IN AN afternoon of speeches and tributes and camaraderie centred on the life of Salie ‘Lippe’ Fredericks, one of the greatest rugby players never to have represented his country, I wrote just one word, in capital letters in my notebook: IRONY.
I wrote it fairly early into the memorial service for Fredericks at Cape Peninsula University of Technology on Sunday, probably about halfway into the eloquent, respectful and loving tribute to him, delivered by his son, Luqmaan.
What struck me most about his memories of his father was the reminder that shone through all the time: about how communities loved rugby, not only on the field but also, and more especially, off it.
In the old days (and by that I mean the 1960s and ‘70s) Fredericks would have been described as a ‘student of the game’.
There’d be people at his home all the time – talking rugby, discussing tactics, replaying moves, building confidence and mentoring young players.
This is what is being missed today.
This is where my printed word ‘IRONY’ comes in….
‘The evil jackboot of apartheid couldn’t kill community rugby clubs,’ I thought with a mixture of sadness and anger.
‘Yet, “democracy”, with all its promises of equal opportunities for everyone, has.’
And that is a crying shame.
Of course, clubs from the non-racial Saru era are still in existence today. And some are thriving. And a big up to them for this.
But sadly, they are the exceptions.
There are some clubs which just died. But the biggest tragedy of all are those which in the years of Struggle, did excellent work in spreading the message of the game and of non-racialism, have had the spirit of old knocked out of them by the horrific social conditions that have become such a blight on the townships of the Western Cape – poverty, gangsterism, drugs, and physical abuse of different kinds.
It is now too dangerous to walk two streets away to a friend’s house to talk rugby. Today’s ‘students of the game’ watch Supersport.
How do you grow the game under such dire circumstances?
Sunday’s service for Fredericks was organised by the Saru-Sacos legends, a body trying to inculcate the values of true non-racialism into the game and into other areas of society.
They face a hard battle.
A lot of work needs to be done in rugby before it can earn the right to be described as a game for all South Africans.
Those who played non-racial rugby in the apartheid years and those who supported them have been treated with utter disdain by the marketers of the game.
The achievements of Saru’s greats have been dismissed. Their history has been pissed on. The national rugby museum, for instance, still glorifies an overwhelming number of players and achievements of the apartheid era.
Those who run it, who decide on the exhibits, and who place them must be made to change or be replaced by those with a better understanding of the needs of a mixed society.
A few weeks ago, I called for the statistics of cricketers who played in whites only ‘national’ teams to be expunged from official records – and for these to be placed in the apartheid museum (for visitors to see and for researchers to use when they need to).
Apartheid rugby statistics should suffer the same fate.
Players who represented white South Africa up to 1994 were quite happy to do so. An overwhelming majority of them supported apartheid.
For instance, Dawie de Villiers, who captained the Springboks in the 1970s, was a National Party cabinet minister. Many others were happy to back the status quo.
Today, 23 years after South Africa became a ‘democracy’, many white South Africans, perhaps the majority of them, still see rugby as a sport for white people – and the Springbok as their symbol.
This perception is based on ignorance and arrogance, with liberal doses of baasskap thrown into the mix.
It should never have been allowed to take off – and to continue for this long.
This issue – that rugby belongs to all South Africans – is something for the Saru-Sacos legends to take on. As things stand now, I cannot support the Springbok. I have no emotional ties to it.
For to me, it is and always has been an apartheid symbol.
Dougie Oakes is a communications strategist specialising in all facets of communication including public relations