A group of men dressed in khaki apparently soured the mood at Newlands for two spectators over the weekend. Their alleged use of the “k-word” every time a South African player touched the ball has made headlines. It’s just another in a long list of race-related incidents over the last few months which continuously reminds South Africans that these things do not just happen in the comment sections of well-known websites. By ANTOINETTE MULLER.
From monkey chants to downright vile abuse, racism is rife when it comes to sport. These people have no qualms in public expressing their opinions and having their faces seen in all their prejudiced glory. The biggest reports usually come from football stadiums across Europe, but now the same ugly issue has also reared its head in South Africa.
Cape Talk reported over the weekend, when the Springboks took on Australia at Newlands, that a group of men allegedly used the “k-word” every time a player of colour got the ball. The men, all dressed in khaki, did not take kindly to being asked to stop either. Eddie Burger told Cape Talk that his son and a friend visited Newlands for the match and when they pointed out to the men in khaki that their behaviour was off, they were abused for the remainder of the match.
Western Province Rugby have already responded and said they will not tolerate such behaviour.
“I would like to make it quite clear that Newlands and WP Rugby will not tolerate racism of any kind,” WP Rugby chief executive Rob Wagner told Cape Talk Radio on Tuesday.
“Our stadium rules specifically cover racism. Rule 11 states, ‘WP Rugby reserves the right to refuse admission to, or to eject from the ground, any person/s who, in the reasonable opinion of WP Rugby, its servants or agents, makes or incites any form of racial abuse, chanting, gesturing or behaviour.”
This kind of response is something that will leave the liberals applauding and cheering with glee as they collectively agree: no, not at our stadiums. Of course it’s the right response and of course racism should be banned, but there is a deeper meaning beneath such behaviour that bears further analysis. The hecklers’ intensions were clearly to get under people’s skins, and their uniformed dressing suggests as much, since khaki isn’t only associated with taking a safari through the bush. But their behaviour should also serve as another reminder of a conversation that is long overdue and a culture of denial that needs to be addressed.
We want to deny the persistence of racism in South Africa – from both sides of the spectrum. We want to believe that racism is something reserved for News24 commentators and the internet’s bridge dwellers. We want to believe that these cases are isolated, that we’ve moved on and we live in a happily glowing rainbow nation Nelson Mandela envisioned, but we don’t.
From ‘blackface’ bunfights to heritage day debates and open letters telling white people they “aren’t African” and are “children of Hitler” (yes, that happened), South Africa is a big baby with a dirty diaper riding an elephant into the room, and nobody wants to ask who the elephant belongs to. It might seem small-minded to suggest that a small group of individuals, who were clearly out to get under people’s skin, is a reflection of the greater fabric of South African society. Yet, it’s just another thread in the constantly raging race conundrum that a young democracy like South Africa has to deal with. Yes, we all know racism is wrong, let’s move along, is the most likely response. Yet nobody seems to ask why this is happening or how we can stop, or at least reduce its frequency.
We might never know who these khaki-clad men are, but they have hit many South Africans where it hurts. No, not on their studio, but on their sport, their most beloved sport.
In South Africa, sport has arguably been far more important than in other countries, because of the power it holds to unite the nation. Rugby in particular had, at one point, become the benchmark for how to unify a country through something which once divided it. But lately, rugby is causing increasing division. The constant insistence on quotas at national level is a tender point. While quotas can be a short-term superficial solution at domestic level, it’s a dangerous road at national level and does little other than stir animosity. Until somebody takes accountability for the lack of facilities and gear at grassroots level, these sorts of debate are only going to become more volatile, even if they are pivotal in the transformation of South Africa’s national rugby team. While the khaki brigade and the quota debate are two entirely separate issues, they are both related in terms of how South Africa is dealing (or sometimes not dealing) with its race relations.
If there is one good thing that could possibly be garnered from this it’s that, even in the age of being able to capture everything on a smartphone, it has taken until now for something like this to become so very public. That should not fuel the denialism that these things happen in isolation, though. If anything, it should be a kick up the backside to stop it. DM
Photo: Tendai Mtawarira from South Africa runs with the ball during the Rugby Championship 2014 match between South Africa and Australia at the Newlands stadium in Cape Town, South Africa, 27 September 2014. EPA/NIC BOTHMA