THROUGHOUT my career in sports journalism, I’ve never made excuses for being a ‘different’ kind of sports reporter – a reporter whose attitude takes cognizance of the tragic history of the country I call home.
When I joined the Cape Herald in 1978, for a salary of R250 a month, I was already in my 20s. I was already a cynic. I was already thinking or saying ‘bullshit’ when people tried to tell me to ignore sportsmen and women who mixed politics with sport. And most of all I believed I could not ignore fact that I was black person in a country that treated black South Africans like second- and third-class citizens.
I believed it was my duty to join The Struggle in the fight for equal rights – even if this meant (as a journalist) joining the fight to isolate apartheid sport or to highlight the hypocrisy and selfishness of those who administered whites-only sport.
I did this to the best of my ability – and I fought on after the advent of ‘democracy’ in 1994, when I saw apartheid collaborators try to reinvent themselves – and the codes they administered – as bastions of non-racialism.
My attitude was – and still is – that hypocrites must be fought – until the playing fields have been levelled for every South African child.
I’ve been heavily criticised for having this attitude – and pushing this line.
A few days ago, one of my critics asked me, on social media: ‘Does it help anyone to keep bitching about that period [the apartheid era] and trying to settle “old scores”. Far more energy is required to fix the current deterioration, in sport, where arguably far more are missing out on opportunities, than that under apartheid. Cricket a mess, WP rugby and cricket in ICU, our Olympic Committee can’t organise a shag in a brothel, the minor sports at most levels are almost dead, clubs’ comps in all sports are literally gone. The irony, rugby that bastion of white supremacy is about to boom.’
If this person is unaware of my attitude, let me reiterate my attitude to South Africa’s past. I would like to do this via this quote by Malcolm X: ‘History is a people’s memory, and without a memory, humankind is demoted to the lower animals.’
My attitude is highlighted in ‘Pitch Battles: Sport, Racism and Resistance’, a new book by Peter Hain and André Odendaal….
Writing about sport after apartheid, Hain and Odendaal said: ‘Veteran South African activist-journalist Dougie Oakes had an uncomfortable grounded verdict. He saw the now multiracial rugby establishment as “culpable in that they have collaborated repeatedly with national and provincial governments throughout the country in pretending that all South Africans have equal opportunities on the country’s sports fields. Today, more than ever, entry into the game for black players is still a carefully managed and white-controlled process. Players from the townships with aspirations of playing at the highest level have to squeeze their way through a narrow pipeline of elite rugby-playing schools like [Siya] Kolisi did. To put it bluntly, if they don’t get into a Bishops, a SACS, a Paul Roos, a Grey College or a few other top schools, they will not play top grade rugby. What have the various arms of government done to improve life in the townships? What has the South African Rugby Union done to develop the game in these townships? The answer is, in capital letters, NOTHING.”
‘Oakes added: ‘To speak of transformation is stretching the truth. Rugby in South Africa has NOT been transformed. What has happened is that the small groups of black players who have made it to the highest levels of the game, for which they should be praised for their talent and tenacity, have been ASSIMILATED in what has been described by officials, without a hint of irony, into a “Springbok culture”. And this “Springbok culture” is essentially a white Afrikaner, and, suspiciously, a pre-1994 culture, give or take a tweak or two.’
What I’m saying is much work needs to be done, and attitudes need to change, before South Africa moves towards true non-racial sport….