A sport at which SA teams excel

2008-02-11 00:00

The obsession that South Africans have with race is historically well documented. Mutual antipathy was an issue from the moment that the first white set foot in the Cape and has been playing on an endless loop from that moment on.

During the apartheid years, the white establishment’s sour coup de grâce in any argument for a non-racial society was to demand, “All very well, but how would you feel if your daughter went out with a black man? Or if you were taken to the emergency ward and the doctor and nurses were black?”

The size of the coloured community gives a measure of the degree to which such hardline sexual strictures were actually obeyed. And, predictably, whites have long since realised that it is competence not colour that matters when one is in extremis.

Many black South Africans have not yet learnt the same lesson and are still determinedly chewing on the bitterness pill, which causes one to cut off one’s nose to spite one’s face. While racial transformation of white redoubts in society is obviously an imperative, such change shouldn’t be at the cost of crippling what was previously working well.

The most dramatic example has been the incredible and mounting economic cost of slash-and-burn affirmative action. It was a poor policy decision not to build any more power stations, but the unscheduled outages that plague industry and mining are to a large extent because of poor maintenance — Eishkom has a massive skills and management shortage because it wanted to get rid of pale males at any cost.

The true cost of such racist obsession will be felt over the next few years as truncated growth and diminishing foreign investment take money out of every citizen’s pocket, including those who can least afford it.

More harmless, but for sports fans of all hues perhaps more infuriating, is the willingness of sport administrators to be cowed by the threats and abuse of government ministers to choose teams according to race quotas. Not only is this the absolute antithesis of what sport exults in — the triumph of the best — but fans eventually will stop supporting second-rate teams and it also will compel talented white athletes to seek their careers abroad.

If this is government’s intention, it should be articulated honestly. The corollary is presumably, contrary to the mantra of the African National Congress’s Freedom Charter, that Africa is only for indigenous black Africans.

This week it appeared that the coaches of both cricket and men’s field hockey could lose their jobs. The cricket coach wanted to take the best team possible to Bangladesh, to the ire of the head of Cricket SA. The hockey coach had unwisely bemoaned the fact that it was not clear whether his sport was sufficiently transformed (50% black players) to meet the approval of the SA Sports Confederation and Olympic Committee to send a team to Beijing.

The government’s bizarre rationale is apparently that if these teams are too white and win, it would be bad for public morale and humiliate black people. Much better that they be racially representative, even if they do lose. With such criteria, South Africa will not win many medals at the Beijing Olympics. Except perhaps in the new Olympic code of synchronised swilling, where a South African team has been chosen from among the some 17 000 public servants who have been found guilty of social grant fraud but still hold their day jobs. The team management was selected from the couple of hundred ANC MPs who have defrauded Parliament but are still in the house.

And noting the spate of power failures that are plaguing China and threaten to switch off the Olympic lights, South African teams have a canny plan. Our players will now train only in the pitch dark, to take advantage of any Beijing blackouts. They have been given notes excusing them from having to obey the Minerals and Energy Minister's now disputed injunction to go to bed early to save electricity.

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