South Africa’s poor are fishing for a bigger slice of the pie

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A shadow looms over the admirable initiative launched this week to finally grant fishing rights to small-scale fishers. Unless the disproportionately large share of marine resources currently allocated to the commercial fishing sector is cut, there will be nothing left to hand out. The process will be a farce.

Over 95% of all marine resources are reserved for commercial rights’ holders. Quotas for ten species – including linefish, abalone and West Coast rock lobster – are currently up for re-allocation to commercial rights holders in the 2015-2016 Fishing Rights Allocation Process (FRAP).  Unless this proportion is substantially reduced, the new policy will be a non-starter.

The Small Scale Fishing Policy has just been signed into law with an amendment to the flawed Marine Living Resources Act of 1998 which recognised only three categories of fishers: commercial, subsistence and leisure.  The division was stark: those with subsistence and leisure rights were entitled to consume but not sell what they caught.

Only commercial rights holders could sell. In a stroke, this outlawed the traditional livelihoods of most of the 30,000 odd fishers in villages along the Western Cape, Eastern Cape and KwaZulu Natal provinces who for decades had fished to feed their families and sold the rest of their catch.  Amounts were negligible but enough to keep poverty at bay in areas where unemployment was high and fishing was the only source of income.

There is a convincing argument that criminalising the harvesting of a resource considered to be their god-given right has damaged these communities.  Fishing became “poaching”. Gangs took over the marketing of the more valuable species such as abalone. They brought in drugs and guns. But they also enabled parents to pay school fees and feed their children.

Some individuals were awarded commercial fishing rights and this sowed divisions and deepened inequalities in communities which had been relatively egalitarian.

The new policy introduces a fourth category: Small Scale fishers. Craig Smith, Director of Small Scale Fisheries, argues that a 50% share of linefish should be reserved for these small scale fishers as well as up to 100% of near-shore resources such as mussels, abalone and lobster.  Commercial fishers can afford the big, fast boats required to exploit the deep seas.

The person responsible for making this decision is the Minister of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries, Senzeni Zokwana. Since 1994, the colour of those awarded the right to mine the ocean’s resources has changed considerably but they still overwhelmingly represent the more powerful and politically connected. Giving small scale fishers a generous slice of the cake will indicate a new willingness to cater to the poor, rather than an elite.

The policy has taken over a decade to be implemented. It originated in a court case brought by an NGO, Masifundise, to the Equity Court, arguing that the Marine Living Resources Act created inequality.  It infringed the fishers’ constitutional rights to food security and the protection of  their traditional culture.

The outcome was a court order to the government to create a small scale fishing policy.  Masifundise has threatened to go back to the Equality Court if the Minister fails to give the small scale fishers an appropriate share.

Meanwhile, there is much excitement around the next stage of the process: the identification of suitable candidates. Representatives of the Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fishing (DAFF) will visit 280 communities on the east and west coasts over the next few weeks. In school and community halls – and even in one case “an open space next to the [Fish] river” – fishers will queue up with their ID books and verifiable testimony from a fellow community member that they have fished for a living over at least the past ten years.

Dates and venues have been established for each community, advertised on radio, in newspapers and posters in each area. The fishers have only one chance to apply. If they miss their allocated day, they will not be considered. Once all the applications are in, DAFF officials and community representatives will adjudicate on each case.

The Small Scale fishing policy is ambitious: it allocates quotas not to individuals but to co-operatives. There will be only one co-op per community. Each must have at least 20 members. Fishers who currently hold commercial rights will be required to relinquish them if they become members of the co-op.

A host of services will be available to co-op members, including courses in marketing, financial management and spin-off activities such as tourism. The plan is to leverage the co-ops to promote development in rural areas.

What’s more, a sense of justice could be reinstated. If communities again feel a sense of ownership over marine resources, it is hoped that they will feel responsible for protecting them.

McGregor is a visiting researcher at The Institute for Humanities in Africa (HUMA) at the University of Cape Town.

 

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A shadow looms over the admirable initiative launched this week to finally grant fishing rights to small-scale fishers. Unless the disproportionately large share of marine resources currently allocated to the commercial fishing sector is cut, there will be nothing left to hand out. The process will be a farce. Over 95% of all marine resources […]

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How activists took on Big Pharma and won

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THE government funds antiretroviral (ARV) treatment for 3.1-million HIV-positive people at a cost of R40,000 per person a year in the largest and most ambitious ARV programme in the world. HIV, once the harbinger of death, is now just another chronic disease.

The extraordinary tale of how this was achieved is told in the book No Valley Without Shadows: MSF and the Fight for Affordable ARVs in SA, to be launched next week. It is the inside story of how courage, cunning and determination overcame the combined might of global corporate greed, government denialism and the conservatism of the medical establishment.

THE current state of affairs could be said to hang off a single courtesy phone call. In 1999, Dr Eric Goemaere, a long-serving Medecins sans Frontieres (MSF) volunteer, came to SA hoping to prove that ARVs could safely be given outside of a first world hospital setting to poor HIV-positive expectant mothers so they wouldn’t infect their babies.

It almost didn’t happen. Goemaere’s first stop was at the office of Dr Nono Simelela, the national director of the HIV programme, who reluctantly broke the news that the health minister had blocked the public sector use of AZT to prevent mother-to-child transmission of HIV.

About to fly home to Belgium, defeated, Goemaere put in a last-minute courtesy call to an e-mail acquaintance, the activist Zackie Achmat, who had started the Treatment Action Campaign (TAC) the year before.

Achmat revealed that a limited mother-to-child transmission pilot study was under way in Khayelitsha, on the outskirts of Cape Town.

