Laager mentality is a load of bull

2010-10-02 10:33

The professor’s cheeks puffed red as he questioned why Absa chief executive Maria Ramos had not said a word about the crisis at the bank.

We were at a conference in Stellenbosch and he was about to speak to the gathered delegates.

Eavesdropping, I wondered what we had missed in that ­Sunday’s newspaper. A run on the bank, ­perhaps? Or a fraud scandal.

As I listened more carefully, it was about Absa executive Louis von Zeuner’s leaked communication to South African Rugby Union chief executive Oregan Hoskins suggesting that the Currie Cup teams needed a little more colour.

This storm in a rugby ball required the chief executive’s intervention, averred the avuncular professor.

Why, I asked, surely it was fine for the bank’s group’s chief marketing and communications officer Happy Ntshingila to comment?

He is a senior and highly experienced sponsor, and the man who writes the cheques on Absa’s behalf.

The prof spluttered at my ignorance; I tore my salad greens apart violently, annoyed at yet another instance of molehills being turned into mountains by special interests.It’s tiresome.

 If it’s not the ANC Youth League distracting the national attention with its nationalisation plans, then it’s AfriForum promising an Absa Afrikaner Armageddon because the Currie Cup’s major sponsor suggests that for rugby to survive, it needs to emerge from the laager.

An innocent enough observation and suggestion by Von Zeuner has taken the form of an edict and has the volk in a froth.The problem, apparently, is not non-racialism – the constitutional value at issue here?– but how to get to it.

Quotas have become a swear word in the current lexicon.

Why? How else are you to achieve transformation and non-racialism if not by setting targets?

As a person who has benefited from the ­targets in the employment equity laws, it’s pretty clear to me that I would not have achieved my dreams or goals without policy-makers realising that there were vast swathes of South African life that would not change the status quo unless pressure was applied.

It is perplexing that a people who benefited from the largest quota system of the 20th century – apartheid – can be so dead set against them now.Perhaps it is the nature of privilege that those with it will not easily share it.

This inability to share will be masked by the chimera of protecting standards, of merit and of allegations of reverse racism.And quotas, equity, and empowerment are the flip side of the coin of reconciliation and racial peace that was negotiated in the early 1990s.

Part of that negotiation meant that ­patterns of wealth creation and wealth ­maintenance were left virtually intact despite fears to the contrary.

In fact, existing fortunes have grown while inequality is higher than ever.

Thus, AfriForum can hold up the bogey of R18 billion that can walk from Absa’s vaults if it doesn’t stop this nonsense of shared ­prosperity and ­transformation in rugby.

While AfriForum is an excellent lobby group with a sense of strategy and tactics, it should be careful that its radical tactics do not dissemble into racist special pleading – a deeply conservative impulse.

In May, the entire country celebrated a Mandela moment when all of rugbydom descended on Soweto.

Sakhumzi and other neighbourhood shebeens did a roaring trade as Bulls and Stormers supporters came to watch a game.

There were so many Kodak moments they still make me smile: the aunties who opened yards for fancy cars to park in; the kids turned blue in Bulls face-paint for the day; and the boy giving a fat rugger bugger a ride on his hand-hewn trolley.

Now, for those of us on the outside of the laager, the message seems to be that we can share in rugby as long as we are willing to stand on the sidelines and cheer rather than being part of the scrum. It makes one blue, like a bull.

Or red and angry like Absa. Laager mentality is a load of bull.

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