Rugby, Religion and our Right to Pick from the Constitution…

Following the South African Rugby Union’s (SARU) new Transformation Strategic Plan in which SARU wants to ensure that by 2019 at least half the Springbok side consists of players of colour, with 60 % of those being black African, Max du Preez writes that we can’t only pick those parts of the constitution we like.

With the permission of the South African columnist, author and documentary filmmaker, we hereby republish his latest column (with his warning that “before you over-react completely, keep in mind that all the rugby franchises have accepted this…”).

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We can’t only pick those parts of the constitution we like…

by Max du Preez


Former President Nelson Mandela
“Nelson Mandela’s grand gesture of embracing Springbok rugby during his term as president should have been the catalyst that brought about a whole new approach” – Max du Preez

If South Africa’s rugby bosses had really been committed to advancing the sport among black South Africans in the last 20 years, radical quotas would not have been necessary.

And if many state schools had not insisted on maintaining their “Christian character” after we got our new constitution, court action against them would not have been instituted.

South Africans, especially the pale-skinned ones, seem to want to be forced to do the right thing rather than seeing the writing on the wall and doing it in time. And then they scream to high heaven.

Twenty years ago, a lot of rugby lovers were excited at the prospect of taking the beautiful game to a whole new level. We had the expectation that the rugby bodies would change in sync with the rest of society.

There is no denying that rugby focused mostly on white players before 1994, even during the last years of not excluding black players. This meant that our rugby was poorer because we were not exploring all our talent.

Nelson Mandela’s grand gesture of embracing Springbok rugby during his term as president should have been the catalyst that brought about a whole new approach.

Rugby and the white establishment would have benefited hugely if rugby indeed became a pilot project for reconciliation and the nation building so many people pay lip service to.

There is a lot of money in rugby. We should have channelled a big chunk of that money to black schools and black clubs after 1994. We should have focused on giving black rugby the same facilities and coaching abilities white communities had for generations.

We should have gone out of our way to correct the injustices of the past through rugby academies for youngsters who were not from the more wealthy rugby-playing schools.

We should have acknowledged that we needed more than just a rugby field and a coach at every black school in communities where rugby was popular. We should have helped promising young players to overcome the obstacles of poverty that prevented them from competing with wealthier youngsters.

If we had done that, we would have had hundreds of black players in our clubs and regional teams to feed the Super 15 and national sides.

We should have had structures in place to manage talented high school players and their transition to clubs and provincial teams. Young players from poorer backgrounds often simply can’t afford to keep on playing because they have to earn money to support their families.

Our rugby bosses should have worked harder to change the old culture of our rugby hierarchies where you first go to the white Afrikaner players, then the white English speaking ones, then the coloured players and only then look at black players.

I’m not a rugby writer or a coach, but I did play for more than 20 years and I’m a passionate lover and keen student of the sport. I was astonished many times in the last few years about how provincial, Super 15 and national coaches couldn’t grasp the new realities of our society. When two players in the same position have more or less the same talent and ability, you obviously pick the black one to restore the balance and build a new rugby culture.

This is also true of our national coach, Heyneke Meyer. Even when the Springboks were playing lesser opponents he refused to give deserving black players a chance. He kept on picking players well into their thirties and dragged players back from Europe and Japan instead of giving new talent an opportunity.

And now it’s crunch time.

It is intolerable that a Springbok team, like the one last Saturday against the Wallabies, run on the field with one black and two coloured players.

I fully support the new proposed quotas put forward by the SA Rugby Union, although I’m not sure if the detailed prescriptions are feasible. Real lovers of rugby should all support the proposals and ignore the whining from the likes of Solidarity.

The same goes for religion in state schools. We are a secular state and freedom of religion is entrenched in our constitution. The practice of religion belongs in church and at home. Values and morals, we should know by now, do not come from organised religion but from people. We dare not exclude or alienate a pupil not from a Christian background. I don’t trust teachers to influence my child’s religious beliefs.

As with rugby, too many whites confuse Christianity at school level as part of their “culture” that should be protected. They should read our constitution again.

We can’t pick from our constitution what we like, such as the guarantees of property rights, and discard the rest. Our constitution demands of us to bring about a fundamental transformation of our society.

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[In response to some who argued against his point, du Preez made the following additional comments on Facebook:]

The mistake many of the contributors above make is that they pretend that we’re a normal society with no history of oppression and inequality. I have never had a day of hunger, had good education, was never excluded from a job, never had to carry a passbook, was never forcibly removed, never struggled to find a job – I was born a white Afrikaner. My children inherited that privilege, including my 9-year-old child. The moral and just and sensible thing to do would be to correct the injustices of the past, and quickly. We can’t just sit back and say every one now has the vote so all are equal and have equal opportunities. I’ve just come back from a visit to the Eastern Cape and was again overwhelmed by the passion for rugby in the black community. If we had done the right thing the last 20 years, we would have had many, many more talented black players from this region knocking on the door of provincial and national selection. And when we have them, we often don’t give them a chance. I’m talking about players like Mvovo, Kolisi, Nyakane, Mohoje, etc – we could have upped the number of black players to five or six on Saturday without weakening the Bok team…

These proposed quotas are meant to stimulate the active promotion of rugby in schools, clubs and provincial teams over the next five years. The point is not to have ‘bogus Boks’, but to have enough deserving black players available for selection – and then to select them. It’s not simply about putting anybody in a team just because he’s black.

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Follow Max du Preez on Twitter: @MaxduPreez