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When whites accept that blacks understand - and play(ed) rugby - will we see true change, says Malvory Adams in the 1st of 3 articles

By unknown | Jun 04, 2007 | COMMENTS [ 0 ]

It was a scorching Saturday afternoon at the Parkside sports field in East London in the glorious 1970s.

Legendary KwaZakhele Rugby Union (Kwaru) flyhalf Peter Mkata, a tactical genius and master of the up-and-under (Gary Owen), launched one of his feared skyscrapers while an evidently shaky Border fullback, Ou Blank, positioned himself under the ball.

The ball hovered in the air. After what seemed an eternity, the ball descended.

By then the hefty Kwaru pack, with tearaway flanker Archie "The Hawk" Mkele and legendary lock Themba Ludwaba leading the charge, ominously converged on the bewildered Ou Blank.

The fullback nervously gave the rapidly dipping ball one last look. When he realised that the charging Kwaru players were just metres away, he "abandoned" the ball and headed for the sideline. Ludwaba scored an easy try while Ou Blank headed for his car and sped away.

It was effectively kante blank (a domino term) for Ou Blank's provincial rugby career. This was one of the many lighter moments in rugby way back then. But don't be fooled, on any other day rugby was a serious matter.

True equality in rugby and cricket will only occur if there's acceptance and recognition among the white sporting fraternity that blacks know, play and understand rugby.

The endless merit versus quota debate is a case in point. The debate is based on a false assumption that only black players must be developed to play rugby and cricket. Not many sceptics know that black communities had, and still have, a rich sporting culture.

That trademark speed, handling skills, twinkle toes and jinks of Chester Williams, Breyton Paulse, Errol Tobias, John Noble and now the Ndungane brothers, Akona and Odwa and JP Petersen, have been nurtured over the years at rugby-playing township schools and clubs.

Even journalist and political commentator Max du Preez, admitted years ago that he did not know until he went to university that "other" South Africans also played rugby. It was an eye-opener for him to learn that black people in the Eastern Cape and in the Bo-Kaap loved the sport as much as he did.

And they have flair in abundance. Sharks winger Pietsersen's sidestep to score the last try against the Stormers is a case in point. His clubmate at Jaguars Rugby Club in Durban, Waylon Murray, emulated him with sheer twinkle-toe brilliance scoring the Sharks' final try against the Blues.

Until recently, the average Bulls supporter only knew players such as Frik du Preez, Louis Moolman, Naas Botha, Burger Geldenhuys and Joost van der Westhuyzen - and, of course, the lyrics of Gé Korsten's Liefling and Steve Hofmeyr's Blou Bul! Now Bryan Habana, Akona Ndungane and Heini Adams have become household names in Blue Bull country.

Rugby unity ripped the heart out of passionate sporting communities in the townships, forcing clubs with established traditions to be swallowed up by the financially stronger white clubs, or join forces with lesser clubs.

Most of these clubs were uprooted, leaving a social void in formerly budding sporting communities. After unification, thousands of die-hard supporters and talented players turned their backs on rugby and cricket - opting to become hip-hop artists or join the local gangs.

For black sportsmen and women, unity was a case of Heads you lose, tails you Lose!

The process was supposed to end segregation, discrimination and division. Segregation was "outlawed" but discrimination and division are still rife. That's why, 16 years after unification, we're still grappling with an impenetrable white "meritocracy" and our players are labelled development or quota players.

Ngconde Balfour (then minister of sport) alluded to this in a speech at a Rugby World Cup banquet held in honour of Corne Krige's Springboks in 2003.

"A tendency exists in our rugby, especially among those who have given themselves the mantle of being so-called experts of Bok rugby, to only see the game through the eyes of people such as Dr Danie Craven and others," Balfour said. The opinions of black experts were, and are still, laughed off.

Imagine the shocked expressions on the faces of Steve Biko's jailers when he differed with them about his preferences for the Springbok team that played the All Blacks in 1976. Biko is quoted as saying: "I wouldn'' have played (Gerald) Bosch at flyhalf, I'd pick Gavin Cowley."

Huh, wat weet hy? (what does he know?) the jailers must have thought. He knew because he played rugby for his local club Star of Hope . . . and passionately followed the game.

l Watch out for Part 2.


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