Why we are losing

2008-08-28 00:00

The Olympic Games is an excellent barometer against which countries can measure their progress, not just in sport but on a more holistic level. And while China with its perfect preparation has swept all before it, South Africa’s performance has been woeful. Countries like New Zealand and Jamaica with populations of 3,5 million and 2,7 million respectfully have gobbled up medals like hungry hens while our athletes, with one exception, have slunk away one after the other with nothing. Fundamentally something is wrong.

In 1994 the entire country was swept up in a wave of optimism. For the first time in our history people felt a sense of unity. Like prisoners released from our past we shared a common bond. In 1995 we won the Rugby World Cup and one year later we won the African Cup of Nations. In the same year we won five medals at the Atlanta Olympics despite our athletes having had little time to prepare.

How then can it be that 14 years after that golden period we have sunk so low that we can’t even qualify for the African Cup of Nations and won only one silver medal in this year’s Olympics? What deadly malaise has overtaken us as a country that has rendered us so weak and impotent? The answer is that we are more divided as a nation now than we were in 1994 and that lack of concentrated effort is hurting us.

Nelson Mandela spoke of his vision of one nation and for a while under his stewardship that vision progressed. Sadly his departure ushered in a new era as the African National Congress (ANC) strove to rectify the injustices of the past, and therein lies the problem. Put simply, the ANC cannot let go of the past and move on. Trashing white people and blaming all and sundry on them has become an endemic part of the daily diatribe of the average ANC politician. Essop Pahad, the Minister in the presidency, proclaimed recently that some white South Africans would like to see the 2010 Soccer World Cup flop. He bases this unfortunate conclusion on some comments he read that were posted on various websites. In the same week Parliament expressed outrage at the early parole given to Mark Scott Crossley, while expressing no concern about numerous other black inmates who were released under the same regulations.

If we are to be a united country then the government needs to start making white people feel welcome and part of the solution instead of the pariahs they make them out to be.

A good starting point would be a rethink of that paralysing strategy known as “transformation and affirmative action”. Surely after 14 years things have moved on sufficiently that these policies should be recognised as being stultifying and debilitating? In reality, affirmative action is nothing other than reverse discrimination, as to implement it requires the very discrimination it is seeking to eliminate. White people bought into the need for affirmative action after 1994, recognising that the previous regime had created an imbalanced and unjust society. The wholesale implementation of the policy and the disregard for the consequences has, however, created major problems.

If two people of equal ability apply for a position and one is white and one is Coloured then the person of colour should get the position. No problem there but when you promote people to positions they are not qualified for, the consequences can be disastrous. Nowhere is this felt more keenly than in the South African Police Service.

Historically the preserve of white Afrikaner males, it was an efficient organisation that kept crime at acceptable levels. Led by the unfortunate Jackie Selebi, however, the system has gradually eased out experienced white men, with serious consequences. Today crime is the single biggest threat to the stability and prosperity of the country. The same can be said for Eskom and numerous other government organisations. Likewise with sporting codes, where experienced white administrators have been ousted and replaced with people who simply don’t have the qualifications for the position.

Whether we should have quotas at all 14 years on is very questionable. What is certain is that we are steadily losing some of our best young white people to savvy

Australia and Britain and will continue to do as for so long as the government continues to discriminate against them.

As we stand today we are a nation constantly pulling against each other, distracted by issues that seek only to divide us on grounds of race. If, as Pahad suggests, some whites are filled with a sense of Schadenfreude then perhaps he should ask himself why. Maybe white people are tired of having the past constantly thrown in their faces by self-serving politicians who use it as a platform to promote themselves. Isn’t it time for us all to put the past behind us and start working together as one country?

People are inspired by winners, be it in sport or business or life in general. Who cares if Usain Bolt is black and Michael Phelps is white? We celebrate their triumphs and wish only that they were ours. When we won the Rugby World Cup in 2007, the whole country, black and white, celebrated and for one magical moment we were united again.

Sadly it didn’t last and politicians continue to bring race into sport. The result is our headlong spiral into mediocrity that will continue for as long as it continues.

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