In partnership with the University of Cape Town, MSF set to work in Khayelitsha, systematising the pilot study to ensure it was sufficiently rigorous to convince an ambivalent medical community.

However, they soon became frustrated that, although they were able to save babies’ lives, they were unable to save their parents.

Dr Francoise Louis, a French doctor who hoped to share her skills, described it like this: “I witnessed the introduction of ARVs in France and what it meant to people. When I discovered the impossible levels of HIV in Southern Africa, I became obsessed.”

BUT without ARVs to prescribe, she felt useless. “How does a clinician feel if, whatever you do to care for your patient, he comes back sicker; the wretched headache does not go away; the excruciating diarrhoea does not stop? The situation was inhuman for them. It was inhuman for us, who knew that a treatment to keep them alive was available,” she said.

The struggle to save the lives of poor, powerless people at the tip of Africa might have gone unnoticed by the wider world if it had not played into a broader agenda then being implemented in the boardrooms of the first world.

In 1995, the World Trade Organisation started enforcing Trips, the Trade Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights. This compelled all member countries — including SA — to introduce 20-year patents on medicines. This meant that ARV treatment cost between $10,000 and $12,000 per person per year.

In an attempt to circumvent this, the government introduced the Medicines and Related Substances Control Amendment Act of 1997, which would allow the health minister to cancel patent rights or import generic medicines.

The Pharmaceutical Manufacturers’ Association, representing 39 companies, lodged a challenge. In a landmark case that became known as Big Pharma vs Nelson Mandela, the global drug industry made it quite clear that it would fight to the last to protect its profits, even it translated very tangibly and publicly into the loss of thousands of lives. The case dragged on for three years, with no end in sight.

Spotting the perfect opportunity to highlight the high cost of ARVs, TAC joined the case as amicus curiae (friends of the court), presenting a powerful dossier of evidence on the human impact of patent protection.

Together with MSF, they launched a highly successful international campaign called Drop The Case.

When it became clear how damaging this was to their image, the pharmaceutical companies withdrew their case.

MSF underwent seismic changes as a result of the struggle for affordable ARVs.

Its model had always been the provision of emergency medical intervention. Now, it was being asked to fund long-term treatment for possibly thousands of patients.

For the first time, an MSF board would be making a financial commitment that would extend beyond its own tenure and place an obligation on its successors.

 

INITIALLY, it agreed to fund 180 patients. This led to agonising decisions having to be made by doctors in Khayelitsha: who should be given life-saving treatment and who should be left to die? The pressure for universal, affordable ARV treatment intensified.

The drug companies were invited to the Khayelitsha clinic. Only one came. The chairman of Boehringer Ingelheim arrived while Goemaere was treating an emaciated nine-year-old orphan, who was slowly and painfully dying from AIDS. Deeply discomfited, he offered to pay for the boy’s treatment personally, but confessed that he did not have the power to change his company’s global policy on patent protection.

The response from another pharmaceutical company, Bristol-Myers Squibb, revealed a surprise. While it had the licence for the antiretroviral stavudine, the patent was owned by Yale University. A direct approach from MSF to Yale was stonewalled by the university, which was earning $40m a year from the stavudine licence in 1999.

The activists sprung into action. A couple of first-year Yale law students tracked down the inventor, Dr William Prusoff, who wrote a stirring letter to the New York Times reflecting on his position as a scientist contributing to the discovery of a life-saving medication and then witnessing how commercial interests were protected so stringently that those in need of it were denied help.

Yale caved in and Bristol-Myers Squibb announced “emergency patent relief” shortly afterwards.

A year after initiating the first patient on ARVs, the Khayelitsha team believed it had enough material to prove to the medical establishment that resource-poor clinics and nonspecialist staff could effectively deliver ARVs.

Several reputable journals turned them down, either for fear of offending the pharmaceutical companies or out of prejudice.

But when the findings were eventually published, they were explosive. After two years, 91% of patients were taking their medication as prescribed and had an undetectable viral load.

The struggle then entered a new phase — forcing the government to implement treatment for its citizens.

TAC played a critical part. The first really effective post-apartheid civil society organisation, it fought stigma, empowered the HIV-positive and shamed the government.

TAC set the bar for the vibrant civil society movement that exists in SA today.

• McGregor is co-author of No Valley without Shadows: MSF and the Fight for Affordable ARVs in South Africa. Published by MSF, it will be launched at the Book Lounge, Roeland Street, Cape Town, on November 30. All proceeds from the sale on the night will go to TAC

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  THE government funds antiretroviral (ARV) treatment for 3.1-million HIV-positive people at a cost of R40,000 per person a year in the largest and most ambitious ARV programme in the world. HIV, once the harbinger of death, is now just another chronic disease. The extraordinary tale of how this was achieved is told in the […]

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Let’s pick the right Bok coach this time

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  • SHOULD Heyneke Meyer’s contract be extended? I think it should — but only for a year, as a holding operation. This would be just long enough to enable the South African Rugby Union (Saru) to give proper consideration to the question of who should coach the national team next and what his job description should be.

    They should take their time about it. A Springbok coach has more complex challenges than an England or All Blacks coach. It won’t be easy to find the right man. We should also completely rethink what we want from the next coach and how we want him to shape our national team.

    The Saru general council will decide on December 4 whether to extend his contract. If they decide against, they will be without a national coach by the end of the month. What the union must not do is resort to the old short-term, knee-jerk approach to hiring coaches.

    Peter de Villiers got the job because it was felt that a black coach was needed. De Villiers got the job ahead of perhaps a more appropriate black candidate because he was strongly pushed by certain Saru factions.

    Meyer was appointed belatedly and in haste in 2012 because Saru were so keen to get rid of De Villiers. Meyer’s appointment was partly because it was felt he should have been appointed in place of De Villiers in 2008.

