps one of the few peoples on earth who believe we can derive freedom from placating those who stubbornly refuse to give up any of their ill-begotten privileges and power.
Are we blacks not asking for the contempt of whites, when we fail to exercise the massive political power we currently wield to change things around? But more importantly are we doing posterity a favour?Just how superficial our so called commitment to transformation is, was displayed in the build up to the finals when the Bokke victory was almost certain. Our president apparently told the team’s head coach, Jake White “forget the politics and win it”. White says that was a “big statement”.
Hereby a mandate was given against transformation. The Young Communist League an outfit which purports to be pro-poor, also wanted a piece of the cake, they simply anointed the team “Comrade Bokke”.
South Africa’s capacity to fold when confronted with uncomfortable moments, which if handled truthfully could lead to real change is bewildering. Remember how we called JM Coetzee a racist, but when he won the Nobel Prize for literature we called him “son of the soil”. This is a characterisation of our collective spinelessness, and sad desire to be associated with victory, any victory and white acceptance in particular.
What if our President refused to bless this truncated victory by a dignified silence and absence? Would that not have opened up a more fruitful national discourse on transformation?
Our rugby team is a truthful representation of what has gone down in SA in the past 13 years. It represents the growth and thriving first economy, which achieves its advances on the backs of black exclusion and exploitation. The complexion of our rugby team powerfully suggests that there is nothing wrong with white domination.
Ironically, the victory occurs at as the same time as white arrogance is on the ascendancy after the temporary lull educed by the 1994 moment. Apartheid hanging judges and senior white lawyers now have the audacity to declare a moral crusade against one black Judge Hlope. They want his head come rain or shine. They wouldn’t even give a quarter to his black colleagues to judge his fitness.
Indignant petitions, columns of paper and public manifestos abound. Hlope has apparently soiled the good name of the judiciary. Well, I haven’t seen any petitions when white magistrates and judges regularly deny black and farm workers justice. I see no cries of indignation against apartheid judges.
Our moral crusaders are the same judges and lawyers who wouldn’t come before the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) and confess their sins of dispensing ‘justice” for an unjust system. They continue to enjoy their ‘accumulated privileges of whiteness” with intolerable smugness. I am waiting for restitution.
But perhaps, it was the remarks of the recently appointed head of University of Cape Town (UCT), Dr Max Price, which hit the mark the most. He enthused that his appointment signified that our democracy has matured. The subtext is clear from the comment.
Even liberals are now claiming back their institutions, which they had lent to blacks to run on their behalf so long as they didn’t dare transform them. They chose the black guardians of their institutions carefully. The honey moon is over, now , even symbolic change shall no longer be tolerated.
Dr Price further asserted the right of whites to be drivers of transformation. How arrogant, how paternalistic?
But let’s be fair and look a little deeper, and ask our self was UCT under Prof Ndebele and before him Dr Mamphele run in the interest of the well being of blacks?
Is Wits University with its black head, Black? Or even transforming institution in its faculty composition, content of the curriculum and values? I prefer our white rugby team which makes no bones about maintaining things white, than the hypocrisy of liberal double talk.
Our country for sometime has been sending a clear message to its black population. The political victory of 1994 does not mean things are going to change. Yes, there is the constitution and all the incredible rights it proclaims for all. But blacks must make do with their inferior status designed by the architects of colonialism and apartheid.
Our housing is going to be an RDP house, (research has now shown its nothing more than a glorified shack in the middle of nowhere). That our healthcare system is a place for the horrible lonely death of blacks.
Black babies are born into card boxes and shall grow into match box houses. Blacks schools are places which, still after 12 years, have learners who emerge from them illiterate, innumerate and demoralised.
In these circumstances, the message we are sending out is that white is right, get a grip darkie. If you can’t beat them join them- as I was enthusiastically told. This message is beginning to sink perhaps.
At the height of the euphoria of the Bokke victory a young black woman leans towards my ear and whispers: “Maybe whites should run the country as well, then less crime, less poverty and less…” I didn’t hear the last word, but I certainly got the drift. I nod my confused approval. Can we blame her, when everything around her points to white excellence?
The crisis facing our country is nothing as dramatic as the furore around the alleged pending arrest of senior journalists suggests. Our crisis is in the league of an undeclared war against its poor. It’s the boring questions of lack of land, water, housing, livelihoods and social amenities.
