By John Robbie


My greatest regret in life is not keeping the letters I received after I started doing current affairs on Talk Radio 702.

When I had finished as a rugby player and started on radio as a sports reporter, the music station, as it then was, decided talk was the way to go.

I was offered the 10 o'clock spot in the evening and decided it would be current affairs with no holds barred.

My first show was on January 26 1990. The two hours went quickly and the agenda was simple - to talk about things on the radio the way they were talked about off it, and to get to the real point.

That was the simple philosophy and the first show crackled along and at times got a bit heated. I gave my views and when listeners disagreed I challenged them. It was robust and it was great.

Give, take, heat, light, but always the issue was discussed, and apart from humourous interludes it was the ball that was played, not the man.

Nonsensical views were exposed as such. "Cut the Slush" was the motto and the slush we cut every night.

A week later a man called FW stood up in a hall in Cape Town and the country changed for ever. Suddenly my little show became the very first forum for discussing the brave new world that was being sailed towards.

A week later I got a letter. It started off in descriptive mode with a scene in which I was tied up and stripped and slowly petrol was poured over me.

The writer then described how he would feel as a match was lit and dropped onto my body. He speculated about the noise and the aroma of the event.

Suggestions that I was a Communist organiser and a kaffirboetie, a term I didn't understand then, were given and the final observation was that in no way could I possibly understand South Africa and must go back to Ireland where the situation was just as bad.

Over the page were some suggestions that were both physically impossible and morally wrong.

The part I loved was that it was signed "a concerned Christian". I wish I hadn't thrown it away. It was a work of art.

Over the years I could have filled a dozen scrap books with such letters. One that was chilling had an AWB sticker and contained details of my wife's car and registration number and a death threat.

At the TRC a former cop revealed that at one stage a plan was discussed to have me shot because of my allegations about police brutality. The lack of logic of the police shooting someone because he protested about police excesses did not seem to strike the plotters as absurd.

I was stunned and upset initially at the bitterness and stupidity of people attacking me when my only motives were that all would somehow see and understand the incredibly generous opportunity that was being offered to everyone in the country.

Up to this point I had been a fairly popular sports player and commentator. It was unpleasant being a target.

As letters continued and the anonymous calls got worse and the cheap shots got cheaper in gutter newspapers I noticed that every so often a message would arrive that was different.

Someone would pen a note to say thanks for understanding what the real challenges were in South Africa and for trying to make a difference.

Always after some particularly nasty set of calls there would be one message that somehow made all the hate spewed out seem like a badge of honour.

I feel a bit like that at the moment. Having looked at the rugby row and the real issue at stake and having given honest views in print and on Boots 'n All, the same narrow-minded poison is welling up again.

That I am now a South African citizen with only one passport and have lived here for 23 years doesn't seem to matter to these sad people.

The fact that my only target is the eradication of something bad in the sport that I have loved all my life doesn't seem to make a difference.

The same abusive letters appear and the same ignorance and small-minded bigotry is displayed.

It's as though really looking at the message makes people uncomfortable and so they get sidelined by the messenger.

It does get me down, though. It makes me sad to think that blinkers are still common in this fabulous country.

Today I got a call from a black rugby official. He said thank you for trying to identify the real challenges in South African rugby and for doing it in a way that is honest and constructive.

What you see is what you get and from my side at least that's the way it will stay.

  • John Robbie presents the weekday morning drive show on 702 Talk Radio from 6-9am.