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It's time we tackled inequality

WHENEVER I write about race in rugby, I have to brace myself for some particularly nasty hate mail. Suitably braced, here goes.

The recent commemoration of the 1995 Rugby World Cup pretty much summed up rugby’s transformation record in the intervening two decades — lots of glossy, feel-good stuff that tried but failed to smother the elephant in the room: that, 20 years on, a quota system is still required to ensure there are more than a couple of black players in the Springbok team.

One of the main reasons the South African Rugby Union has failed to develop black players in large numbers is that they rely almost exclusively on the 40-odd rugby specialist schools to produce players. These schools are mostly private or former Model C schools. All are based in areas that are still mostly white and therefore attract mostly white pupils. This cements the racial status quo in rugby and intensifies the inequality of opportunity for black children who want to make it to the top.

If Saru had responded appropriately to Nelson Mandela’s challenge in 1995, it would have directed a large proportion of the TV money brought in by the launch of professionalism the following year to developing rugby in targeted schools in black areas.

What is puzzling is that it is still not being done. Ever more ambitious quotas are being set for high-profile teams such as the Springboks but there is no concomitant strategy to give more black players a proper shot at achieving at this level. Saru has set up a couple of academies in the Eastern Cape but they serve a tiny minority of players.

The levels of inequality in SA remain stubbornly high. More middle-class black kids are going to richer schools but the vast majority of black children are in poorer state schools. Few have decent sporting facilities.

Waiting for the government to sort this out is not an option. But, given the will, rugby can make a difference. The obstacle is Saru’s love affair with professionalism.

Each of the 14 unions insists on its rights to field professional teams. This means that, in little towns all over the country, unions are pumping millions of rand into the maintenance of stadiums and salary packets for administrators, coaches, medical teams and squads of players. There is very little left over for development.

Most of the players they contract have been developed by the rugby schools. The same players are then recycled between different unions. The unions themselves do not have to pay for their development. The schools provide that, subsidised by parents and old boys. These are drawn mostly from communities who have a decades-long head start on the accumulation of social and financial capital.

If the French economist Thomas Piketty is right, the imbalance between them and communities who were prevented from accruing capital during apartheid will not change soon.

If Saru is serious about meeting its transformation targets, it might be wise to adopt a model that is better suited to a developing country. Professionalism could be confined to the Super Rugby franchises. They could focus on maintaining a globally competitive layer of players to feed the Springbok and Super Rugby teams.

A substantial portion of Saru’s income should be going into clubs and schools, particularly the black rugby schools in the Eastern Cape.

Now they get nothing from either Saru or the government to develop their rugby talent, and we wonder why, 20 years on from the 1995 Rugby World Cup, the team at the top is still mostly white.

Saru’s contribution is to dust off those hazy memories — which really just serve to remind us of a promise unfulfilled — to invoke rugby as nation-builder.

The teams fielded in Super Rugby this year were, as could be expected, mostly white. Except for the best local team in Super Rugby: the Stormers.

At around the same time that the class of ’95 were being celebrated, SA was waving goodbye to Allister Coetzee.

Coetzee, who routinely fielded 10 black players, dismisses talk of quotas and transformation charters as “utter rubbish”. He has a sophisticated understanding of race dynamics — born of his own experience of racism as an apartheid-era player and that of having to meld a racially diverse team in the cauldron of high-performance rugby.

One can’t pretend race doesn’t exist, he says.

What you have to do is to try to understand where each player is coming from: the white boy from Constantia or Bellville; the African boy from Khayelitsha; the coloured guy from Hawston.

To get the best out of each boy, a coach must work out what his triggers are.

That means making the effort to understand the player’s circumstances.

The coach who expects every boy to conform to his own cultural norms is never going to be able to successfully field a racially diverse team.

This does not mean the coach has to be black: an open-minded white coach prepared to venture out of his tribal comfort zone could also do it.

Critical for Coetzee is to provide role models. If a boy in Khayelitsha sees Siya Kolisi in a Stormers or Springbok jersey, he can see himself in one too. As long as “he is prepared to work his butt off and realise that it is about equal opportunity”, he too can make it.

In other words, don’t even think about making it on the back of a quota.

 *This column first appeared in Business Day

"Mandela and Mbeki Have a Lot to Answer For": RW Johnson on SA's Looming Crisis (Video)

How Long Will South Africa Survive?RW Johnson recently spoke to Waldimar Pelser on Insig about his latest book, How Long Will South Africa Survive?: The Looming Crisis, which follows on from his 1977 book by the same title.

Johnson says that he posed the question of how long that regime was going to last in 1977, just after the Sowetan riots, and his reason for using the same title is because “we are again in the period of regime crisis, and probably in pending regime change”.

“Of course it’s not all Zuma’s fault, I would say that Mandela and Mbeki have a lot to answer for,” Johnson says, explaining that when the ANC came to power “everything worked reasonably well, the infrastructure was in good shape, and they’ve progressively run it down”.

“The fact that there’s been no power stations built in 21 years is quite a story,” Johnson says, reflecting on institutions that are “running into a critical state” such as the developing water crisis, the bankrupt post office service, the South African Police Service, the South African Broadcasting Corporation, and so forth.

