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Pride, prejudice and the Springboks: a response to Stephen Grootes

Stephen Grootes assures us in today’s edition of The Daily Maverick that he is indeed proud to be South African, and we have the Springboks to thank for that. But it’s not that easy if you’re not white. AZAD ESSA tells us why.

In what can only be described as an episode of privileged nostalgia, Grootes relates the tale of how the Springboks’ 1995 World Cup victory assured him of his place in a fledgling South Africa. Grootes’ piece reads like intellectual debauchery: his assumption that anyone cares about “how” a privileged white South African male became comfy in a country burning with an ambition for real change, is simply, telling. Here are five embarrassing passages from Grootes’ piece.

1. “Once, on a family trip to the UK, I was overheard explaining to the teenage son of our hosts, how crap South Africa was, how it was just shit. I was rebuked, more for the message than the word choice.”

We’re not sure what exactly was shit for you, but we’ll take your word for it. At the time, blacks were living in Bantustans, their movements regulated by a dompas. It might even have been during the time a state of emergency had been declared. It really was shit. We appreciate you standing up for us, in the UK, on holiday. You may declare these struggle credentials on a tender application.

2. “It seemed as if all of the people I knew (and yes, they were almost all white, this was still a segregated society) were excited, there was passion and discussion, and talk of tactics, and of how Naas Botha would really show them he was still the best kicker in the world, how Uli Schmidt was the best hooker (and he’s a medical doctor too, you know!), and of a man I’d never heard of called Danie Gerber (who I think I mixed up with Craven once).”

Aah yes, Dr Schmidt, he of, “Blacks must stick to football because they are no good for rugby”, cited by no less than the apartheid Parliament of 1988.

But anyway, thanks for reminding us that in 1992 racial segregation was still a thing. Today, every white has black friends, every black has white friends. And now the power has clearly shifted. White people live in townships and black people live in suburbs and Indians take off from Waterkloof. The country is truly a free for all.

3. “I realised that they weren’t really South African, they were white South Africa, but not South Africa.”

We are glad you raised this point. When you went to university, you realised the Springbok team was off-colour and that it didn’t represent South Africa. White education at schools and universities was always superior! We’ve been saying this all along. With only 20 black players having represented the Springboks in the last 20 years, perhaps this year’s World Cup will elicit the same epiphany in young white people at South African universities today: “The Springboks aren’t really South African, they are white South African … That’s deep, bro.”

4. “But Nelson Mandela came out and said it was okay, he was the person who said these young men represented the entire nation. That made all the difference.”

Many of us were caught up in the pleasantries of the 1995 World Cup victory. We soaked it up and enjoyed the momentary distraction. It might have ‘changed’ your life but for the rest of us? Well, we sort-of looked at Mandela in his green jersey, smiled a beatific smile and then we wanted to know when we’d get our land back. And we still want to know.

5. “It was a moment that said so much, meant so much, it meant it was okay to be a white South African.”

Stephen, you may not realise it, but it has always been okay to be a white South African. It was a pretty sweet gig pre-1994. South Africa was still a good place to be a white man in 1995. And, believe it or not, it is still okay to be a white South African today, after all. You’re still likely to be better educated and richer than the rest. Mandela’s embrace of that 1995 Rugby World Cup was an integral moment in South African history, yes – it gave you white people the assurance you obviously craved; and as you clearly show, your privilege is still very much intact.

Azad Essa is the exec editor at The Daily Vox. Tweet him @azadessa

– Featured image vie GovernmentZA on Flickr.
4 Comments
  1. Sue says

    What a mean-spirited response to a simple piece written from the heart. The petty bitterness of racial politics in this country is nauseating.

    1. Mxolisi says

      If you give our land back, we promise not to talk about race.

  2. Jon Low says

    And, when blacks were in bantustans or bearing dompasses, there were hundreds of thousands of foreign blacks — citizens of countries where apartheid didn’t exist — flocking to come INTO South Africa. They clearly didn’t think it was all that terrible, or else they’d have stayed back home.

    1. Jean Racine says

      Yes Jon Low, the blacks of South Africa should have been so grateful they had it better than blacks in other countries. Equal rights in the same country? Pah!

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