An open letter to Jeremy Guscott from Saru Sacos Legends
Legendary former England and British Lions centre Jeremy Guscott wrote in his column for The Rugby Paper in England that South Africa rugby needs to “get rid of quotas” if the Springboks are to be a force in world rugby again.
Guscott wrote: “Ever since South Africa adopted a quota system for national team selection it was always going to throw up tough challenges in terms of getting their best team on the field. Those difficulties were highlighted this autumn when the Springboks were overwhelmed by Ireland and then lost to Wales.”
Saru Sacos Legends replied:
Dear Mr. Jeremy Guscott
Ref: Response to the article posted in The Rugby Paper and Rapport
I have just read your article in the Rapport of Sunday 17th December 2017 and must tell you it makes for interesting reading, very interesting.
It is the type of article one would expect to read from somebody who has had the benefit of years of a privileged upbringing under Apartheid South Africa, but alas it came from somebody who we have always had an affinity for.
Now just to bring you into the picture about who this ‘we’ is, I am referring to.
We are former rugby players who hail from the Non Racial fraternity under Apartheid. If that still does not make sense it is those who vehemently defied Apartheid or racist sports structures in their quest to ensure our country becomes a just and equal society.
Despite the obvious talent and unbridled potential of some of our players of colour, we the SARU SACOS Legends’ sacrificed this in order to see a society where a person’s colour will not be a determining factor, but solely be judged on his or her potential.
When your article hit our papers (an Afrikaans one at that) our members went ballistic in their utter disgust at what they read. The toxically laden responses I would not dare relate to you for, too many of my fellow travellers it felt like a dagger in their heart being turned as viciously as one could imagine.
It felt like one of their own had the temerity to comment on something he probably was not qualified to comment on and it is in this vein that I felt the context of what you so boldly exclaimed needs to be unpacked.
I will remain the eternal diplomat and will ensure I keep my demeanour and pose, not dwell into inanities on such an emotional issue to us where one could easily get derailed in one’s response.
You see Jeremy despite the gifted and well-liked rugby player you might have been, we do not believe you to be fully equipped and knowledgeable to comment on the state of South African sports and rugby in particular.
Your comments immediately show a complete lack and utter disregard for the historical perspective of South Africa’s current and distant past. Not wishing to jump into a diatribe of political proportions.
I do however need to point out to you that we as the disadvantaged people of this country have been subjugated and discriminated against for more than four centuries, where we experienced colonialism, imperialism, slavery etc. and this baggage and the legacy of such treatment are still very much with us.
Jeremy, just drive around our areas and townships and you will be cognizant of the disparity in resource allocation which is the remnant of an unjust order despite the 25 years of democracy we have experienced, is still very much blatantly obvious.
Our current government is doing its utmost to bring the bare basic services in the form of water provision, electricity, housing and sanitation brought to our beleaguered communities, which number the majority population. I think you would agree that centuries of ill-treatment by one’s own government against the majority of its own peoples is not wished away in such a short space of time.
We know you have been to our country before; who can forget that drop goal in a test match which you calmly took to put the final nail in the coffin of the Springboks; a study in master class.
We know when you were here you have probably whisked around in air-conditioned buses, stayed at five-star hotels, hosted at banquets of the best which our country had to offer and we do not begrudge you that one inch.
You were probably further taken to a black township where you threw around a few rugby balls around to some kids in a dusty outback, serving as a rugby pitch while taking a stage-managed photo organised by rugby authorities to show how everything is hunky dory at the southernmost tip of the African continent.
Rubbing shoulders with a few black kids, tossed out in brand new logo sponsored t-shirts, does not make anyone an expert on what is wrong with South African rugby in a country with a racist past and a legacy of institutionalised discrimination.
Someone with a modicum of this past would have been more than vigilant in venturing into such a tricky area of admonishing South Africa’ s rugby decline as the result of quotas. Just as you do not believe in quotas we have never asked nor seen ourselves as quota players.
We have and always believed we are good enough to have played at the highest level if given the same opportunities as our white countrymen and it has been proven in different facets of South African society.
Despite the constant underinvestment and unequal distribution of resources in our disadvantaged communities, our children still continue to rise above such adversities.
Here you can read the successes of our Springbok Rugby 7’s and Proteas cricket teams where the likes of Hashim Amla and Kagiso Rabada constantly and consistently feature in the Top 10 of world cricket authority’s batting and bowling averages of different playing formats.