    The Rugby World Cup has shown up Meyer’s limitations. I write this with some regret because I like him: he is an engaging, open man and the readiness with which he shares intense emotion is refreshing in a macho world. But the fact is that he was a brilliant club coach who has not been able to replicate that success on the national canvas.

    At the Bulls, Meyer could exert control. He recruited players straight from school and moulded them in his image. They owed their careers to him. Nor did he have to venture out of his cultural comfort zone — white, Afrikaans and Christian. The main source of pressure, selection-wise, was the white right. The only imperative was to keep winning and his game plan did that very effectively.

    This year, as national coach, he was relying on the same players and the same plan.

    The master class in modern rugby provided by the All Blacks at the World Cup final showed up the creakiness of his game plan, and he wasn’t able to come up with anything else. He also showed himself to be woefully out of touch with the national psyche.

    One would have thought the outpouring of anger at his squad selection before the Boks set off for the UK might have had some effect. But apparently not. His selections revealed no change in his reluctance to place trust in young players of colour.

    He has given only one young black player, Trevor Nyakane, consistent game time. Nothing he has said in the past few days has indicated that he acknowledges how inadequate this is.

    A continuation of this will damage the Springbok brand. There is a risk it will return rugby to the bitter, divisive role it occupied during apartheid.

    There have been hints that some of Meyer’s assistant coaches might be axed: partly as sacrificial lambs to appease public anger and partly to make way for an assistant of colour. This won’t do. Meyer will still call the shots.

    If, as it should be, our aim is to consistently be the best in the world, we need to be copying the All Blacks. Much has been written about the need to emulate their system of central contracting and collegial interaction between franchises — with the national team being given priority by all parties. Obviously, this is ideal but it is not likely to happen soon, given all the factional self-interest within Saru.

    But, with the national coach, we can start at Year Zero. He should be tasked primarily with two things: inculcating a style of rugby that empowers players to beat the best at their own game by putting brains ahead of brawn. Players should be encouraged to assess the situation unfolding before them intelligently and then seizing whatever opportunity it presents skilfully and incisively.

    Second, he needs to develop a team that properly represents our demographics. He should be given the time to do this. There should not be pressure to win the Webb Ellis Cup in 2019. The priority should be the building of a winning habit that would peak in 2023.

    Planning and an emphasis on continuity are important. All Blacks coach Steve Hansen was assistant to Graham Henry, who was himself head coach for eight years.

    The next Springbok coach should be tasked with growing his successor.

    A Kiwi coach might well be the way to go. An added advantage is that he would be unencumbered by the South African race filter. But merely having been born in New Zealand is not enough.

    John Plumtree and John Mitchell have been mentioned. I’d suggest Saru chat to black players who have played under both — not current players because they wouldn’t talk openly for fear of jeopardising their careers — but former players who have nothing to lose. They may or may not endorse either or both of the Johns, but they will certainly have very interesting things to say about how black players fare under different coaches.

    Coaches with more recent experience of New Zealand structures might also have more to offer. Hansen, for instance, is rumoured to be stepping down in 2017. He might be worth waiting for.

    • This column first appeared in Business Day

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SHOULD Heyneke Meyer’s contract be extended? I think it should — but only for a year, as a holding operation. This would be just long enough to enable the South African Rugby Union (Saru) to give proper consideration to the question of who should coach the national team next and what his job description should […]

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Fiddling while the jersey burns

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IN A speech in Durban a few days ago, South African Rugby Union (Saru) president Oregan Hoskins fingered schools as one of the stumbling blocks to transformation in the Springboks. Saru runs an annual budget of close on a billion rand.

All they have to do is channel some of that into the cash-strapped schools in the Eastern Cape bursting with black rugby talent and passion. Add a few high-performance academies to hone the skills of the front runners and then persuade its coaches to give all players of colour equal opportunity with white players and you’d soon see a lot more black Springboks.

To his credit, Hoskins took responsibility for not adequately supporting previous Springbok coaches. This presumably included Peter de Villiers, last seen presiding over the public burning of the Springbok jersey.

The furore over the paucity of black players in the 2015 Bok squad has been dismissed in some quarters as par for the course in a World Cup year. But this is nonsense.

The Rugby World Cup is a big deal: it’s when we show the world who we are — in technicolour. If, 20 years into democracy, we are still saying that excellence is white, it’s a problem, not least for the black kids dreaming of donning the green-and-gold.

Obviously, ideally, this should not blow up at World Cup time and should be dealt with on an ongoing basis. But it doesn’t look as if it is.

The men in charge of rugby continue to fiddle while the jersey burns. They are at present fiddling, yet again, with the Currie Cup format. The proposal on the table now seems to be that the Vodacom Cup will be abolished from next year and replaced with an extended Currie Cup.

Saru is not giving out any information but according to an apparently reliable report in Die Burger, from next year there will be 15 teams in the Currie Cup, which will include one from Namibia. In the first half of the year, the 14 unions plus Namibia will play each other in a newly constituted Currie Cup. The top nine will go on to play each other, while the remaining six will battle it out for a lesser title. This means an awful lot of Currie Cup rugby will be played during a protracted Super Rugby tournament.

Our 40-odd rugby schools and the Currie Cup are the bedrock of development in South African rugby. Schools are where rugby talent is developed. The Currie Cup is where promising young players are blooded for Super Rugby. This production line is important for professional rugby as more senior players head off overseas.

In 2012, the Currie Cup was altered to accommodate an extended Super Rugby campaign. Since then, SA’s oldest competition has haemorrhaged viewers and Absa is ending its sponsorship. Won’t more Currie Cup games from second-tier teams competing for viewers with Super Rugby diminish interest further?

