Here’s why SARU’s entire leadership should resign

A significant number of South African citizens – good, principled men and women – have never believed that the South African Rugby Union (SARU) could ever be a credible agent for the promotion of non-racial sport, and particularly non-racial rugby, in this country.

South African rugby in the era of democracy has a sad history of promises made … and quickly and casually broken. And so, no one should be surprised that, despite the by-now tiresomely regular hands-on-heart commitment to transformation and the promise of new opportunities for black players, next month, when the Springboks participate in their 6th World Cup, the run-on team will have a familiar look about it. They will, in all likelihood, start their campaign with a side containing just two black players – a long-serving wing (in Bryan Habana) and a loosehead prop who wasn’t even born in South Africa (in Tendai Mtawarira).

This is hardly better than their first foray into the World Cup in 1995, when Chester Williams was the only black member of the team that started the final against the All Blacks.

It is a disgrace – of which the consequences should be mass sackings in SARU. In this regard, I am convinced that the weight of public opinion will result in heads rolling – even if South Africa wins the World Cup.

But this column is not about team selection, or even about transformation. Rather, it revolves around another issue, an issue centering on a lack of respect. It is about pissing on other peoples’ history. It is about SARU’s stock reaction to criticism of their failure in so many different areas both inside and outside the game: a silent, but unmistakably clear and arrogant … ‘Fuck you!’

South Africans who fought apartheid in sport are proud of their achievements – and do not take kindly to those whom they see as untransformed and always advantaged spitting on the sacrifices they made during some of this country’s darkest days.

On Saturday, the Springboks will play the Pumas in a friendly in Buenos Aires, which will have no meaning on the field, but will lead to at least one serious question being posed off it.

And it is this….

What the hell possessed SARU to agree to participate in a match celebrating the apartheid history of Argentine and white Springbok rugby?

Saturday’s game will commemorate the 50th anniversary of the tour to South Africa and the then Rhodesia by an Argentine team in 1965, during the high-noon of apartheid.

For those who have forgotten – or who want to forget – let me tell you what the 1960s meant to black people like me … to my parents … to my grandparents … to my family … and to my friends.

It was an era in which mixed marriages were forbidden, in which mixed-race couples were hounded, harassed, driven apart and often exiled. It was an era in which sexual relationships across colour lines were banned. It was an era in which the Population Registration Act ‘defined who was of which race’. And it was time in which countless thousands of black South Africans were driven from their homes as a result of the National Party’s Group Areas Act.

And that’s not all….

In 1963, the promulgation of the General Law Amendment Act gave police the right to detain people and, as some would point out, to torture them for 90 days without trial, and without access to a lawyer. By 1970, 22 people had died in detention after ‘falling out of windows’, ‘hanging themselves’ and ‘slipping on bars of soap’.

This, dear readers, was the Sixties.

Also in 1963, the ANC’s top leadership was detained at Liliesleaf Farm outside Johannesburg, after a raid by security police. In the so-called Rivonia Trial that followed in 1964, eight ANC leaders, including Nelson Mandela were sentenced to life imprisonment.

And yes, SARU, this is just another snippet of the true meaning of the 1960s.

And still this is not all.

In the 1960s, black sportspersons also felt the full weight of the jackboot of apartheid.

Of Maoris and Dollys
For many years, England, Australia and New Zealand and France, white South Africa’s traditional sporting opponents in rugby and cricket, knew what they needed to do if they wanted to undertake tours to the southern tip of Africa: they had to pick all-white teams.

And they were more than happy to comply. In one instance, the England cricket selectors were even prepared to drop a player of Indian origin in a series in the UK, so as not to upset the South African government.

But there is always an inevitability about change – even slow change. And so, as opposition to apartheid began growing, overseas administrators were forced to make polite ‘what if’ enquiries – such as ‘what if we were to choose our teams on merit?’

The question was first seriously raised during discussions about a New Zealand tour scheduled for South Africa in 1967. Word from New Zealand was that All Black selectors were becoming increasingly reluctant to collaborate with South African rugby authorities and their government in excluding Maoris from their touring teams.

Leaks from various sources suggested that the South African authorities would relent, and allow the All Blacks selectors to choose their teams on merit.

This confidence, however, proved to be misplaced….

On 4 September 1965, in a speech to hundreds of cheering supporters at Loskop Dam, near Groblersdal in present-day Mpumalanga, Verwoerd said: ‘No!’ His reasoning was that ‘once [different races] have integrated on the sports field, then the road to other forms of social integration has been opened.’

Verwoerd’s decision was later ratified by his cabinet.

