Guest Column

OPINION: Privilege still dominates rugby culture

2019-10-08 09:14
Makazole Mapimpi scores one of the Springboks' seven tries during its match against Italy. Photo: Getty Images

Makazole Mapimpi scores one of the Springboks' seven tries during its match against Italy. Photo: Getty Images

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2019-10-08 08:59

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South African rugby is all about race and privilege perpetuated by stereotypes that assert that only Africans who went to former model C schools are good enough to play, writes Zukile Mazwi.

Culture as defined by Wikipedia is an umbrella term which encompasses the social behaviour and norms found in human societies, as well as the knowledge, beliefs, arts, laws, customs, capabilities and habits of the individuals in these groups.

Culture is everything when it comes to team sport and especially rugby. The most successful teams always punt the importance of a great culture to achieve great results. In 1995, when the Springboks won the Rugby World Cup on home soil, then captain Francois Pienaar commended the culture and unity and one common goal as the key to their success. Even though he was trying his best to be politically correct at the time, he touted the Madiba magic as having played a critical role.

Culture however has a nasty way of encouraging separation from those who do not share the same beliefs or look different than the majority who support the culture; this we have seen and heard of in the number of group attacks instigated by teammates or groups of friends, whereby there is always a need to show allegiance to your own due to the beliefs that you share.

It is no surprise that racism will always be seen as part of the Springbok team and the rugby playing community in South Africa at large. Springbok teams continue to use Afrikaans as a medium of communication on the field; lineout calls as well as general set plays are often communicated in Afrikaans. Surely such an environment is not accommodating to non-Afrikaans speakers, especially those of African descent.

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In order for South Africa to have a truly representative team, the culture of the game as it is needs to be changed. This can be achieved through the intervention of government in rugby, not to dictate selection, but to impose a framework within which rugby selection processes must operate. The introduction of the quota system by former SA Rugby boss Brian van Rooyen et al was a great initiative, but it was not well accepted by the Stellenbosch mafia, who continue to dictate what happens in the game.

South African rugby is all about race and privilege perpetuated by stereotypes that assert that only those Africans who went to former Model C schools are good enough to play, basing their assumptions purely on the culture in those schools.

At first glance of the so-called "bomb squad" video, I was disgusted because that sort of behaviour is to be expected within South African rugby circles. I found it very odd that no African player formed part of that huddle, and yet Herschel Jantjies was a foot away from them and came off the bench as well.

Such behaviour reminded me of stories the late Solly Tyibilika used to tell us about the environment and attitude of certain players in the Springbok set-up. The culture of racial intolerance in rugby is still prevalent to this very day. Skilled African players are mostly played out of position just to frustrate them. Chester Williams was a centre converted to a wing. Khaya Malotana, a centre, was also played at wing in the 1999 World Cup; JP Pieterson, a fullback converted to wing. Now we see one of the most talented fullbacks in the world, Cheslin Kolbe also being played at wing.

African players are always expected to keep their opinions to themselves; they are expected to stick to their lane and do as they are told. If it was not for public pressure and the racial window dressing in the current team, I do not think Siya Kolisi would be captain. In fact, many are not happy that he is captain.

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Certain high schools are seen as the meccas of South African rugby; their players always given preference in selection, potentially leaving out the most talented players. Privilege plays a big role in making it in rugby which makes it very difficult for those from not so privileged backgrounds and schooling.

The culture of rugby in South Africa is appalling and needs to be redefined, but for as long as we have token blacks such as Mark Alexander at the helm of SA Rugby, we will not see any change.

Twenty-five years into democracy, SA Rugby is still failing to meet the 50% transformation target. What a shame!

- Zukile Mazwi is a former rugby player.

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. 

Read more on:    cheslin kolbe  |  eben etzebeth  |  sa rugby  |  racism


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