More to the point, is this an appropriate use of Saru funds?

In its constitution, adopted in 2009, Saru states as an objective:

•  5.1 applying its income, directly and indirectly, for the promotion, development, support, upliftment, administration and playing of rugby in SA;

•  5.2 pursuing policies and programmes, at national and all other levels, aimed at redressing imbalances of the past and creating a genuinely nonracial, nonpolitical and democratic dispensation for rugby in SA;

•  5.3 adopting and enacting such measures as will foster, promote, regulate and encourage the playing of rugby and provide facilities for rugby in SA, and in any other territory as may be decided upon, for all persons, irrespective of race, colour, creed or gender, and to eliminate any discrimination and inequality among players and officials alike;

If it is to honour its own constitution, should a large chunk of Saru’s millions go into supporting the small-town fiefdoms that run these second-tier teams? Or into paying player squads, most of whom will be white and whose development will have been paid for by the schools mentioned by Mr Hoskins?

What would make more sense is to confine the Currie Cup to the Super Rugby franchises. The small unions should be playing semi-professional rugby, relying on local sponsorship for funds. Saru should be applying its income to funding a development campaign in areas where there is abundant black rugby talent.

Meanwhile, it is interesting to see how the Bok transformation issue is playing out in the political landscape.

The burning of the Springbok jersey accompanied the launch of a new organisation, Supporters Against Racist Rugby Associations, in Mossel Bay. The Western and Eastern Cape are the sites for some of the most closely fought battles between the African National Congress (ANC) and the Democratic Alliance (DA). These are also the provinces that host the most black talent and experience the most frustration among black fans.

One of the most thoughtful recent political interventions came from DA shadow spokesman on sport Solly Malatsi. In an oped article, he outlined the importance of a systematic overhaul of rugby development. If the ANC drops the ball, perhaps the DA will pick it up?

• This column first appeared in Business Day

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IN A speech in Durban a few days ago, South African Rugby Union (Saru) president Oregan Hoskins fingered schools as one of the stumbling blocks to transformation in the Springboks. Saru runs an annual budget of close on a billion rand. All they have to do is channel some of that into the cash-strapped schools […]

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‘I weep for the black boys who were never given a chance’

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Motherwell High School first team

Motherwell High School team

IN A bizarre move, the South African Rugby Union (Saru) has decided to withdraw funding for its academy in Port Elizabeth. It is one of four academies set up with great fanfare in 2013 with Lotto money in areas with substantial black rugby talent.

For the past two years, Saru has funded them. From next year, it will fund only the East London academy.

I spent last week in the Eastern Cape doing research for a film on transformation in rugby.

It rapidly became apparent that the Southern Kings are going to have difficulty fielding a credible Super Rugby team next year, never mind one that fulfils its promise of showcasing local black talent.

The Southern Kings team that lost to Western Province in a preseason Currie Cup friendly on Saturday was largely white and featured several players who have already been recycled through other unions.

The only bright spot for the Southern Kings on Saturday was their Under-19s, the one team to beat their Western Province counterparts. This is their third victory in a row. They have already won their games against the Cheetahs and the Bulls. Around half the Southern Kings under-19s team consists of black boys recruited from Eastern Cape schools and they are coached by a local player, former Sevens captain Mzwandile Stick.

The under-19s are products of the academy about to be cut adrift by Saru. There seems little hope of the Southern Kings taking up the slack. They are themselves in financial difficulties, unable to pay their players’ salaries for the past month.

It would be mortifying for SA if the Southern Kings’ Super Rugby venture were to be allowed to fail. Failure would partly be defined as fielding yet another team of largely white players bought in from elsewhere.

The bloated, 18-team version of Super Rugby that comes into being next year was created largely to accommodate their long-term inclusion. The reason Saru pushed so hard for it was to boost black rugby by giving the Eastern Cape its own team in the most competitive competition in world rugby.

They were right to do so. Not only will a successful Super Rugby team hugely strengthen black rugby but it will also limit the buying up of black players from the region by other franchises. If these players can achieve their dreams of making a Super Rugby or Springbok team in their own province, they will stay at home, where they will be a lot better off.

Speaking to rugby people in the Eastern Cape last week, I realised just how profound and widespread is the conviction that black players are deliberately excluded from professional teams. I was repeatedly given examples, for instance, of black players who could have shone in the place of some of the current Springboks incumbents.

“I have no problem with the white boys in the team,” said one. “They have worked very hard to get where they are. But I weep for the black boys who were never given the chance.”

Poverty and inequality are major culprits in keeping our teams white. For instance, a rugby coach at a mainly black former Model C school in Grahamstown said when his boys ran onto the field for practice at 3.30pm, he was very aware that they had been up since 4am for the long walk from township to school and that, in between, all they had had to eat was two slices of bread.

The same coach had been in charge of the Port Elizabeth Country Districts’ Craven Week squad the year before. He said the players had missed four meals before their first game because they weren’t given a travel allowance. This, before competing with players from some of the richest schools in the country.

But, on this trip, I also heard another view equally powerfully expressed: that, in fact, plenty of middle-class black boys were now also at good schools where they benefited from the same nutrition, education and sports facilities as white boys. And yet they were still not making it into professional teams.

These men I spoke to — intelligent, reasonable, passionate rugby fans — were adamant: a racial and cultural bias in mainstream rugby meant black boys were simply not being considered by a great number of white coaches.

In another development, it was reported at the weekend that the Super Rugby franchises are refusing to approve the allocation of broadcasting funds proposed for next year when the new deal kicks in. The proposal is to give the Super Rugby franchises R25m each a year and the eight small unions R15m. The big unions are balking at the share claimed by the other eight.