And in Seven’s rugby where the likes of Seabelo Senatla, Cecil Afrika, Justin Geduld to name but a few, hold some of the enviously greatest records and responsible for some majestic feats in rugby’s shorter format.
Oh yes! And in athletics where the sensational Wayde van Niekerk broke a 17-year-old 400m record set by the mercurial Michael Johnson. Wayde is also the only human in history to dip below 10 seconds for the 100m sprint, below 20 seconds for the 200m and below 44 seconds for the 400m races, while Luvo Manyonga and Caster Semenya set the world long jumping scene and 800m respectively alight with their gold medal performances at the Olympic Games as well as the World Championships.
So if quota means players of colour then you would agree that this is no mean feat for some of the world beaters listed above and maybe would not be such a bad idea to flood the Springbok rugby team with more of them. And this is only if they are allowed to play longer than the three minutes in five games which is currently the case.
Incidentally, Wayde’s mother, Odessa Swartz, was a renowned sprinter in her own right and ran under the non-racial banner of our umbrella body, SACOS.
These were the sports stars who stood steadfast in their principles declaring that they will not ‘play normal sport in an abnormal society’. This bears testimony to the potent abilities of our people and where the word ‘quotas’ is regarded as a detestable swear word.
I know you would concur with me that the performances of our sports stars are indicative of the abundant potential. The talent is there. All our sportsmen needs are opportunities and not the stigmatisation of being branded a quota player in the name of transformation.
Coupled to this quota narrative is the presence of those in officialdom and in the mainstream media who still continue to paint those from our communities with the brush of being of lesser talent and thus tagged with the label of being a quota selection. Quota is a contemptuous and reviled word that you have used with great disdain in your article.
There is a greatly espoused belief amongst our people that there are many interests in South Africa that continue to regard rugby as their fiefdom and who hail from a previous discriminatory order. They are intent on ensuring the unequal status quo in rugby is maintained and utilise a patronising and paternalistic system to ensure they keep talented black players from representing their country.
They use administrators and officials of colour to do their bidding. The latter is obliged to comply. I personally not for one moment think you to be of such an ilk or be someone who shoots from the hip.
You have always been regarded as a classy personality. The things you have written has hurt us deeply and this has undoubtedly led to your stature go down a number of notches in our books. I do hope that you interpret our response to your article in a positive light. It is not our intention to try and diminish you as a person.
This has been done to contextualise to you what you have missed and ignored in your opinion. If we do not respond to you in this vein we will be guilty of neglecting our duty towards those who have sacrificed their talents for the sake of a better future for their children.
There were those who chose not to be acquiescent and resisted the temptations to embark on the expedient road and be part of an unjust Apartheid system where the offers of better jobs and money were to be found.
We owe it to our rugby playing children who hail from disadvantaged communities where gangsterism, drug abuse, crime and other societal ills are taking its toll.
These are the societies where our rugby playing kids hail from and where they cannot venture to attend rugby practice at a rugby field in the area where gangs run rampant, for fear of being caught up in a hail of bullets or being mugged on their return home.
These are the children who are not playing for a club blessed with its own equipment, club coach, clubhouse etc and have to beg and borrow from a neighbouring club or corporate South Africa which is still only sponsoring the elite and privileged communities in leafy suburbs. And when they make the cut it is debilitating and downright derogatory to classify them as quota players or seen as a gesture of tokenism.
If we do not bring this to your attention Jeremy then we are surely not doing our duty to our communities. The often used saying of the more things change the more they stay the same are so applicable in modern day South Africa.
Despite the Mandela magic, there was no further magic wand which took away all our disadvantages after the dawn of democracy in 1994 and we who have lived under it and experienced these inequalities and abject treatment are best placed to comment on what is still so very wrong with South African rugby and our society at large.
It would definitely not be the domain for someone from a foreign land and from across the waters to venture an ‘expert’ opinion in this regard. If you would possibly have declared that our rugby is still steeped in a wrecking ball mentality, it would have gone down better as it came from someone with a rugby brain.
We, however, hold no malice towards you but solely ascribe to the dictum of ‘lest we forget’ for our past is still very much with us in our present and seems set to remain in the future. In the latter case, we will ensure it is rectified just as this writing is wont to do.
We are now entering our sunny season and wish you warm greetings from this southernmost tip of the African continent.
18th December 2017
Media and Publicity Secretary SARU SACOS Legends