JOHANNESBURG - Don’t let the facts get in the way of a good story.
I was reminded of this by a close friend of mine in the aftermath of the "Ashwin Willemse-Nick Mallett-Naas Botha-Supersport walkout” saga that has been a bitter reminder of how rugby continues to divide instead of uniting us.
All my friend wanted to know was why Willemse walked out of the studio during a live production?
My response was somewhat complicated but in truth I answered: "I don’t know. But there must have been something said off air that made him do something like that.”
But none of that was taken on board by the masses on social media.
What I saw of mainly white South Africans was how Willemse had “stormed out”; “thrown his toys out of the cot”; “how unprofessional he was” and “there we go again with the political crap and race card”.
From the now famous black Twitter, it was support for Willemse and a continuous referral of Botha and Mallett as “racists” and "relics from apartheid".
Unfortunately, nobody wanted to deal with the facts. The real narrative of this entire saga, however, is that we remain divided as a nation and particularly the rugby fraternity.
Willemse, before calmly walking off, mentioned that he had always been considered a “quota” player throughout his playing career and has worked hard to earn the respect that he enjoys today. And right there is the ugly but real fact that white South Africa doesn’t want to acknowledge - Rugby continues to undermine black people.
Willemse was speaking of the reality that faces every black person involved in the game; from administration, all the way down to the ground staff. No matter how good a rugby player, at some point, if you are black, you have been called a quota. And even when you have excelled over your white counterparts - used as a barometer - coaches, fans and the media continue to question your worthiness to play Super Rugby and for the Springboks.
As if that is not bad enough, black people are often reminded that our dark pigmentation is the reason why we can’t be head coaches, captains or CEOs. Instead, we are reduced to team managers and baggage masters.
I had the privilege to attend one of the oldest schools in the country, which has produced many Springboks, Proteas and captains of industry. I spent many Friday and Saturday nights watching and reporting on club and schools rugby in my formative years as a journalist in Pretoria, the bastion of Afrikanerdom and rugby.
After a couple of years of learning my trade, honing my skills, I graduated to the air conditioned press suite at Loftus Versfeld where I had some of my best and worst days as a journalist.
I celebrated and cried tears of joy when I saw John Mametsa, Akona Ndungane and Bryan Habana ordained as the “Kings of Loftus". But I struggled to contain the anger that raged inside every time my black colleagues and I made the long walk from the parking lot to the press box with shouts of “Die sokker is more” (The soccer is tomorrow) or “Ek is ‘n boer, wat is jy?” (I am a boer, what are you?).
The same rage was ignited when a Springbok team was announced from deep within the bowels of Loftus with just enough black players named to keep the politicians quiet, while perpetuating the very doctrines of apartheid South Africa.
In all of these 17 years that I have been involved in the game as a journalist, there have only been a few moments where I felt that I was part of it and have been accepted and acknowledged, like my white counterparts. For a large part of these 17 years, my credentials have constantly been questioned and my opinions been reduced to “rants” and “radical” political views.
It has never been because of the content of my words but rather raging protestations about what I say and write about because I am a black man. However, my experience is not the exception but the norm and not only confined to rugby but to all spheres of life.
It is even worse as a black man and it is evident in the sprinklings of positions of authority we hold and meagre crumbs of remuneration in salaries that we hold little sway in a country where we are the majority.
We are treated as sub-human. I know all of this to be true, so too Willemse’s words before the walkout, not because it makes for a good story but because it is the reality we live in every second of every day.
My friend reminded me that until our lived story is seen, heard and understood as fact and reality, rugby will continue to divide us.