I hope the Super Rugby franchises stick to their guns. But I also hope this rebellion is part of a more ambitious plan to transform Saru so that it is better suited to serve South African rugby as a whole. The success or otherwise of the Southern Kings could be a litmus test of this.

The Southern Kings are clearly in need of help. I was told that, during Alan Solomons’s tenure as coach during the Kings’ first abortive Super Rugby stint, he established a clear progression path for players from under-19s to the senior team. In the succession of coaches who have followed him, this has been lost. As a result, the all-important development path for local players is interrupted.

Saru head office, which has until now so capably run the Eastern Cape academies, needs to take a more central role in the Eastern Cape. A hands-off attitude is not good enough. Cash that has been frittered away on professional teams run by the small unions should be diverted to development. Saru should not only continue to fund the Port Elizabeth Academy, but should expand it and establish others.

Anything less might make the allocation of a Super Rugby franchise to a black rugby-rich region look like a cynical gesture, setting them up to fail.

*This column first appeared in Business Day

 

 

 

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IN A bizarre move, the South African Rugby Union (Saru) has decided to withdraw funding for its academy in Port Elizabeth. It is one of four academies set up with great fanfare in 2013 with Lotto money in areas with substantial black rugby talent. For the past two years, Saru has funded them. From next […]

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The first Muslim Springbok

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IMG_0499RAMADAN starts on Thursday and that poses a challenge for one of the players on whom SA is relying this Saturday to salvage a bit of national pride from this year’s disappointing Super Rugby campaign.

Nizaam Carr, the first Muslim to have captained a Super Rugby team — last week against the Sharks — will this Saturday have to fill the big boots of Duane Vermeulen, who has been forced out with a neck injury. If the Stormers beat the Brumbies, they have a shot at making the Super Rugby finals.

Carr will enter the fray on an empty stomach. He will have been up before dawn to down a protein shake and some steak and pasta but by the time he runs out onto the field at Newlands at 5pm, he will not have eaten for several hours. Over the next month, he is likely to lose between 8kg and 12kg.

It is tough, he says, but manageable. He doesn’t feel that it affects his performance. His faith provides all the push he needs.

It is hard to believe that Carr is just 24. Rugby has both brought him fantastic opportunity and required exceptional emotional adaptability and resilience. His was not the usual path to the high road via a traditional rugby school. He grew up in Mitchell’s Plain.

His family later moved to Crawford and he attended Alexander Sinton High, a good state school but not one that offered rugby. He played on Saturdays for the Primrose club and, at the age of 15, he was spotted by a scout from Bishops and offered a bursary.

Bishops, the home of Anglicanism and old money, was worlds away from what he was used to and at first he struggled to fit in. But over the four years he was there, he learnt to take advantage of the fantastic facilities on offer.

At Alexander Sinton, there would be 45 kids in a class, whereas at Bishops, there might be 10. More than that, he told me, “they opened up my eyes to how successful you could be if you just worked hard”. After school, he sailed into the University of Cape Town, where he played for the Ikey Tigers in the Varsity Cup. From there, he was recruited into the Western Province Under-19s and Under-21s and, eventually the Currie Cup and Super Rugby teams.

Throughout, he has had to perform the difficult balancing act of remaining true to his religious beliefs while proving himself a team player in a very different culture.

At Bishops, he says, he had to explain why he could eat only halaal food. Another challenge he has had to grapple with is the drinking culture in rugby. It was hard at first, he says, and he felt he didn’t fit in. But he learnt to adapt and now happily sits through team dinners nursing a coke while his teammates get merry. He recognises that it is part of team building, he says, and he can’t slink away.

His teammates ensure he doesn’t feel the odd man out. After they won the Currie Cup last year, he took them all to a mosque and then to a halaal restaurant.

What he is desperate for now, like every other player in Super Rugby, is a spot in the Rugby World Cup squad. Carr, who last year became the first Muslim in the democratic era to pull on a Springbok jersey, is competing against a plethora of excellent loose forwards.

Carr’s articulate and confident defence of his religious rights highlights the question of freedom of religion. Christianity is central to South African rugby. Most teams pray before games. Some players and coaches offer a nod to God at media conferences.

Players and coaches have told me that prayers are about asking for protection from injury for both sides. And it promotes team spirit.

That’s all fine as long as it is acknowledged that the supreme being appears in different forms to different people — if they believe in one at all — and conformity to a particular religion doesn’t become a prerequisite for inclusion.

As far as openness in religion goes, I’d say that young Nizaam Carr offers a good example. He doesn’t proselytise but he does try to educate people about Islam: for instance, that the impression created by some media that it is a religion of extremists who yearn to join groups such as Islamic State is wrong.

This year, he and a partner opened a sports academy in Lansdowne. For now, it offers only Grades 8 and 9 and there are just 45 pupils. The academic curriculum runs from 8am to 3pm. After that there is intensive training in rugby, soccer and cricket. He is in charge of the rugby. Talented kids from poor backgrounds get scholarships and his own sponsor provides all the kit for free. It’s about giving back, he says.

His academy, the Cape Sports Academy, is not only for Muslims. “We have boys from all over,” he says proudly. “We have an African kid and a Jewish one.”

 *This column first appeared in Business Day
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RAMADAN starts on Thursday and that poses a challenge for one of the players on whom SA is relying this Saturday to salvage a bit of national pride from this year’s disappointing Super Rugby campaign. Nizaam Carr, the first Muslim to have captained a Super Rugby team — last week against the Sharks — will […]

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Allister, jou lekker ding

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IT SEEMS pretty certain now that Allister Coetzee will leave the Stormers on a high note, which is excellent news, both for him and for the team he will leave behind. A win against the Lions this weekend will secure the Stormers’ position at the head of the South African conference for the third time in the five years that Coetzee has led the Cape side.