But bad though this decision was, the biggest scandal of all during the 1960s was what became known as the ‘D’Oliveira Affair’. It revolved around Basil D’Oliveira, a cricketer from the Bo-Kaap, who was forced by apartheid to leave South Africa, to establish a career in England, for England … and JB Vorster, Verwoerd’s successor as Prime Minister of South Africa.

D’Oliveira’s dream was to return to the land of his birth as a member of an MCC (England) side. A run of bad form during an England tour to the West Indies saw him lose his place in the test side against the touring Australians. But then he was recalled for the final match of the Ashes series at the Oval.

D’Oliveira knew that his recall had brought him within sight of realising his incredible dream. Just one good performance would see him packing his bags for South Africa – and a test series against the Springboks. Or so he thought. He plundered 158 runs off the Aussie attack, but when the team was announced, his name was missing. He would never forget that day: it was Wednesday, 28 August 1968 – and he just broke down and cried.

But in the furore that followed, he was thrown another lifeline: the England allrounder, Tom Cartwright, withdrew through injury, and D’Oliveira was named to replace him. But this is where Vorster stepped in. Addressing a National Party congress in Bloemfontein, Vorster said, amid a cacophony of cheers from the party faithful: ‘The MCC team as constituted now is not the team of the MCC. It is the team of the Anti-Apartheid Movement, the team of the South African Non-Racial Olympic Committee and the team of Bishop [Ambrose] Reeves (an outspoken English cleric].’

The tour was cancelled.

So, again, dear readers this was more of the 1960s. Do you want SARU to celebrate and commemorate these events – in YOUR name?

SARU had no right to have accepted to play a game under these circumstances – and to be part of the celebrations of such a dubious occasion.

Whoever was responsible to agreeing to the request for this friendly match should resign – with immediate effect. Or be fired.

And the players, especially the black players need to be respected too. After being briefed by people who understand these issues, they should be given the option to withdraw from the squad.

This is the very least that SARU can do.

About Dougie Oakes

Dougie heads up Dougie Oakes Communications, a consultancy specialising in all facets of corporate communication, including strategy and public relations
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37 Responses to Here’s why SARU’s entire leadership should resign

  1. Errol Thompson says:

    Brilliant article Dougie. Please email me this article so that I can forward it to as many people as possible. Thanks.

    • Dougie Oakes says:

      Thanks, Errol. I’ll certainly email you a copy.

      • Shaun Johannes says:

        I took on SARU about transformation in 2010, I was known as the Transformer within SARU ranks, they committed themselves in particular Mark Alexander and Oregan Hoskins. Things started to change but then they went back on their word. The first drastic change they made was to remove the protea from the SARU emblem. To date there is no explanation. While the Springbok is still visible our black people can forget about being known as Springboks. What is the difference between Rhodes and Danie Cravens Springbok emblem.

  2. Nicholas Haupt says:

    Thanks for this brilliant reminder of the history – will definitely share with my children, and others

  3. Ivor Lee says:

    I played rugby against Mark Alexander.
    He has certainly not been disadvantaged.
    He lived in Bosmont.
    He knows nothing about transformation at all.

  4. Steward Rossouw says:

    Nice article and so true ja i jst feel that the players who is are now playing needs to stand up nd makes a point again this ovious racist in SARU cause i feel its unfair after 21 years f democrazy the whites still makes if this game belong to them only to benifit.
    And the so called black admistrators in Saru is jst for their own benifit in the seats they occupied and not for the wider public .

  5. dean kock says:

    reminding us of our painful past is good Dougie. well written article. our children should know our true history, not the hogwash that were forced down our throats in the 60’s to 90’s. and as much as i want to shout for the boks that emblem as well as the green gold reminds of a horrific period as an ex south african. yes, in the spirit of reconciliation i have forgiven but still have the scars that remind me and many from my generation every now and then. one feels guilty at times to shout for the all blacks but i encorage my children, the new bornfrees to support south african sport.

  6. Nazeem Esau says:

    A well versed and to the point factual redition of our past which have been forgotten by many. Just one other point of interest is that Danie Craven said that no person of colour will ever wear Springbok blazer.

