Posts Tagged ‘Grey College’

A tale of two would-be Springboks: Johannes and Fikile

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NO LESS a figure than Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu has weighed in on the rugby transformation debate.

In a letter to the Cape Times, written as the Springboks were preparing to take on Argentina in Salta last month, Tutu remarked that it was “particularly hurtful” to see the selection of black players as “peripheral squad members never given the chance to settle down and earn their spurs”.

“Now, 20 years later, I lament the tortoise pace at which transformation at the highest level is being effected.”

The country, he wrote, deserved a Springbok team that was representative of the “full spectrum of the rainbow that defines us — not on the basis of quotas or affirmative action or window-dressing, but on merit and for our long-term wellbeing as a nation”.

Tutu is entirely correct in lamenting the paucity of black Springboks and, as spiritual successor to Nelson Mandela, his words carry particular weight.

But I’m not sure they make a useful contribution to a debate that has become shallow and polarised. With accusations as serious as racism being bandied about, the South African Rugby Union is becoming increasingly paranoid and defensive. The government, under pressure from its own constituency, issues threats. Coaches, already under intense pressure to win no matter what is thrown at them, feel under siege. Racial quotas result in black boys from poor areas becoming commodities, bought by richer schools to bring up their numbers — and then ruthlessly discarded if they lose form.

A proper debate needs to be opened up about the role of rugby in SA which takes into account the fact that it cannot be separated from the ecosystem in which it operates. It can be argued, for instance, that the Springbok team is mostly white because, even in 2014, SA still affords white people the best chance of fulfilling their potential: and not only in sport.

We know that we live in the most unequal society on earth, with the biggest gap between rich and poor anywhere in the world. And the post-apartheid dispensation has only increased the concentration of wealth in the upper echelons.

Figures released by Stats SA earlier this year show that the poorest households are black and headed by women. Black rugby talent is largely concentrated in the Eastern Cape. Stats SA revealed that, in the Buffalo City metro, for instance, 45.8% of households are female-headed. Only 52.6% have piped water into their homes.

Almost one in five live below the poverty line.

Poverty follows a child from such a home — let’s call him Fikile — to school: where he is likely to encounter inadequate buildings, poorly motivated and educated teachers, little or nothing in the way of sporting or training facilities. It’s likely to be a non-fee-paying school, so operating with minimal resources.

No matter how talented a rugby player he is, his chances of developing his skills are limited.

Compare him to a pupil — let’s call him Johannes — at Grey College, Bloemfontein, the most prolific producer of Springboks. Grey College comes weighted with more than a century of investment from the ranks of SA’s privileged. Its buildings and sports facilities are magnificent. Parents can afford to pay for extra staff to supplement teacher numbers. Old boys are willing and able to make generous donations.

Johannes also benefits from historically enriched social capital: his mother will be waiting in her car to pick him up after practice. He will go home to a hot shower, a comfortable bed and a nutritious meal. He will likely have access to nutritional supplements. On match days his family will be out in force to support him.

Meanwhile, Fikile is more likely to have to make his own way home. He will have to fetch water from a communal shower to wash; his evening meal will be bread or pap. There will be little in the way of the protein essential in this adolescent growth phase to build the muscle required to make it as a top South African rugby player.

On match days he will have to hustle for taxi money to get to the field. His mother, single-handedly supporting her family, probably on a social grant, is unlikely to have either the money or the time to accompany him.

Both Fikile and Johannes will dream of one day donning the green and gold. But the lives each has been born into will determine which one has any chance of realising his dream.

This inequality extends beyond school. Black players have spoken about the additional stress poverty imposes on them even if they make it to semi-professional teams. One told how, throughout a training session, he would be fretting about whether he had enough cash for the taxi home afterwards, while his white teammate climbed into the Golf bought for him by his father.

This is serious because it distracts the black player from what should be single-minded concentration on his performance. The coach notices and chalks it up to lack of commitment — and he ends up being sidelined. Poverty brings with it a sense of shame so the black player is unlikely to try to explain his predicament in such a competitive environment.

Even at the highest level the emotional toll of inequality puts many black players at a disadvantage. For instance, Jean de Villiers’ dad, Andre, still accompanies him to almost every game, no matter where he plays. Andre de Villiers makes no demands on his son but is simply there to offer support.

By contrast, Siya Kolisi, who grew up in poverty in Zwide, has spoken of how he experiences his family as an additional source of stress: “If I don’t play,” he told me, “people in the township don’t eat.” So he has to deal not only with the psychic wounds of a deprived childhood but an ongoing dearth of emotional support.

Playing at Springbok level requires emotional resilience: you need to be able to bounce back from long injury lay-offs, poor results, losing your place in the team. Only players who have this kind of resilience are able to cement their places in the starting line-up. Life has given Jean de Villiers the best chance of acquiring this. Kolisi is one of thousands of talented black players for whom it will always be a struggle.

We are not going to be able to close the inequality gap in the short term so we need to think about how to draw on rugby as a nation-builder in the meantime.

*This column first appeared in Business Day

LETTER IN BUSINESS DAY (05-09-2014

LIZ McGregor’s brilliant analysis (A tale of two would-be rugby Springboks — Johannes and Fikile, September 4) has clarified and verbalised the thoughts that I, and perhaps others, have had about the question of black representation in the Springbok rugby side.