Coetzee jets off to a new coaching job in Japan at the conclusion of the 2015 Super Rugby competition, leaving Western Province in good shape. The Stormers, now second in the overall log, have a shot at a home semifinal. Last Saturday, their Vodacom Cup team made it through to the final after an unbroken nine-game stampede through the pool games. Unfortunately for them, they were pipped to the post by a powerful Pumas team but, nevertheless, it proved that WP has a deep seam of competitive players.

They are also growing able coaches: Vodacom Cup coach, John Dobson, will later this year take over from Coetzee as Currie Cup coach.

Behind the scenes, Western Province director of rugby, Gert Smal, has been quietly putting in place foundations that should ensure solid growth for at least the next few years.

Since he joined Western Province last year, Smal has been on a recruiting drive to increase depth in the junior teams and he has also strengthened the management team. Sports psychologist, Henning Gericke, who accompanied the Proteas to the World Cup earlier this year, is working with all the Western Province teams. The appointment of a kicking coach in Vlok Cilliers is another innovation.

Continuity and institutional memory will be retained through Coetzee’s long-time assistants: backline maestro, Robbie Fleck, and forwards coach, Matt Proudfoot. The unassuming Proudfoot is the power behind the Stormers’ front row, arguably the best in Super Rugby at the moment.

Smal himself brings considerable intellectual capital. The former Springbok flanker was an assistant coach to Jake White from 2003 to 2007, when the Boks won the Rugby World Cup. As assistant coach to Declan Ireland’s Irish team from 2007 to 2013, he gained invaluable international experience and a fresh perspective on the South African rugby environment. The fact that he helped the Irish team take a Six Nations title, a Grand Slam and a Triple Crown didn’t do his reputation any harm.

The question mark hanging over the High Performance Centre in Bellville now is: who will succeed Coetzee as Super Rugby coach?

There are plenty of able and experienced men who would leap at the chance of coaching the Stormers but the shambles at the once proud Sharks shows the perils of jetting in high-profile coaches.

It would reflect well on Western Province’s development structures if they were to choose a home-grown candidate, who has emerged from within their own ranks.

If Dobson does well in the Currie Cup, he will presumably be in the running. Dobson has been with Western Province since 2010. He and his assistant coach, Dawie Snyman, started off with the Under-21s, where there was a focus on bringing through players of colour.

I shadowed the University of Cape Town’s Ikey Tigers through their 2010 Varsity Cup campaign for a book I was writing. Dobson, who holds a BA LLB and an MA in Creative Writing from UCT, was head coach. What struck me was how much thought went into creating a unique culture for the team. They had a theme song called the Poet Warriors. Team talks were infused with poetry and tales of heroism from the First World War.

Being a university team, it was more highbrow than most, but the principle would apply anywhere. Every team needs a story: to cement mutual understanding and strengthen team bonds. You need a narrative to make sense of the vicissitudes of fortune. Someone else has described sports teams as “cauldrons of bubbling emotion”, which seems an accurate description of the devastation that accompanies every loss and the elation of a win.

When it comes to professional rugby, you need a tale to tell the media and the fans. A coach with a facility for words and the ability to spin a convincing yarn has the edge.

The other thing that struck me about Dobson was, after matriculating from Bishops, he spent a year playing for the Elsie’s River club. Mixing with teammates who couldn’t afford proper boots and arrived in a taxi after a night shift at a factory gave him an insight into how most of SA lives.

Western Province is blessed with great diversity among its fan base. Credit then to the coach who makes an attempt to understand the circumstances of players who come from a very different background.

 

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IT SEEMS pretty certain now that Allister Coetzee will leave the Stormers on a high note, which is excellent news, both for him and for the team he will leave behind. A win against the Lions this weekend will secure the Stormers’ position at the head of the South African conference for the third time […]

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The rebirth of a Bok legend

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IT IS a career trajectory that would work in almost any profession. Start off with a full-time job where you can gain skills, experience and contacts.

And, important, become familiar with the ecosystem in your particular field. Then, when you tire of having your prospects determined by the whims of a boss, you develop your own vision for your career and set about making it happen.

In rugby, the process starts earlier and is more compressed.

Take Fourie du Preez, for instance. He was recruited by Heyneke Meyer while still at Afrikaanse Hoër Seunskool and joined the Bulls as a contracted player as soon as he had matriculated.

Du Preez was a founding member of the killer squad, handpicked and moulded by Meyer, which went on to win the Currie Cup for three consecutive years and, in 2007, became the first South African team to bring home the Super Rugby trophy. Later that year, the same Bulls core helped the Springboks to their second Rugby World Cup victory under Jake White.

Two years later, Du Preez was key to one of the best ever years for a Springbok team. In 2009, they first beat the British and Irish Lions and, then the All Blacks. Not once but three times.

But, after a long golden run in terms of injuries, Du Preez finally succumbed. In 2010, he had surgery for a shoulder injury, followed by six months of rehab.

No sooner was he back on the field in 2011 than he injured his knee in a Super Rugby game.

And then, of course, he was part of the Springbok team which was ejected so ignominiously from the Rugby World Cup in 2011.

Despite the fact that he was only 30 and widely considered the best scrumhalf in the world, Du Preez turned his back on international rugby and settled for the relative obscurity of Japanese club rugby.

It was a bold move for a man who had never lived anywhere but Pretoria. But he was burnt out from the emotional and physical toll of having played 80 minutes in a pivotal position of almost every Currie Cup, Super Rugby and Springbok game for 10 years.

If it wasn’t for Japan, he says, he might have stopped playing rugby altogether after the 2011 World Cup.

Not only has his stint at Suntory Goliath taught him a new approach to the game, being immersed in a foreign culture has revitalised him.

