Playing field must be levelled for those that play: Tampering with emblem trivialises problem

8 November 2007

Willem Landman
Chief Executive Officer
Ethics Institute of South Africa

After the World Cup victory, transformation in rugby has already been placed on our national agenda for 2008 by President Thabo Mbeki, lesser politicians and rugby administrators.

The victory gives us a while to reflect calmly on how we should approach transformation. Transformation, including in rugby, is a good thing provided that the right steps are taken for the right reasons. Sham transformation, in contrast, is short sighted and self-interested interference, which scores political points, without rectifying that which is wrong.

A debate merely about the Springbok emblem is an example of sham transformation. It trivialises transformation.

Mr Makhenkesi Stofile, minister of sport, poses the rhetorical question of how the Springboks can have an emblem that arose just like that from a pronouncement by Paul Roos in 1906.

The origin of the Springbok emblem is not relevant to its meaning today. The swastika had a meaning long before the Nazis.

As regards the Springbok, all that matters is whether those that care for rugby identify therewith. How much more colourless the world would have been if emblems had been developed by politically correct committees!

Symbols – such as emblems, place names, colours and other conventional signs – originate for a legion of even accidental or irrational reasons and build traditions.

Their value and meaning can change over time, for example, as a result of an important event, or if success is associated therewith.

By the way, the black rugby union’s emblem during the apartheid years was a Springbok head. And the current Springbok is now jumping to the players’ left shoulder – a 180º-degree reversal of what was the case for decades.

There are many symbols with which people choose not to tamper – such as the names “South Africa”, “Cape Town” and “Windhoek” – even if their roots lie in the pre-democratic system.

“Transformation” by one randomly replacing existing symbols with new ones without one honestly and effectively giving attention to what is really wrong make a mockery of the new symbols from the outset. This is indeed what happens when place names are changed whilst service delivery collapses and people are protesting in the streets about their basic rights. In that way, the name becomes synonymous with incompetence.

True transformation arises from our moral or ethical mandate to create a just society in which we collectively create equal opportunities for all to develop their full and rich potential.

To that end, the conditions or situations required for development have to be created and provided – education, material goods and empowering structures. People are truly free only to the extent that they have access to these conditions for development and that barriers are removed.

Absolutely equal access to the conditions for development, however, is both unattainable and undesirable. That was attempted under communism, with tragic consequences. We have different parents, are members of different cultural and social groups and have different natural aptitudes and self-chosen priorities. This necessarily means that, in our private and public lives, we strive for different goals and exercise different choices. Without this, our lives would be horribly monotonous.

Applied to rugby, this means that the social conditions should be such that, from a young age, boys would themselves be able to make provision for the opportunity to play rugby and would be able to choose it above other types of sport should they wish to do so. They need exposure and access to resources – such as facilities and coaching – to make provision for a rugby choice and exercise it.

A young Bryan Habana, in 1995, at the time of the Springboks’ success in the World Cup tournament, made provision for his own rugby future, chose it and had access to the resources to realise his choice. Moreover, he had the necessary life skills to reach the highest level of the sport.

The moral imperative of true transformation requires rugby bosses and rugby politicians to show integrity in their motives and actions and, thus, to renounce self-interest and inflated self-importance for the greater good of which all feel part.

They should listen to the inputs of all those directly concerned, including players and rugby supporters. They should keep their eye on the ball. This means, amongst other things, refraining from tricks, such as an ill-considered replacement of symbols, and sham transformation, such as racial quotas or “demographic representation” at international level.

Get the government to vote money for development without improper interference.

Form a transformation partnership with the private sector and sponsors. Rugby bosses allegedly already have a new strategic transformation plan. They will have to debate and test it in public.

A strategic plan must properly consider, amongst other things, the respective roles of schools, rugby clubs, rugby clinics and rugby academies. All 26 000 schools cannot offer rugby. And, even for select schools, success is not always guaranteed. Michaelhouse has apparently not yet delivered a Springbok – that despite a century-old history and a dozen or so rugby fields. We can therefore not expect miracles from rural schools in Limpopo. To become a Springbok is hard work and the destiny of few.

We need a director of rugby transformation (or sport transformation). Jake White could have played a big role, but the rugby hierarchy has already filed him. Are they fit for the task?