To people of colour transformation means that they must adopt to a system that doesn’t accommodate them, or on the contrary to the powers that be in rugby it means that they must convince you that they have transformed the sport and adopted you into the system and will accommodate you. Let us give those with power the benefit of the doubt, and assume transformation was successfully implemented and we were all convinced of its success. However people of colour will still have to adopt to the system, the system hasn’t changed and the economy and power still remains in the same hands. Doesn’t that sound familiar?
The problem with transformation is that it follows the same pattern of reconciliation in that post-apartheid we put a plaster over a bullet wound. Transformation in this country is to rugby as what Nelson Mandela was to reconciliation. The white monopoly capitalist that run rugby in this country are not so much opposed to transformation more than they are concerned about the huge economy within rugby which they run, much like they weren’t opposed to ANC getting power more than they were concerned about controlling key strategic sectors within the economy and the economy at large. We should learn our lesson in that the bottom up approach doesn’t work when it comes to matters of the economy as can be seen from the matter of land redistribution.
Fikile Mbalula is busy touting transformation on his electioneering campaign whilst the biggest question at hand is who controls the economy of rugby? Who owns all the rugby clubs, franchises and national teams in this country? Why is he so content and intent on focussing on transformation when clearly rugby has not been economically transformed? Why is government still pumping money into a sport that is not economically transformed and that is owned and run by white monopoly capital? Where are our ideas in the sport?
It is common cause that from inception most rugby institutions were never meant to accommodate black players but to perpetuate the exclusion of black people within the sport in its entirety. In fact the whole process and culture surrounding the selection of springboks is a clear example of this. The entire pool which springboks are chosen from is comprised of 280 schools of 24 451 schools in the country and these schools. The reasons may vary as why the springboks are chosen from such a small pool and at times justifiable.
There is however pride at school level that is associated with producing springboks and that is considered as a direct indication of the quality of rugby or standard of rugby being produced at that particular school. At national level the schools are encouraged to keep working at producing springboks by selection of players from a particular developmental, cultural or even bloodline for the springboks as they stand to benefit as well. It’s a system that has produced two world cups for the country and a lot of pride for the nation. However the problem is that the opportunity cost of having such a system is the systematic and institutional exclusion of players of colour from the national team in particular and also exclusion of 24 000 schools from meaningful participation within the sport.
To a large degree this is subliminal problem amongst individuals both black and white who work within the system who find themselves promoting institutional exclusion of black people because of the system that is in place. The view of many people regardless of colour is that the system in rugby doesn’t advance transformation in rugby therefore it doesn’t work and they are wrong. The system works and it works very well but the system was not in its design meant to work for black inclusion into the sport but to achieve the contrary.
The rugby system in this country is the legacy of apartheid and the national institutions must be decolonised like the SABC once was to produce the desire effect. Much can be said about the SABC but today our people are in a position to empower other historically disadvantaged people by saying their radio stations must play at least 90% local music of both black and white locals. We want one day to be in a position whereby through the decolonisation of the rugby that our people will similarly be able to say at least 90% players who make up all rugby teams at national level must be representative of the population demographics and we must not be apologetic about it.
There are three things that decolonization will bring that transformation can never even begin to address. Firstly the change of power economically from the current people who hold power. Secondly foster in a process of self-realisation of the institution by re-aligning their structure and strategies and lastly meaningfully foster in new ideas of the excluded majority. Transformation only scratches the surface and will create an elite group of specialists who are unemployable in the local rugby industry because of the existing white monopoly capital which controls everything in the sport.
The process of decolonisation of rugby requires the current holders of power withdraw from power and the political and economic power be acquired by those that seek to advance the mission of systematic inclusion of people of colour into the sport. The holders of power at the South African Rugby Union and other such institutions are the shareholders and they need to sell their shares and allow new crop of people of colour to come into the space. The board and or executives need to step aside and allow a new crop of people of colour to come into that space. Once that process has been achieved then we the decolonisation of the mind can take place from the ideas left by the apartheid legacy that seek to say that the former oppressor are superior at all levels to the previously oppressed. This will enable a process of self-realisation which will allow the new regime to change the entire system and forester in a new inclusive system that will benefit all involved by opening the selection pool and growing the economy of rugby.
This matter of course needs to be the centre of discourse amongst all South Africans who think transformation is about the actual team, as even the oppressors need to be decolonised in their way of thinking. We all need to be decolonised and go through a process of self-realisation much like the institutions. It is important that we address the issues of the economy within the sport now so that we don’t repeat the mistakes the previous generation and the only solution for this problem will be a top down radical approach economically and politically.
BY: Mncedi Mabona
Grit Sports Editor