Max du Preez

AfriForum's angry crusade

2010-10-06 13:11

I have often said the trade union movement Solidarity and its sister organisation AfriForum were examples of how productive civic activism can work in a democracy like ours - the Treatment Action Campaign being the other example.

But I’m afraid Solidarity and AfriForum have made a grave error of judgement and have done serious damage to their cause and their reputation with their hysterical campaign against Absa’s encouragement of transformation in rugby.

Or is it perhaps more a case of AfriForum showing its real face at last: a narrow, white Afrikaner-nationalist lobby group uncomfortable with a democratic society where the balance of political power had switched to black South Africans?

AfriForum’s angry crusade against the banking group that spends tens of millions sponsoring rugby has, at least for now, alienated it from the mainstream of South African public opinion - even white public opinion.

It has painted itself into a right wing, reactionary corner where it will struggle to get out of. This has undone much of its earlier good work.

Surge in black rugby talent

I believe the vast majority of rugby lovers in this country have long ago shaken off the paranoia about racial quotas and special efforts to nurture black talent.

They know there is not a single quota player in the national team, in the Super 14 teams or in the Currie Cup teams. The Mtawariras, the Mvovos, the Jantjies, the Ndunganes, the Kirchners, the Mabetas and the Rallepeles are all chosen because they are excellent athletes and rugby players, because they are the best choices on the day for their teams.

But people who take their rugby seriously have also noticed the fantastic surge in black rugby talent at high school and club level during the last few years, and searched in vain for these talented players’ names and faces in provincial teams a year or so later.

The South African Rugby Union and the different Currie Cup unions needed a kick in the butt to remind them that they have all committed themselves to level the playing field and to encourage more black rugby players to come through the ranks.

That’s exactly what Absa did.

Silly threats

If I were a senior executive at a big national company that spent vast amounts of money to get my name associated with a particular sport, I would also act if it became clear that this sport was out of step with what is happening in the rest of society.

What is more, it is high time corporate South Africa became more involved in the efforts to normalise our society faster and more meaningfully. Their responsibility did not end in 1994 after they helped cajole the political parties into a negotiating mode.

AfriForum’s threats that their “supporters” who bank with ABSA would switch to other banks is just silly: there is no bank in South Africa that does not support transformation of sport and society.

Even sillier was their claim that these “supporters” have something like R18bn banked with Absa.

If AfriForum’s friends are really that rich, why are there still white squatter camps in Pretoria?

Old-South Africa panic button

I have the impression that a lot of the knee-jerk support AfriForum’s campaign got during the first few days have now petered out as people realise that AfriForum was merely pushing an old-South Africa panic button.

South African rugby will be better off in every sense of the word if its executives work harder to shake off old prejudices; if they become more focused on nurturing the talents of players who have to work much harder than white youngsters to get noticed.

For its own sake and for the sake of rugby, Solidarity and AfriForum should come to their senses and quietly but quickly drop their counter-productive campaign.

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