Simple things, such as using public transport to get to training, delight him, as does the equilibrium he has managed to achieve between work and family.

Most of his teammates at Suntory Goliath have other jobs at the company so rugby is confined to half the day. Du Preez says he has learnt from this that it is entirely possible to balance professional rugby with study and family.

These days many players are taking a more entrepreneurial approach to their careers. They mix and match clubs and countries: they play Super Rugby but eschew Currie Cup, opting instead to spend the South African summer playing in Europe or Japan.

This means they are available for selection for some Springbok games.

Where Du Preez has broken the mould is that he won’t even play Super Rugby. He told me that one of his chief reasons for leaving SA was Super Rugby, with its punishing toll on players’ bodies and the endless travel. For most players, this would be a risky move — after all, Super Rugby is the parade ground where players hope to catch the eye of the Springbok coach. But Du Preez is experienced and confident enough to know he can get away with it and still make it into the Bok squad. In fact, judging by the injury list at the Springbok camp a few weeks ago, it is a wise move.

Anyone playing Super Rugby now could break down with a long term injury which could rule them out of the World Cup.

Luck is on his side in that no one has emerged to seriously challenge him for the scrumhalf berth. Even if there had, it is unlikely Meyer would have gone to the UK without one of his most trusted proteges.

The Japanese season runs from September to the end of February. Du Preez told me that, since 2013, he has been returning to SA for our winter months and following his own training and conditioning routine.

He has been doing rehab for an ankle injury and cross-training in a private gym three times a week. Soon his routine will include speed training and contact fitness and possibly a few games with the Bulls’ under-21s.

His regimen was worked out by specialists in Japan. He makes it clear that he has moved on from what he learnt at the Bulls. Du Preez is honing and refining his game. With the new nimbleness in his approach to life, we can expect Du Preez to add a layer of sophistication to the Springbok game.

Because there is no doubt that this is where he is headed. Heyneke Meyer has made it clear Du Preez is part of his plans for the World Cup. He will be integrated into the squad during the Rugby Championships and hopefully be at peak game fitness during the key World Cup games.

Unlike most of the rest of the team, who will be worn out by months of Super Rugby, Du Preez will be fresh and fit.

*This column first appeared in Business Day

 

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IT IS a career trajectory that would work in almost any profession. Start off with a full-time job where you can gain skills, experience and contacts. And, important, become familiar with the ecosystem in your particular field. Then, when you tire of having your prospects determined by the whims of a boss, you develop your […]

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Outsiders and insiders

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I HAVE just returned from London, where I looked in vain for some evidence of excitement building up for the Rugby World Cup.

Understandably, I guess, it has been eclipsed by Thursday’s general election, which will be as closely fought as the play-offs between the world’s top rugby teams are likely to be in a few months’ time.

The latest polls show the Conservatives and Labour neck and neck, with the third most popular party, the UK Independence Party (UKIP), at 12%. UKIP, with its narrow definition of Britishness and its anti-immigrant stance, has to constantly fend off accusations of racism.

For instance, they have just had to ditch one of their prospective MPs, Robert Blay, for threatening to put “a bullet between the eyes” of his Conservative opponent if he ever became prime minister. Ranil Jayawardene, said Blay, was “not British enough to be in our parliament” because his father was born in Sri Lanka.

We are not the only country struggling with xenophobia. Between the dodgier elements of UKIP and an ongoing demonisation of immigrants in the right-wing media, those perceived as outsiders might not feel too welcome in Britain either.

Unless they happen to be rugby players. The inaugural European Champions Cup, which replaced the Heineken Cup, has intensified the competition between French and English clubs and some of the latter are campaigning to be allowed to spend more on recruitment, which means more players from the rugby-rich southern hemisphere.

In another closely fought contest, Toulon last Saturday beat Clermont to take the European crown for the third time in a row. Toulon are the game-changers in European rugby. Their continued ascendance has rattled the English clubs.

Toulon owner Mourad Boudjelellal has the money to buy the best players from all over the world. The English clubs, though, have a salary cap of £5m. The Saracens have been accused of breaching this cap, a charge they vigorously deny. However, the owner of Saracens, Nigel Wray, is quoted as saying the salary cap “does not allow us to compete on a level playing field with teams in Europe”.

However, as Robert Kitson points out in the Guardian, it is not simply unlimited funds that make Toulon impregnable.

“The collective desire to deliver a suitably grand send-off for their three soon-to-retire heavyweights, Ali Williams, Bakkies Botha and Carl Hayman — the trio’s names were even stitched into the inside of the team’s jerseys” — helped to give Toulon the edge on Saturday.

“Toulon may have loads of money but the French champions also have the good sense to sign committed people rather than mercenaries … it is Toulon’s can-do attitude towards recruitment that is taking them to places others cannot reach.”

Outsiders can become insiders then, given the right attitude by the hosts.

The looming Rugby World Cup gives the Us and Them question a new impetus.

Toulon player Steffon Armitage is the subject of hot debate. Britain’s Rugby Football Union stipulates that, in order to be considered for the England squad, a player must play in the Aviva Premiership. Exceptions are permitted, though, and one would have thought Armitage’s talents would have had England coach Stuart Lancaster calling.

Apparently, Lancaster is afraid introducing an outsider — even a British one — would upset his current team.

Pragmatic Australia have no such qualms. The Australian Rugby Union has amended its RWC eligibility rules in time to give another Toulon veteran a shot at inclusion. Matt Giteau might get another chance to play for his country. When he left Australia for France, the rules were that foreign-based players were no longer eligible to play for the Wallabies. The new rules allow players with over 60 Test caps and at least seven years with Australian rugby into the squad.

