Fikile-Ntsikelelo Moya

Fikile-Ntsikelelo Moya

On the surface of it you would not think that Reserve Bank governor Tito Mboweni, rugby star Luke Watson, and Essop Pahad have much in common except their well-documented struggle against apartheid.

But perhaps if they had tea they would discover that they are forced into an alliance and if they clubbed together they would come out stronger.

Watson is on the carpet for saying that he does not like the racism he has witnessed by those who believe themselves to be defending the Springbok rugby jersey.

Watson is reported to have said that he tolerated wearing the famed green-and-gold with a leaping antelope because he understood the sacrifices that some people, including his father Cheeky, had made to ensure that everybody, regardless of race, was allowed to wear the jersey.

"We need to see the bigger picture and realise that the here and now is not just the here and now, but the here and now only exists because of those who went before us and because of those who are still to come," Watson reportedly said.

"Me having to wear the Springbok jersey, to keep myself from vomiting on it, because there is a bigger picture, because men and women have bled for me to get there.

"Did I ever want to be there? No, it's never been my dream, but I chose this burden with the greatest of pride and satisfaction, knowing that my father Cheeky laid down his life to get me there."

He rubbed salt into the wound when he added: "The problem with South African rugby is that it is controlled by Dutchmen."

I understand why the Afrikaner community would be offended by this remark, and they are fully within their rights to seek an equality court intervention to force him to retract this part of the statement.

But nobody has the right to tell Watson what he should think or feel about the Springbok's association with apartheid. Not even the South African Rugby Union, who charged him with contravening the union's code of conduct.

Though Watson got off on a technicality the union can theoretically recharge him. Given the clamour of those who want to deny the evil that was apartheid, it is almost a safe bet that they will.

Mboweni has been asked to apologise or face a lawsuit for asking someone not to speak to him like whites used to address black people during apartheid.

And former presidency rottweiller Pahad should, in the opinion of some commentators, feel embarrassed for saying that there are whites who do not want to see South Africa host a successful Fifa World Cup.

Perhaps I missed it, and black people are now no longer supposed to tell those who "speak to blacks as they used to during apartheid" that we don't like that kind of talk?

What rubbish!

Surely the case should be whether Mboweni was racist or not in his remarks. Telling whites not to speak to blacks in a condescending manner cannot in itself be racist. I most certainly don't want whites talking to me the way they thought it was their divine right during apartheid.

Anybody who wants us to believe that apartheid never gave the oppressor a sense of superiority that translated itself into how they spoke to the oppressed, is an apartheid denialist.

Having said that, if Mboweni is indeed found to have played the race card, then the book should be thrown at him. By threatening to sue over the remark, the Reserve Bank investor is shutting the door on other people who might want to accuse others of one form or another of bigotry. It cannot be allowed.

Playing the race card is no worse than playing the "I will sue you card". It shuts down debate on the merits of the allegation. Both are unhealthy and manipulative.

I hold no affection for Tito (who would after the successive interest rate hikes?) but this is not only about him and the investor.

It is about whether we can engage about issues - be they corporate governance or racial prejudice, without resorting to the race card or using a sympathetic media to shut down any further discussion on things that matter.

Similarly, those who have problems with Watson's sentiments must take him on on the merits, and not try to shut him up. Even if they succeed in chasing him out of rugby, the question itself will remain.

I would not want South Africa to go as far as Germany in drafting laws that make denying the holocaust a criminal act, but the tendency by the dominant classes to want us to believe that racism and apartheid never happened needs to be crushed mercilessly.