Japie says: ‘Puke? So what, son!’

2008-10-18 00:00

An assortment of political and cultural organisations want Springbok player Luke Watson hung, drawn and quartered. Or at least banished from playing professional rugby.

His sin is not that he has killed or assaulted anyone. There are top rugby players who have done that and met with at best muted disapproval. No, it is far more serious.

Watson — an odious little runt who believes that he is owed selection to the Springboks on the strength of his daddy’s anti-apartheid credentials — has been pilloried in the Afrikaans media for comments he made about Afrikaners and the Springbok symbol.

Watson said that when first selected for the national team he had to restrain himself from vomiting on his Springbok jersey. During the unrecorded question-and-answer session after his speech, he allegedly referred disparagingly to Afrikaners as Dutchmen.

The Afrikaner response was electric.

The Freedom Front Plus demanded that Watson never again plays rugby for South Africa. Rugby supporters would “illustrate their feelings and disapproval” whenever he appears on a rugby field, they warned.

The Afrikanerbond said that Watson’s “derogatory and offensive remarks” require action equal to that following a recent racist incident at Ellis Park. Teams then displayed anti-racism slogans on their kit to indicate their disapproval of the abuse of a young black woman by some drunken Afrikaner men.

Watson reacted with shock to the backlash, saying his family had historically fought against discrimination, but his critics were not to be placated. Afrikaner groups damned his statements as “jingoism” and an aspect of “genocidal fantasies” to “wipe out, suppress or exclude” Afrikaners.

The Pro-Afrikaans Action Group said that Robert Mugabe and Idi Amin were also on record as opposing racism and discrimination. Exaggeratedly, it likened Watson’s statements to “the mind-set of Kitchener and Roberts, the architects of the Boer concentration camps”.

What bollocks. A persistent whine emanating from Afrikanerdom over the past few years is that South Africans should forgive and forget the past — an admirable sentiment but one that is abandoned at any perceived slight, as the boere retire to positions first prepared during the Anglo-Boer War more than a century ago.

Watson has every right to say whatever he likes, no matter how foolish and self-regarding his words reveal him to be. And if he does not want to run on to the field in the Springbok jersey — the one that Nelson Mandela redeemed from our racist past with an act of sublime political courage and forgiveness; the jersey that literally thousands of black Springbok supporters now wear with pride — then he can always simply decline selection.

Equally, Afrikaners, or any ethnic group for that matter, need to become a little more robust. In any case, why they should get all sensitive about the tag “Dutchman” is puzzling, since Afrikaners are descended from Dutch settlers.

Unless it is that in the school-yard abuse of my youth, “Dutchman” was usually prefixed by the word “dumb”. Just as the counter taunt of “rooinek” was invariably prefixed by “fokken”. Nothing much has changed over the intervening years. Despite the growing political closeness between Japies and Soutpielle — an untranslatable bawdiness describing the state of male English-speakers’ appendages after dangling in the oceans between South Africa to which they are exiled and the England they left — the taunts continue, although now more jocular than bitter.

There is one thing, however, that does unite the various fractious races, languages and political persuasions. It is the popularity of the Springbok, symbol of the only sport in which South Africa is internationally competitive. Sport administrators, politicians and Watson (or Puke, as he is now fondly referred to in the letter pages of Beeld newspaper) meddle with it at their peril.

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