We too have changed our rules since Heyneke Meyer became coach. The fact that the RWC will be played in the UK means players accustomed to northern hemisphere conditions will have an edge. That includes another Toulon player, Bryan Habana. Described last week in the London Sunday Times as “still quick but not lightning anymore and he spends too much time moaning”, Habana is nevertheless guaranteed a spot in the Springbok squad.

Meantime, World Rugby is under pressure to review its rule that allows foreign players to qualify for a national squad if they have lived in their host country for three consecutive years and have not been capped at A level in their country of birth. Rory Kockott qualifies to play for France under this rule.

I hope they review it. I think it takes the expediency of professionalism a bit too far. Rugby World Cups bring out the visceral patriotism in most of us and we ought to be allowed to indulge it once every four years, safe in the knowledge that every player in our team is indeed one of us.

 

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I HAVE just returned from London, where I looked in vain for some evidence of excitement building up for the Rugby World Cup. Understandably, I guess, it has been eclipsed by Thursday’s general election, which will be as closely fought as the play-offs between the world’s top rugby teams are likely to be in a […]

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Soar of the Sea Hawks

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JUSTIN Swart makes his living from the sea, as did his father and grandfather before him.

It’s a tough life: he sets out most days in a small wooden boat before sunrise, sometimes returning only after dark. The boat is open, its crew exposed to the rain and the wind.

Sometimes, he says, the waves are so high, he loses sight of the other boats. It is a job that requires courage, physical strength and an appetite for risk.

All these qualities come in handy in the winter when he switches his focus to his other passion, rugby. Colder water means fewer fish so the boats go out less often, which means more time to devote to his team, the Arniston Sea Hawks.

Arniston is a charming seaside village on the southern Cape coast, about a three-hour drive from Cape Town. It is split roughly in two, with the Arniston Hotel in the centre.

On the left are the largely white-owned holiday houses and on the right, the 200-year-old fishing village of Kassiesbaai. Just below the hotel is the small harbour with its flotilla of brightly coloured fishing boats.

At the entrance to Kassiesbaai is the Sea Hawks Rugby Football Club. The grounds are well-maintained and lined by floodlights. The land was donated to the club by Denel, the state arms manufacturer, which has a test range up the road.

The Sea Hawks are one of the 225 clubs which make up the Boland Rugby Union and they play in the Boland-organised Overberg First League. The Sea Hawks lost their first game, against Caledon, and last Saturday they were due to take on Grabouw’s Spring Roses.

I watched them train one evening last week: the players arrived one by one, each unpacking their boots from a plastic shopping bag. After some limbering up, much of the training centred on passing, deft and quick.

Around the edges of the field, about 15 small boys kicked balls and crashed into tackle bags.

The Sea Hawks is run by a committee with a chair, vice-chair, secretary, treasurer as well as three additional members. Most were at the training session despite a chilly wind, and relative darkness, thanks to load shedding.

The secretary of the Sea Hawks is also a member of the all-powerful fishermen’s union. Kassiesbaai is one big erf, controlled by the union, which allocates ground for the building of houses — the only criterion being that the applicant, or his/her mother or father, must have been born in Kassiesbaai.

There are about 150 houses, all of which conform to the traditional style: either white-washed or clad in local stone.

There is a primary school, a library, a clinic and about 1,000 people live here.

Fishing and rugby are the primary activities.

Walk around Kassiesbaai and you will see groups of boys of all ages throwing balls to each other.

The Sea Hawks field two teams in the league and have a squad of 50 players, aged from 18 to the late 30s. Almost all are fishermen. But, mostly, fishing is about subsistence. About 80% of the players are officially unemployed.

Jobs are scarce. The hotel employs a few people from Kassiesbaai, including Justin’s mother, Kathleen.

A few women clean the holiday houses on the ether side of town. Denel mops up a few more.

In an area of such high unemployment, one might expect more delinquency but, apart from a couple of troublesome families, Kassiesbaai is largely drug and gang free. The Sea Hawks play a valuable role, soaking up the energies of underemployed young men and giving them discipline and purpose.

Boland Rugby Union organises the league and provides courses in coaching, administration and refereeing but they do not provide any financial help.

This is a source of frustration to the Sea Hawks.

This financially straitened community must raise R2,700 just to register for the league. On top of that comes the cost of equipment, jerseys, boots, balls and travel for away games. Because there is so little commercial activity in the area, they struggle to find sponsors. Yet they somehow manage to make it work.

About 250 people attend home games on average and they pay an entrance fee: R10 for adults and R5 for kids. Extra money is raised from the sale of cooldrinks and boerewors rolls.

Plastered around the village last week were posters advertising transport to Grabouw for Saturday’s game.

Spectators are invited to join the team bus in order to help pay for it: R50 for adults and R25 for children. The players have to fork out too: R25 each. This is the only way they can afford to travel.

There are similar clubs all over the Boland region, many in poorer and more dysfunctional communities.

As in Kassiesbaai, rugby plays a useful role in strengthening social cohesion, providing boys with good role models and keeping them off the streets.

I hope that the Boland Union reconsiders their priorities. Instead of spending their money on fielding professional teams in the Currie Cup and Vodacom Cup, it seems to me it would be far better spent on their constituent clubs. This is where nation-building begins.

Swart is now 34. In a couple of years’ time, he will hang up his boots and go on one of the coaching courses provided by Boland Rugby Union so that he can help nurture the next generation of Sea Hawks.

*This column first appeared in Business Day
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JUSTIN Swart makes his living from the sea, as did his father and grandfather before him. It’s a tough life: he sets out most days in a small wooden boat before sunrise, sometimes returning only after dark. The boat is open, its crew exposed to the rain and the wind. Sometimes, he says, the waves […]

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