How Mandela stuffed up South African sport

STEVE Hansen, the coach of probably the finest All Blacks team ever, is an ass.

A big one.

But he does not come half as close to matching the white South African asses on whom he has relied for his information on the sports-political set-up in this still-tragic country.

During the dark days of apartheid, right up to today, world rugby has always been administered by a conveyer belt of politically right-wing, ignorant old farts – especially in the way they view South Africa, its past and, sadly, its present.

The vast majority of them have bought into, and continue to buy into, the notion cleverly put out by old era South Africans that rugby in South Africa is a ‘white man’s’ sport.

And now Hansen has joined the sorry group of apartheid-era apologists from New Zealand, Australia, England, Ireland, Wales, Scotland and France who have bought into this narrative.

Hansen set out his views in a chapter in a book, ‘The Jersey: The Secrets Behind the World’s Most Successful Team’ by the British rugby writer, Peter Bills.

‘They are the only team in sport I know that doesn’t pick its best team,’ Hansen said of South Africa’s national side. ‘I understand what they are trying to do but…

‘Nelson Mandela understood it better than anyone else,’ he continued. ‘He knew that the Springboks… could unite the nation. I still believe it is. If they got things right and allowed it to develop naturally, it would. And you would get the right people in the team. In the end, it would be a multi-cultural team.

‘Rugby wasn’t a black man’s sport, but it was the sport that would unify the country in a way that no other sport or business could. Now I think that unity isn’t there so much. As a nation… it has created a whole lot of things we will never understand, because we were never part of it,’ he said.

Describing former national team coach Heyneke Meyer as one of his ‘great mates’, he expressed sympathy for Meyer’s frustrations in having had to select a team ‘based on what colour a man’s skin is’.

This, he said, went against all the principles and spirit of sport.

He argued further that it created a situation where, firstly, the best team was not being picked and, secondly, those who were picked would be thinking: ‘Am I here because of the reasons of quota, or because I am good enough?’

I’m furious with what Hansen has said – not so much because of his views but because of the claims made by his South African contacts.

My question to Meyer – and to any other SA Rugby Union officials – who may choose to spread this ignorant misinformation about the history of black South African rugby: Are you too f*cking lazy to check the information you pass on to others? Or are you deliberately peddling lies?

Black South Africans have been playing rugby for more than 100 years – and in this time their provincial affiliates have produced some of the finest players ever. But their talents were systematically ignored and, indeed, scoffed at, by a range of all-white administrations, from before the establishment of the Union of South Africa in 1910, to the demise of the of the National Party in 1994. Today, their claims for inclusion in representative teams are still only grudgingly accepted, sometimes at the highest levels of the game, by those who see the Springbok as being the preserve of white South Africans.

The so-called unity that was introduced with the advent of democracy, has proved to be one of the biggest confidence tricks in the history of the game in this country. With sleight of hand, white administrators engineered a process that was far removed from true unity. They succeeded in getting those promoting non-racialism to join their structures. It was a process that destroyed club rugby in the townships. Their promises to develop the game in the townships, by taking it into the schools and by building facilities were forgotten as quickly as they were made.

If it was true that South Africa’s victory in the 1995 World Cup had united communities across the country, it was only for a month, and maybe even less.

White South Africans were happy to have their black compatriots cheering for their beloved Springboks in the final against the All Blacks. But once victory had been secured, it was business as usual: the vast majority of black people continued living in poverty, while whites continued holding down the best jobs, attending the best schools and living in the best residential areas.

Sadly, Nelson Mandela must take much of the blame for what happened in sport in the first few years of ‘democracy’.

White South Africans, of whom very few would have voted for the ANC, were happy to pay lip-service to Mandela’s attempts at reconciliation. Their pretences were worthwhile. It enabled them to live exactly as they had lived during apartheid.

Mandela let down badly those who had fought apartheid sport so bravely and, sometimes, at such great cost.

Whether he meant it or not, he rewarded some of apartheid sport’s most notorious servants, by opening up international opportunities for them – long before proper unity had been achieved.

But what left a particularly bad taste in the mouths of many was his feting of, particularly, Ali Bacher, who by organising international rebel tours, almost destroyed world cricket.

It’s hard to believe that Mandela actually agreed to write the foreword to Rodney Hartman’s book, ‘Ali, the Life of Ali Bacher’, and that it should have included observations such as: ‘His cricket achievements are many, locally and internationally. Even in those years of seclusion on Robben Island, we took note with pride, although we were naturally opposed to the racially exclusive nature of the team, how he led South Africa to victory against Australia.

‘Ali Bacher is a great South African who has brought pride to all of us,’ Mandela added.

I’m filled with revulsion every time I read this piece…