Watch the video to find out why Johnson thinks South Africa is heading towards a debt trap and a bail-out from the International Monetary Fund, and how this will affect the average consumer:

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Ilana van Wyk Nominated for the Clifford Geertz Prize for Excellence in the Anthropology of Religion

A Church of StrangersA Church of Strangers: The Universal Church of the Kingdom of God in South Africa by Ilana van Wyk has been nominated for the Clifford Geertz prize.

Church of Strangers is an ethnographic study of the people involved in The Universal Church of the Kingdom of God in post-apartheid South Africa. UCKG, a church movement that began in Brazil, has proved successful and popular in this country and this specific time in history.

Van Wyk seeks to understand the individuals rather than the organisation, which has been condemned as empty and manipulative by outsiders. She has been praised for the rich and thorough research into how religion works in urban South Africa, and how it relates to local perspectives.

This is, according to Huma, exactly what the Clifford Geertz prize looks for:

Awarded by the Society for the Anthropology of Religion, a section of the American Anthropological Association, the prize is named in honor of the late Professor Clifford Geertz, in recognition of his many distinguished contributions to the anthropological study of religion.

Read more about the prize on the Society for the Anthropology of Religion site:

In awarding the Prize, the Society hopes to foster innovative scholarship, the integration of theory with ethnography, and the connection of the anthropology of religion to the larger world.

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Thuli Madonsela Talks to The New York Times About the Nkandla Report: "The Saddest Moment of My Career"

InspiredThuli Madonsela, as Public Protector, is an important guardian of South African democracy. For this reason, she is one of the people profiled in Inspired: Remarkable South Africans Share their Stories.

Marc Shoul recently wrote an article about Madonsela for The New York Times. In it, he details the Public Protector’s investigation of security upgrades and renovations to President Jacob Zuma’s private residence in Nkandla.

The report was monumentally weighty, in terms of investigation work required, actual bulk, and its potential impact on South African society. In the article, Madonsela says that although she knew her report was just, she was anxious about her presentation and how it would be received.

The vitriolic backlash from the report has been serious. About being accused of being a CIA agent by Kebby Maphatsoe, Madonsela says: “It was the saddest moment of my career. That is the ANC that I grew up loving.”

Read the article:

Madonsela was appointed South Africa’s public protector by Zuma himself in 2009 and is used to controversy. Many of the thousands of cases her office handles each year are resolved through mediation, but about a fifth are “very difficult” cases, including the investigation she is now conducting into the possible diversion of funds meant for Nelson Mandela’s funeral. None, however, have been as divisive as her investigation of Zuma.

After Madonsela released the Nkandla report, she was accused of acting as a covert agent for the Central Intelligence Agency; carrying out an agenda on behalf of the mostly white opposition Democratic Alliance party; acting as she if were God; being racist toward A.N.C. voters; and overreaching her office’s powers. The Congress of South African Students, an anti-­apartheid black student organization, said her nose was ugly (it later retracted the statement). Her staff tried to hide the hate-­spewing anonymous letters that arrived from around the country. She could ignore most of the vitriol, she said, except for the accusation that she was a C.I.A. agent, made by the deputy minister of defense, Kebby Maphatsoe. “I was sad that people would stoop that low,” she said, shaking her head. “It was the saddest moment of my career. That is the A.N.C. that I grew up loving.”

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"Baxter is a Unique Case": Read an Excerpt from Kill Baxter by Charlie Human

Apocalypse Now NowKill BaxterKill Baxter is the exciting sequel to Charlie Human’s incredible speculative fiction debut, Apocalypse Now Now:

The world has been massively unappreciative of sixteen-year-old Baxter Zevcenko. After unfairly being sent to a magical training school that’s part reformatory, part military school, Baxter has to saved the world from the apocalypse. Again.

Namibiana Buchdepot has shared a short excerpt from Kill Baxter in which you can read the application form sent in to Hexpoort, the school Baxter detests so much but ends up having to protect. It makes special note of Baxter’s unconventional genetic make-up:

“Baxter is a unique case. His genetic lineage is a strange hybrid of Siener, the Afrikaner mystics active primarily during the Boer wars, and the Murder, the shape-shifting giant Crows that have been responsible for the deaths of many in the Hidden community.”

Read the excerpt:

Applicant: Baxter Zevcenko

Age: 16

Baxter was brought to the attention of the Hexpoort admissions faculty by the MK6 agent codenamed Tone. As with any potential student, careful attention must be paid to his genetic history, magical skills and psychological make-up profile. The following profile was compiled from extensive MK6 surveillance of the subject and interviews with all involved in his case.

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Pitika Ntuli Discusses Africa Month and the Need for African Pride with Nathi Mthethwa and Kole Omotoso (Video)

Pitika Ntuli: The poetryScent of Invisible FootprintsPitika Ntuli, poet, sculptor and academic, recently featured in a panel discussion about Africa Month at a Business Breakfast Briefing event.

Peter Ndoro chaired the discussion, which was broadcast by SABC News. He spoke to Nathi Mthethwa, the Minister of Arts and Culture; Kole Omotoso, Nigerian-born writer and academic, and Pitika Ntuli.

The panel discussed pan-Africanism and the importance of pooling knowledge resources. Ntuli spoke about the role of the arts in promoting pan-African self-awareness.

Watch the videos:

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