*You Know What’s Worse Than The K-Word?*

Last night a white friend of mine (yes, I still have those) and I were chatting about how shocking it was (he was shocked, not me) that people like Adam The Racist still exist in this country, and he was lamenting the widening racial chasm when we are supposed to be in a process of nation building. I went on to explain to him that, though white people who are genuinely committed to project South Africa and are prepared to roll up their sleeves and put their shoulder to the wheel exist (I hope this is enough to stave off the #NotAllWhites brigade), they are far outnumbered by those who are committed to nation building in as far as it does not require any sacrifice or effort on their part, nor does it require that they surrender the advantages that they enjoy as a result of this country’s atrocious past. I pointed out that one of the major challenges of transformation in every sphere is that many white owned and controlled organisations do everything in their power to find loopholes around compliance to the objectives of such initiatives as BBBEE, and many are prepared to simply price the sanctions of non-compliance into their business rather than make the effort to include black people in economic benefit.

As is my wont, I referred to an example in rugby. With Lions Super Rugby head coach Swys De Bruin being on Springbok duty the Lions were in need of a head coach for the Currie Cup. The two seemingly obvious contenders for the position were Bafana Nhleko (Lions u19 Head Coach, Lions u21 Head Coach, Lions Senior Supersport Challenge Head Coach, SA U20 backline coach, etc) and Joey Mongalo (Lions u19 Head Coach, Lions Super Rugby defense coach, SA U20 defense coach, etc) both of whom are eminently qualified, have a wealth of experience, have enjoyed success in their various coaching roles, and have each coached pretty much every member of the current Currie Cup squad and thus have existing rapport. However, the Golden Lions announced that the team would be coached by Super Rugby Strength and Conditioning coach Ivan van Rooyen. An unprecedented move to give the responsibility of Head Coach of their senior team to someone with no notable coaching experience other than to have watched other’s do it for the last 6 years (imagine if we applied this same standard to awarding driver’s licences).

What a giant middle finger that Rudolf Straeuli has just shown to these two coaches and Black rugby in general. The fact that their merit makes them the most deserving candidates with the additional benefit that their appointment would fulfil the transformation imperatives that the Lions pay lip service to is meaningless to the Golden Lions leadership. Nhleko and Mongalo are each more qualified, more experienced, and more accomplished as coaches than Robbie Fleck was when he was handed the reigns at the Stormers, yet the Golden Lions Rugby Union would rather gamble the fortunes of the senior team on a rookie with as much Head coaching experience as most people who will read this piece. Rudolf Straeuli and, by extension Altmann Allers and Kevin De Klerk, may not have used the K word, but they have made a statement in action that fulfilling all the necessary requirements to be given an opportunity is still not enough as a black coach. To go to such extraordinary lengths to blatantly belittle the proven ability, wealth of experience, and high qualification of these two black coaches who have spent years paying their dues and ticking every conceivable box on the merit sheet is an insult to not just them but every black person associated with the Golden Lions, every black person with an interest in rugby, and indeed an entire country that is seeking to heal deep wounds of a past in which black people have been systematically excluded. This travesty is undoubtedly more offensive than what Adam Catzavelos did.

It seems to me that the prospect of opening this door to either of Nhleko or Mongalo is too large a risk to take because their respective track records suggest that they might do too well to then demote them at a later stage without the public and possibly government asking questions about why they are not being backed. After all, the Golden Lions recruited current SA Schools Head Coach and former Paarl Boys High coach, Sean Erasmus (who would not have come cheap) ostensibly to take the reigns from Swys De Bruin after next season. God forbid Nhleko or Mongalo lead the Lions to winning the Currie Cup because then the horse would truly have bolted. At present it is easy for them perpetrate such abuse to the most deserving candidates because outsiders are mostly oblivious to what’s going on and that this appointment of Ivan Van Rooyen is, in fact, an act of oppression as they don’t want to risk questions about Erasmus’s appointment over a successful black coach who has proven himself at the highest domestic level next season. If they take a chance on a black coach who does too well, it could be a huge headache for them going forward because they would be compelled to continue to back him, so they choose to frustrate them by closing that door from the onset with a fitness coach to keep Erasmus’s seat warm as he acclimatizes. This is the most brazen up-yours to transformation and the rights of black people in rugby as I’ve seen since former Springbok coach Heyneke Meyer insisted on selecting JJ Engelbrecht ahead of Juan De Jongh and Lionel Mapoe. Rudolf Straeuli, Kevin De Klerk, Almann Allers, Adam Catzavelos – same WhatsApp group.

OPINION: by Chulumanco Macingwane