Arbitrary exclusion

2010-07-29 00:00

ONCE again it is sport that has exposed the flaws in our social policies. The Tri-Nations showdown between the Boks and the All Blacks at what used to be called the FNB Stadium has become the fulcrum of much more than one of sport’s greatest rivalries.

The idea must have sounded like a work of genius when it was first placed on the table. Soweto residents would have 5 000 of the 89 000 tickets available for the match. These tickets would cost R100, while the rest would go for R500.

In theory it was about rugby showing that it appreciated the enthusiasm Sowetans demonstrated when they backed the Bulls, who took their Super 14 semi-final and final matches to Orlando Stadium. By extension, rugby would be making an effort to exorcise itself from being a white, even Afrikaner male, sporting code and emerge rather as another South African sport that football is on the cusp of being thanks to the World Cup.

Below the surface lay a flawed assumption. The organisers of this match made the simplistic deduction that white is equal to rich and black to poor. That is why black people who live in Soweto would get their tickets on the cheap and the rest would have to pay through their noses for no other reason than that they did not live in Soweto.

While there can be no serious debate that on average white South Africans are richer than their black compatriots thanks to decades of political and social engi­neering, it is silly to assume that rugby is like polo.

It is too simplistic and dishonest to make out that white South Africa is a homogenous group made out of middle-class people who can easily afford a R500 ticket to watch a sport they love. The decision by the Gauteng Lions blazers has, like the apartheid mind-set, made more than was necessary of skin colour as a benchmark for everything.

It has excluded the reality that the university student, the school teacher and the company CEO are not in the same income bracket even if they share the same skin colour or surname.

The union has acted in much the same way that provincial housing departments behave. You would swear that there is not a single homeless white family in South Africa. Low-cost housing has become a politically sanitised language to mean houses for black people. Just like with rugby tickets, such houses are deliberately built where black people live, just in case anybody wondered who they were really for.

The decision to allocate so few tickets at that price range has also highlighted another growing cancer of our society — nonracial elitism — which in sport is manifested by those who can afford these expensive match tickets or satellite television.

We have so completely accepted the naturalness of inequality in society that the rugby bigwigs could get away with firing one of the Springbok’s finest coaches, Nick Mallet, for complaining that tickets for the 2001 Tri-Nations were too expensive for the average fan. At this rate, it is only a matter of time before our stadia will be filled by what former Manchester United captain Roy Keane called the “prawn sandwich brigade” who attend matches not so much because they care about the teams on show but to enjoy the good life in the corporate boxes.

If the Golden Lions were genuine in their gesture to Sowetans, they would surely have made more tickets available because Soweto has a population bigger than Swaziland and Botswana put together. If they cared about the average fan, they would have distributed these tickets to many other people who are poor regardless of the colour of the skins of those who live there.

Instead, they went the BEE route of getting a few blacks and excluded everyone else to fool themselves into thinking they had done something for the transformation of sport.

That is why I thought it served them right when I saw pictures of rugby fans of all colours queuing for match tickets in Soweto, thus undermining the farce that rugby bosses had sought to create. Unlike with BEE where the picture on your identity document will flush you out of a system, they could not chase white fans away and neither could they demand to see their income tax forms.

It cannot be more right to make an effort to encourage black people to watch their national team but exclude the other poor because they are not black. To do this is to reduce blackness to skin colour rather than being the inclusive term for those politically, economically and socially excluded it originally represented.

To lock ourselves into the narrow politics of melanin levels in our genes is a certainty that we will sooner or later return to the debilitating politics that defined this nation for the past 100 years.

It is to create a new problem in the name of solving an existing one. If there is anything we must have learnt from our past it is that nobody likes feeling arbitrarily excluded. I cannot imagine that the white poor who love rugby are exceptional in that sense.

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