What Joost's death taught us about South Africa

2017-02-13 16:37
Joost van der Westhuizen's famous tackle on Jonah Lomu in the 1995 Rugby World Cup final (Gallo Images)

Joost van der Westhuizen's famous tackle on Jonah Lomu in the 1995 Rugby World Cup final (Gallo Images)

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Tinus Linee was laid to rest on 3 November 2014, without much pomp and ceremony. Linee played 112 games for Western Province between 1992 and 2001. He was never capped as a Springbok, but played 9 matches in the ‘Dirt Tracker’ team. He died at the age of 45 and was suffering from Motor Neuron Disease (MND). 

The contrast between Linee’s life, illness and passing and that of Joost van der Westhuizen could not be starker. The difference in the responses to the two could be attributed to a number of factors, including the epic 1995 Rugby World Cup final, an event in which Joost played no small part.

Joost also enjoyed considerable success after the 1995 Rugby World Cup, serving for a while as captain of the Springboks and boasting an 80% winning record for the 10 matches he served as leader, while earning 89 full test caps during his career. 

Joost was by all accounts an exceptional talent, and he should be recognised as such.  

Tinus Linee was no less of a talent and he was a fearsome tackler. I have no knowledge of his early years before rugby, nor do I know much of his life after rugby, save for what I gathered through social media and the omnipresent Google search engine. 

Using Google, I conducted a search engine experiment, which should not be tried by those who are squeamish, sensitive, alcoholics or compulsive shoppers. I searched for “Tinus Linee” and Google served up 26,000 hits. It led me to his funeral service which was on YouTube. The video has been watched 583 times since it was uploaded on 10 November 2013. 

I conducted the same search for Joost van der Westhuizen and Google served up 932 000 hits! It also led me to his memorial service, which was held on Friday, and despite still being screened and referenced on every local television channel, it had rocketed from 870 views when I first checked, to 8 324 views during the course of writing this piece. 

This made me think of Jack Dolomba, who was described as an ‘African Springbok’, despite never having had the opportunity of turning out for the ‘national’ team. Dolomba passed away in August 2014, and the Supersport report said: “Dolomba, who was employed at Buffalo City Municipality at the time of his death, is survived by his wife, daughter, 2 grandchildren and a great grandchild.” The report does not expand on the nature of his employment as a former ‘African Springbok’, because it would reveal too much about the nature of South African society. 

Dolomba, at the time of his death, was a municipal street sweeper. He received some Google ‘play’, maybe because he played under the banner of the collaborationist SAARB, which was recognised as a body by Danie Craven’s SARB. Simon Sokuta, who played for KWARU and SARU, also passed away in 2014, but Google kept on asking me: “Did you mean: Simon South; Simon Socket; Simon Sahota; Simon Serota…?”

I googled many other names and I was not surprised, but angered and dismayed at what I did not find. I found no Freddie Fredericks, no Jan Rooiland, no Tommy Musson…

Yes, it is up to those of us who knew these legends to write their histories, but it is difficult when you have to plough your own money into the projects, while holding down a 09:00 to 17:00 job. The benevolence of those who contribute to sports project, only extend to ‘patriotic’ prose, and to those who are committed to what THEY deem to be of benefit to the ‘Nation Building’ process. Zebra Press, Jonathan Ball Publishing, Paarl Media et al. have published countless books on the fantastic contribution that sports have made to the ‘New South Africa’ as if by publishing these fantasies, they will conjure them into reality. 

I remember a while back, I cracked a remark about the personal appearance of Bryan Habana and a very good friend admonished me for the remark. Out of respect for him, I removed the post, yet he was unrelenting and sent me a screenshot of the post. It was in that same week that I was watching Trevor Noah on TV, when he was making fun of Jacob Zuma’s head – or the shape of his head. It then occurred to me that had I been in a position of power then the response to my post might have been different. 

This, in essence, is the defining spirit of the ‘new’ South Africa – recognition of, and subservience to power. It is fine for a comedian (and I am not a comedian) to make fun of the president of South Africa – like him or not – but you dare not poke fun at the ‘physical infirmities’ of a Springbok! 

The jokes that were made at the expense of Caster Semenya points to one significantly fundamental truth about South African power dynamics – they have not changed post-1994. They have remained the same. They are the power dynamics that fuel the fear and hatred that drives Steve Hofmeyr to believe that there’s a culling of ‘white’ South Africans underway. 

Maybe the cull forms part of the 94 murders at the hands of the state’s health apparatus? Or maybe the ‘white cull’ was behind the Marikana massacre in 2012? Or maybe this ‘white’ genocide is taking place, as we speak on the Cape Flats where gang violence rages unabated and furiously? Who knows, in a non-racial society, we hardly know the colours of the victims of violent crime anymore.

The chaos in Parliament at SONA 2017 has been superseded by the memorial service of Joost van der Westhuizen. It is as if South Africans honestly believe that sport has healed this country, or in some vague way contributed to social cohesion and unity. 

It hasn’t. It has shown up the disparities in the system, and we are too fixated by the spectacle of sport to realise that the only way sport can engender social cohesion and healing, is by people interacting with each other in competition. 

But that’s not us. 

That’s not South African. 

We are the errant, petulant children of a flawed negotiation process, a settlement that rewarded us with a tournament which delivered in terms of the scripted fairytale, but not in terms of reality, and what was actually required to build a unitary South Africa. 

The ANC usurped all struggle structure at grassroots level through the UDF, and it was always in their design to crush all dissent in this country, and to do so under the spyglass of “The Best Constitution in the World”.

It was indeed right and noble of Bill Beaumont to fly down for Van der Westhuizen’s funeral, as he is the current top man in World Rugby. But we should also not forget that he flew down in the 1970’s with the British Lions in support of apartheid sport. 

If Mandela built peace and unity, and if the 1995 Springboks contributed to that peace, then we should be mature enough to acknowledge that they were failures in that respect. The country is in a crisis, and no amount of flag waving, anthem singing, or Springbok jersey wearing on Fridays will arrest the crisis, because we are expecting some divine miracle to descend, while we watch sport on TV – if we can afford DSTV, that is.  

The ANC cannot build unity, and neither for that matter can the DA or EFF. Only South Africans can. South Africans who are mature enough to acknowledge that we have been sold a fantasy, and that we should by now have outgrown fantasies should realise that it’s time to move on to reality. We can only build unity if we treat each other as equals, regardless of whether we live in Camps Bay or Gugulethu. We should be testimonies to our commitment to fixing this country, and not play or dance to the tune of selective patriotism and selective memory – the type of memory that only sees victors at the Battle of Blood River, and no victims. The same type of memory that sees only victors at Cassinga, not recognising the possibility that there might have been victims. The type of memory that sees only the triumph of the 1995 Rugby World Cup, but ignore the over 27 000 murders that occurred that year. 

If anything, sport, and in this case specifically rugby, has shown us that even in death we treat each other differently. It is no different when we are alive. South Africa needs comprehensive collective memory and acknowledgement of the pain of the other - not merely acknowledgement that the other is different.

- Mark Fredericks is a video technician at the journalism department at the Walter Sisulu University in East London and writes in his private capacity. 

Disclaimer: News24 encourages freedom of speech and the expression of diverse views. The views of columnists published on News24 are therefore their own and do not necessarily represent the views of News24.

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