Unsavoury associates hold SA Rugby back

Simnikiwe Xabanisa
Simnikiwe Xabanisa

Johannesburg - In the build-up to the SA Rugby presidential elections, SuperSport started airing a 15-minute documentary called Saru ’18: Reboot.

Possibly gatvol of being misrepresented by bastard columnists like this one, the short film was SA Rugby (Saru) and its broadcast partner’s attempt to clearly communicate its current position and outline its plans to address its many challenges of late.

Listening to some of the things discussed – an incentivised Springbok contracting system with corporate South Africa as a third party and a draft system for superfluous talent being two of the more eye-catching reforms proposed – one couldn’t help but be sympathetic.

It’s not a feeling that comes easily, given its aversion to transparency, but Saru does sound like it’s being proactive in its efforts to rescue a brand that has taken big hits in recent years, which include an underperforming Bok team, unhealthy finances and affiliates that basically drain their resources.

But then came the elections last Friday, which saw incumbent president Mark Alexander beat his Leopards challenger André May to the post. On the face of it, Saru dodged a bullet in not having to welcome a new president who was one of only two provincial union presidents who refused to sign its transformation objectives document.

Yet Pumas president Hein Mentz – said to be the other half of the provincial union presidents who did not sign the transformation objectives documents – seemed to be a popular addition to the executive committee.

Depending on who you speak to, Mentz comes across as a divisive figure at Saru, loved by the smaller unions and barely tolerated by the bigger ones.

This week, a fellow Saru official described him as “the spiritual leader of the right-wing backlash in rugby to the new South Africa, an opponent of introducing women to rugby”.

Another described his influence among the smaller unions thus: “He comes to meetings prepared, asks very good questions and handles himself well in a debate. What the smaller unions have done is decide to make him bat for all of them.”

But to the man on the street, Mentz – the father of former Springbok Henno and his former Blitzbok brother MJ – is best remembered for his spirited defence of the Pumas’ decision to play convicted murderer Gert van Schalkwyk while he was awaiting a decision related to his appeal of the guilty verdict for being one of the Waterkloof Four, who beat a homeless man to death while they were still at school in 2001.

Mentz’s defence at the time was: “He already served part of his sentence and we are in no position to judge him. He needs to find work and we will see if he is good enough.”

As statements go, it sounds pretty objective, if not downright neighbourly, but, at this juncture, I should probably make a declaration.

When I enrolled at Dale College in 1991, it was a year after four pupils, who called themselves the Joubert K****r Bashing Society, had similarly clubbed a vagrant they found on the school fields to death with cricket bats and hockey sticks.

Something like that stays with you for life, and no amount of intellectualising and fake even-handedness can absolve Mentz of the fact that he had no problem giving a hand to a murderer who clearly did not regret what was, for all intents and purposes, a race-fuelled crime.

Forget that nothing was done at the time, quite how he could have white-washed his reputation enough to be a welcome member of Saru’s executive committee is an indictment on its leadership, who will need to draw a line in the sand one day about whether they see a problem with being associated with unsavoury characters.

Mentz isn’t the only questionable character in tow – Border Bulldogs president Phumlani Mkolo runs the soon-to-be liquidated union while he is out on bail for fraud relating to the misuse of millions earmarked for Nelson Mandela’s memorial services and funeral in 2013.

Saru may be bemused about where it fits into all of this, but if its ambitious changes are to take a meaningful hold, it needs to weed out the undesirable characters who overpopulate its space.


Follow me on Twitter @Simxabanisa

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