Between the lines

2008-08-15 00:00

When I first read the story of the black girl who smacked two rugby players at school, I laughed fit to bust. It’s a funny world when rugby players can be “assaulted” by a girl. I mean, come on. What sort of rugby players are you? Big babies.

But then I read the finer details. According to the news report, Aviwe Mhlontlo got involved in a scuffle when she walked through a “no blacks” zone. What? We still have petty apartheid at our schools, I fumed. Then it turns out that it’s actually a piece of lawn that was labelled the U15 rugby team’s victory spot last year, and it’s called a “no-kaffir” zone by black pupils, not white ones.

So acting on the principle that it’s okay for African-Americans to call themselves niggers, it’s also okay for black South Africans, especially if they own soccer clubs, to call themselves kaffirs. Hey, who am I to tell them different, their dads won the war. Of course, those same dads might be a little offended, but I guess that’s what children do.

Still, it’s possibly irresponsible for the reporter to call the area in question a “no blacks” zone, and make it look like the school condones racism, when in fact it’s not that at all. Which is not to say that the rugby children aren’t guilty of racist behaviour, but that’s not established either way by the story.

But then I read further, and it turns out that Mhlontlo is 18, and six months pregnant. So actually, the rugby boys were beaten up by a mother-to-be, not just a girl. Still shameful stuff and I wouldn’t like to be in the scrum when their next opponents start taunting them. I also wouldn’t like to be in history class when Mhlontlo’s water breaks, but that’s another story.

The headline of the story was “Girl ‘assaulted’ white boys”, although I see it’s been changed now to “Girl takes on rugby players” by some wise editor. Personally, I’d have called it “Foetus in the frontrow”, or something like that, but hey, we know racism sells in this country. I’m surprised that our sport stories aren’t headlined stuff like “White guy scores goal for black stars”, or “Coloured and woman get medals at Olympics”.

Still, assault — that’s pretty bad. But then it turns out that Mhlontlo’s assault consisted of “hitting one of them on his chest and grabbing the other’s jersey and refusing to let go.” Oh my god. Not letting go of his jersey. That can only be inspired by the senseless violence of Grand Theft Auto. Ban it. And these people want to hold a Soccer World Cup.

At this point, allow me to quote from Gilbert Keith Chesterton, or rather, some quotations website. “Journalism is popular, but it is popular mainly as fiction. Life is one world and life seen in the newspapers is another.”

Then on MyNews24, there was a letter from one Johann, commending Mhlontlo on “shoving two white students”.

On one level, I applaud Johann for being a gentleman. He writes: “Where have you ever heard of gentlemen throwing things at ladies? Where have you heard of gentlemen shoving or pushing ladies, never mind the fact that she was pregnant at the time. Seems to me that today’s men are only willing to engage in a fight against defenceless ladies.”

On another level, I despair. We don’t know the two rugby players’ side of the story, except the bit about them being crybabies. We don’t know that this incident was inspired by racism. In fact (and by fact I mean I’m making this bit up. I’m a columnist, so I’m allowed to), the only evidence of racism seems to be on the part of Mhlontlo, the one referring to a “no-kaffir” zone.

If you read the original story in Beeld there’s more detail, which does seem to point towards a racist incident, at least if you believe Mhlontlo’s mother. But still, what could have been an uplifting and jolly tale of a girl smacking a couple of rugby players becomes yet another turgid black and white issue.

I do like the rugby apartheid-zone bit though. Why on Earth should a rugby team get a special bit of grass to call their own? Are hockey or soccer players the new blacks? And at least we now know that rugby players are the new girls. — News24.

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