Her final paragraph is worth repeating: “We are not going to be able to close the inequality gap in the short term so we need to think about how to draw on rugby as a nation builder in the meantime.”

Thank you, Ms McGregor.

Cedric Harris
Via e-mail

Thank you, Cedric, for your kind words. It would be good if everyone interested in the game could talk about this more and come up with a more intelligent way of running the game.

 

 

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NO LESS a figure than Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu has weighed in on the rugby transformation debate. In a letter to the Cape Times, written as the Springboks were preparing to take on Argentina in Salta last month, Tutu remarked that it was “particularly hurtful” to see the selection of black players as “peripheral squad […]

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We should look at the real rugby factories

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A couple of months ago, in the final fixture of the school year, Dale Junior School’s Under 13A team beat Bishops 13A by 50 points to 5.  It was not the first time. In 2010, a touring Bishops Under 13A team got beaten 50-nil by Dale. This so intrigued me, given that Bishops is one of the richest schools in the country and Dale a struggling state school in one of our worst run provinces, that I headed to KingWilliamstown to investigate.

I found a veritable little rugby factory:  there are 500 boys and almost all of them play rugby. The 10 male teachers all double as rugby coaches.  They coach for four hours a week and the boys put in two hours of practice every day.  Obviously this produces great rugby. But it was the by-product that I found most interesting: two thirds of these boys come from single parent families so the coaches double as father figure.  It is from the coaches that these boys absorb what it is to be a man. And it’s all good, from what I could see: they learn discipline, team spirit, respect, confidence, emotional resilience and how to channel aggression into a measured fearlessness.

A little further up the hill is the senior school,  another grand, colonial era  building.  Here the picture is less rosy.  Despite its best efforts, Dale College suffers from the eco-system in which it operates.  Here the boys reach that adolescent growth phase where protein is crucial to building muscle and strong bones. Instead, poverty dictates that the boys eat bread three times a day.  Because the school has a 98% matric pass rate in a sea of failing schools, it attracts pupils from as far as Mdantsane, 50 kilometres away. Getting to practice and matches means hustling for extra taxi money.

Dale has a small, basic gym. Their rugby coach doubles as buildings administrator because they can’t afford a full-time coach.  The only help they get from their local SARU union, Border, is some part-time coaching from one of their coaches, which the school has to pay for.

This is in sharp contrast to schools like Bishops, Paarl Gym or Grey College who have entire departments devoted to rugby:  specialist coaches, biokineticists, physiotherapists and state-of-the-art training equipment.  What Dale has in abundance is talent, passion and culture. In the lofty corridors at Dale,  I encountered the same sort of courtesy  as I get from the boys at St Johns or Bishops. As the coach, Grant Griffiths, pointed out: “You couldn’t ask for a better bunch of boys. They are so polite, so humble, so hard-working.’

I stayed on for their annual derby against their traditional rival: Queens College from nearby Queenstown, another 90% black school still steeped in the traditions of British public schools. Aside from the game itself, – which Dale won 21-8 – what I found fascinating was how both schools had integrated the various traditions.  At the start of the game, the boys massed in stands at the edge of the field – Queens all in yellow; Dale in red and black – sang their traditional school songs. Initially these were in English and  Latin. As the game progressed, the drums got louder and the songs switched to isiXhosa. The boys told me that, at home,  they tap their elders for ancient war songs and apartheid-era struggle songs and integrate them into a repertoire.

The point of all this is that this is where we should be looking if we want more black Springboks.  It is schools that produce Springboks. Since 1992,  some 21 schools have produced 40% of all the Boks capped since then.  All these schools are either private schools or former Model C schools, which means that most of their pupils are white. This is why we produce so few black Springboks.  The obvious solution is to strengthen former Model C schools which are now mostly black. Like Dale College. Bishops – which Dale consistently beats the hell out of in the junior years – goes on to produce twice as many Springboks. Six to Dale’s three.  And that is simply a case of better resources. The most productive is Grey College in Bloemfontein, with 22 Boks. Second is Paarl Gymnasium with 10.  Both these schools have highly organized and committed old boys’ organisations who pump funds into the schools.

By contrast, Dale, which has in the two decades since apartheid ended, transformed from a wholly white school to a predominantly black one, gets very little help from its old boys.  The only sponsorship it gets is R40,000 from FNB every alternate year for the hosting of its Classic Clash against Queens.

If we want the Springboks to become consistent world-beaters, we need to be nurturing talent wherever it is to be found.  And it is to be found in abundance at Dale. It seems to me an opportunity waiting to be seized: it costs only around R30,000 a year for tuition and boarding fees. Putting a boy in the hostel means he will be properly fed and won’t have to beg for taxi money to get to practice.   Invest in the same coaches, mentors and training equipment that Bishops and Grey Bloem enjoy and you’d soon find yourself with another Springbok factory.

 

McGregor is author of Springbok Factory: What it Takes to be  Bok (Jonathan Ball Publishers R195)

This column first appeared in Business Day

 

 

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  A couple of months ago, in the final fixture of the school year, Dale Junior School’s Under 13A team beat Bishops 13A by 50 points to 5.  It was not the first time. In 2010, a touring Bishops Under 13A team got beaten 50-nil by Dale. This so intrigued me, given that Bishops is […]

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