Joey Mongalo’s appointment this week as the Bulls’ defence coach was a deceptively great thing for black coaches in South Africa.
Some will struggle to process the “great” part in the above statement because Mongalo has moved to Loftus Versfeld into the same role he held at the Lions last year, but the subtle difference is that his new boss, Bulls director of rugby Jake White, has been talking about his mandate being to create pathways for the coaches under him over the next three years.
Talk is that the Lions bade Mongalo – a 10-year investment that led to Mongalo becoming the most experienced coach in their structures – a cheery farewell this week when it was confirmed that he was going back to where he played his junior representative rugby.
This is roughly the same thing the franchise did when Bafana Nhleko, another young black coach who spent a similar amount of time with them as Mongalo did, felt obliged to join the South African Under-20 team after his demotion from Lions’ SuperSport Rugby Challenge head coach to a dogsbody in the junior structures.
That the Lions don’t seem to have an actual path mapped out for their black coaches when their white counterparts appear to be getting fast-tracked to the top is a story for another day.
The bigger story is that coaching is the next frontier that needs to be conquered when it comes to transformation. The brief history of transformation milestones over the years is that, after the game’s reluctant concession to two black wingers, the resistance moved to black fly halves before black captains were rugby’s next imponderable.
But after Siya Kolisi, the country’s first black captain, debunked the daft idea that the colour of your skin determines your capacity to lead by lifting the Webb Ellis Cup last year, the next logical space to do that is in coaching.
Some may ask if that’s necessary when coaches such as Rassie Erasmus and the Sharks’ Sean Everitt are out there appointing black captains.
But had it not been for the help of his assistant coach Mzwandile Stick, who was laughed out of town under Springbok predecessor Allister Coetzee, Erasmus would never have had a match-winner like Makazole Mapimpi to call on because he couldn’t reach him communicatively.
The bigger truth here is that black coaches, whose entire careers tend to doom them to a life as nameless, faceless assistant coaches, are treated differently by the system. An example of that is the careers of Paul Treu and White.
The architect of the Blitzboks’ dynasty as we know it, Treu sits on a pile of qualifications, but he’s never in the dispatches when there’s a franchise job in the offing. Ask most people about him and the narrative is that he can have the bedside manner of an enraged rattlesnake.
Put it this way: White has never been accused of being a picnic, but the most successful franchise in South Africa had no problem appointing him. At this juncture, some might point to the fact that Coetzee and Peter de Villiers made it as far as Springbok head coach.
But the incessant ridicule that stalked De Villiers’ tenure came from a conviction that he didn’t belong there, even though many of his white counterparts had also said some outlandish things in the seat.
Coetzee was as terrible in the job as, say, Carel du Plessis, but why is that taken as proof positive to be wary of black coaches ascending to the position again, when SA Rugby didn’t stop hiring white coaches after The Prince of Wings?
Why is it that when a black player, captain or coach does their job, they seem to get separate marks for representing their race as well?
Nhleko said it best when he was still at the Lions: “If we give equal opportunities to everyone, we’ll be able to get the best out of everyone. I’m hoping to be a good coach who happens to be black.”
- Follow me on Twitter @simxabanisa
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