Time to scrum down for the Bok

2008-10-25 00:00

T he African National Congress is finding out the hard way that whatever the glee factor, gratuitously kicking sand in someone’s face is not a clever tactic. No matter how invincible one is feeling at the time, it is worth remembering that the humiliated will harbour hopes of retaliation.

It is a lesson that is already costing the ANC dearly. The party unnecessarily humbled former President Thabo Mbeki and allowed young hooligans to rub his nose in the dirt. The result is an imminent split in the party.

Now the ANC is flexing its muscles, indulging in one of its periodic baitings of South Africa’s rugby fans. A small, vitriolic clique is threatening to renege on the ANC concession, reiterated a number of times, to allow rugby to use the Springbok emblem.

Sporting fans are often somewhat apolitical. They save their passion for what is really important to them: the fortunes of “their” team. Given the displacement value of sport in a fractious and fissiparous country, it is foolish not to let sleeping dogs lie.

There is little reason here to list reasons for the retention of the Springbok. It is an issue that has been canvassed ad nauseam since the first democratic elections in 1994.

The matter was supposedly resolved a year later when, in his inimical fashion, former president Nelson Mandela donned the Springbok jersey to join team captain François Pienaar in receiving the World Cup trophy.

The upshot was that the Springbok survived. It would be kept for rugby union — the sporting code that launched and made it famous — to be displayed along with the King Protea that all the other codes, except soccer, use.

The ANC concession was an admirable act of reconciliation. It was also politically astute.

It neatly appropriated to the non-racial South Africa an instantly recognisable, successful international brand that spoke of the beauty and prowess of the nation. It simultaneously ensured at a stroke the goodwill and inclusion of the white community — proportionately the most fanatical supporters of rugby — in the building of a new society.

With the success of the Springboks at two world cups, support crossed colour lines. More Springbok memorabilia is sold in Soweto than the rest of Johannesburg and the affectionate name AmaBokkeBokke was coined there.

In this most recent attempt to strip rugby of its venerated emblem, it is not only the survival of the Springbok that is at issue. Crucially, it is also the manner in which we are going to allow ourselves to be governed: standing on our own two feet or crouching submissively on our knees, tugging our forelocks.

Minority groups are often overeager to claim that they are being scapegoated. With the Minister of Sport and Recreation, and head of the Parliamentary Sports Committee contradicting their own party, one has rare sympathy with white anger and the sense of betrayal.

Democratic government is a pact. We, the state, will look out for your interests and, in return, you pledge your loyalty and pay your taxes. To govern erratically or spitefully is to break that pact. This is the time to lobby, to engage, to be angry and to act on it. If necessary, this is the time to resort to the guerrilla politics of the voiceless: the co-ordinated boycott of selected rugby fixtures, for example.

That’s what good citizenship entails — robust participation. Not whingeing from the sidelines.

Writing in the Weekender, Edward Griffiths, a former rugby administrator, put it succinctly: “Make no mistake, the decision whether or not to retain the Springbok is neither inconsequential nor trivial. Maybe, indeed, it is about the future of this country.”

• Vote for the Springbok on www.AmaBokkBokke.com Get others to vote.

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