This type of undeclared war first identified by the Indian writer and activist Arundhati Roy as not being a war, not a genocide or ethnic cleansing of famine nor an epidemic.
According to Roy:
“On the face of it, it’s just ordinary, day-to-day business. It lacks the drama, the large format, epic magnificence of war or genocide. It’s dull in comparison. It makes bad TV. It has to do with boring things like water supply, electricity, irrigation.”
We may add, land, housing, education and health care.
This war resides in the life of indignity bred by exclusion and fuelled by promises, which when called for, are met with bullets, harassment and imprisonment. This has been going on for some time now in our rainbow nation.
In 2000, the first known victim of democratic bullets was Michael Makhabane killed at the University of Durban Westville now part of University Kwazulu Natal, more were to follow. Marcel King, 19 shot at close range as he covered his mother from a cocked gun, Monica Ngcobo, 19, shot in the back in public, Komi Zulu also executed for allegedly being a member of social movement.
In Gauteng, Emily Nengolo, of Orange Farm. Dennis Mathibithi (17) and Nhlanhla Masuku (15) from Kathlehong killed at the same day, Nkosingiphile Mvalo Mhlope of Alexandra, the police also killed, protester in the last round of protest in Wolmaranstand recently.
In 2004, Tebogo Mkhonza, 17 years old was killed; shot dead by police who opened fire on demonstrators.
Why? Because they dared to say enough! See us! hear us! There are now networks forming of victims of democracy in our beloved country. People with missing eyes, broken limbs, and those who have buried beloved ones killed because they defended their home or marched for service delivery.
No, phone tapping, abduction and torture of activists in post-apartheid South Africa is old news really. We saw it all from the armature footage of a community member, then it all disappeared from our memory.
But of course, these events remains invisible to those who now cry crocodile tears and tell us the country is falling apart only because one of them is about to be jailed for allegedly stealing confidential health records of the Minister of Health.
The manner in which the story of the drunken leaver of the Minister was handled tells us more about the crisis of a black perspective by our moral guardians than the supposed incompetence’s of the minister and her alleged thievery.
Manto’s story of drunkeness and theft which happened in 1975 removed from the front page the boring scandal of black children dying in disturbing numbers in Frere Hospital in the Eastern Cape. The sensationalism of drunken out burst by a minister was more tantalising in its re-inscription of the colonial and racist discourses.
The editor gave his white readers the kind of news which wets their racist appetites, however, at the same time erasing black suffering from our collective imagination. Black suffering does not sell news papers you see.
The much vaunted divided opinion between those who have arrogated unto themselves the mantle of guardians of our moral fibre is actually a lie.
The public battle between the shrill high pitched alarmist voices of the “coconut intellectuals” and the “native assistants ” lead by the likes of Dr Mangcu, Justice Malala, Mondli Makhanya on the one hand, versus the “race obsessed” and “government lap dogs” represented by the likes of Sandile Memela, Ronald Robert Suresh and Christine Qunta on the other, is actually not a real battle.
These opinion-makers are united fundamentally by their desire to maintain the white status quo, protestation to the contrary notwithstanding. Their discourses are signified by a terrible absence of regard for the excluded Black majority.
Both antagonists bat for the elites at the top. The one group has effectively become the heirs of white liberal sentimentality and sanctimony, which peddles itself as paragon of virtue, the other group on the other hand market itself as the promoters and protectors of “native intelligence” and the integrity of black liberation embodied in the person of the president.
Well, the bitter truth is both are servants of whiteness and have profiteered handsomely from their respective vocations. The interlocutors have nothing to say about the continued structures of white supremacy managed and protected by the post apartheid political class.
Both antagonists should be celebrating our Bokke victory as vindication of their respective values and missions.
Our country solely misses a philosophical and intellectual movement which is uncompromisingly rooted in the postionality of the black experience and desire for true liberation.
A movement which combines thought and action whilst centralising black interest as its life blood. The emergence of such a movement could be a great tribute to the memory Steve Bantu Biko.
It is a movement which must be conceived and fought for, it will not happen automatically, nor will it be initiated by the much fêted elites of our country who now has too much to lose from a truly liberated country.
Andile Mngxitama is a South Africa-based writer. He blogs frequently at Black Looks.
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