  7. NA Wentzel says:

    Absolutely sickening. This comes when placing the cart B4 the horse. International sport shoul never have been entered until our sport (all sport) enjoyed equal status.(facilities,sponsors etc. etc). I serve at a local soccer club(50 years old in 2014) & in 2014 we did not even have a facility to play our home games at. We had to commute our players from lavender hill, cafda,grassy park to a facility in Athlone to play our “home” games. I have heard of similar inside stories within cricket where transformation is absent. I am at the point where I no longer support our National teams

  8. clive says:

    Agreed 100% NA Wentzel.Good article Dougie

  9. Yusuf Rossier says:

    I agree with most, if it all of the above. However, what really pisses me off is that no one speaks out about transformation in soccer

  10. 12/08/15
    Its about self-image, White Afrikaners and rugby, and Black Africans and football. “Tradition”, as Danie Craven contended, and both are equally retrogressive . We are inclined to pussyfoot around issues where the majority ethnic group is concerned, out of respect for past suffering. However, all the citizens of this country are suffering the consequences of maladministration , and incompetence, as a result of well-intentioned efforts to redress injustices, which are often exacerbated by excessive demands for “transformation”. For example, there is loud clamouring from some quarters for sports teams to reflect South African demographic percentages. The misadventures of our national soccer team is evidence of this flawed mode of thinking.

  11. Mark says:

    Nothing changes since the sixties,thy only take apartheid from the books,but not the mind,if we want to be a rainbow nation,than we must start to be bring the colours together,and do what is right.Thanks Dougie,

  12. Andre Alexander says:

    Good article Dougie. I tried making a copy from today’s Cape Times, but an e-mailed article would be great for me to share with others.

  13. Phillip Riddles says:

    My question is what is Peter Jooste doing as the convener of selectors to justify his position as a man of colour who should be raising his voice and promote transformation in rugby, or did he forget the slogan….. NO NORMAL SPORT IN AN ABNORMAL SOCIETY…. LONG LIVE COSATU LONG LIVE

  14. omar says:

    Dougie Oakes you could not have said it better.When I look at this SARU and the old SARB I see no difference. All our sacrifices down the drain.The problem lie with school level development. Thousands of township school rugby players … what happens to these boys who dream of representing our country? Nothing. It’s like still living in apartheid when we were at school. But yes only private schools are seen by SARU of which majority of the players are white children and some blacks that can afford to put their children in private schools. As some high school principals told me, SARU is not interested, and for these reasons and reasons you mentioned in your article I wholeheartedly agree with you that ALL heads in SARU must roll.

  15. Sipho Nghona says:

    A very balanced and we’ll written article. The single biggest problem in SARU is the President’s Council – therein lies the problem.

  16. 14/08/15
    Hi All
    If we are interested in the welfare of the ordinary citizen in this country, in the world for that matter, we should in reality not be discussing issues pertaining to sport, or entertainment in general. Sport has become a tool used by corporates and international sports organisations like FIFA, WRB, UEFA, WWE, NBA, IPL, ICC etc. to distract the masses from issues like poverty, inequality, pollution, unemployment, health, etc. The same goes for the Music ‘industry’.
    In a few decades these organisations, the media, and multinationals have effectively transformed ordinary people like you and me, into ENTERTAINMENT JUNKIES. Sport, and Music ‘stars’and ‘superstars’ have become like demigods. We glorify them. They earn salaries that boggle the mind. Money that ordinary workers will never ever see in lifetimes of toiling, they earn in a few seasons of playing a sport. This apart from endorsements for advertisements, etc.
    The effects of this insane inequality of reward for work, and the ethos of ‘easy money’ are arguably some of the main reasons for the scourges of drugs, gangsterism, prostitution, crime etc. that are steadily eroding societies globally.

  17. paul Coetzee says:

    Thnx for this very good article. It remind me of the where we as kids could watch Sacos sport. That taught us that Sacos sport was worth fighting for.

  18. 19/08/15
    Hi Dougie et al
    Your blog raises pertinent issues. Pity we are not a reading/writing/dialogue-ing people, otherwise we may have become a more discerning society.
    I would like to comment, belatedly, on your blog re. the FIFA bribery issue. You compare this with the bribes paid to Rebel touring teams to SAfrica in the past. Remember, at that time, ‘non-whites’’ opinion had little, or no, impact in the country. Outside, SANROC, Halt all Racist Tours etc. tried their best. On the other hand, the FIFA bribery scandal is something of another nature. SAfrica has the standing of a 3rd world country as far as provision of social services are concerned – Education has been in a mess since 1994; Health services are pathetic; it’s tantamount to a death sentence if you get sick with a serious illness, and you are not on medical aid; Public transport is a treacherous activity; the political process in the country is horribly misunderstood; Venality is the order of the day, almost in all persuasions; the list goes on.
    Could this country seriously consider hosting a pageant like the WCup ? Other than securing the loyalty of the majority voting bloc, and trying to impress other countries – definitely not. The ongoing woes suffered by our white elephant, CT Stadium, is ample proof.

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