Clinton van der Berg
How do you like your Springbok captains? Tepid, shy and introverted, or vibrant, outspoken and iron-willed?

Frankly, there have been few of the former. Siya Kolisi, the man in possession, is very much a man who wears his heart on his sleeve, a proud new South African down to his boot straps.

To see him dragged through the mud this week because of him having an opinion about transformation was scarcely believable. The news cycle churns slowly in January, but this was ridiculous.

If Kolisi, a black man with a lived experience of transformation, cannot venture an opinion about something so central to his core, who might qualify to do so?

It’s an inherent understanding of being Springbok captain that you take a stand, even on social issues. It’s known as leadership.

“I wouldn’t want to be picked because of my skin colour because that surely wouldn’t be good for the team, and the guys around you would know,” Kolisi said, also referencing Nelson Mandela.

The truth is that 25 years after the dawning of democracy, the rugby landscape is littered with the bodies of quota victims.

This is because in all this time rugby has grappled and battled with the realities of the new South Africa; a reality that we live in a country for all. And yet still we rage and snap and snarl over transformation.

Quotas haven’t been the silver bullet.

The World Cup win in 1995 was supposed to be the great watershed, but it was merely a mirage.

A succession of politicians and administrators waded in and quotas were created. In theory, they made sense, but in reality, they proved inherently insulting. Players want to be selected because they deserve to be. Enough of them, Kolisi among them, have said so.

To disavow quotas is not to reject transformation. Kolisi is a supporter of transformation, as is every fan who wants the game to thrive in South Africa.

It’s pure mathematics  selecting from a crop of 60 million people rather than five or six million ensures a far stronger team.

Transformation is less about quotas then it is creating pipelines for black players to develop. Nurture the buds of talent that exist in dusty townships as much as they do in traditional rugby schools and the fruits are bound to flourish.

Transformation is about creating opportunities and ensuring that young black players, traditionally excluded because of limited access to facilities, nutrition and expertise, are exposed to the very things that help develop more privileged players.

It is the duty of SA Rugby to help enable this, but it is chiefly government’s role to lay on facilities. Shouting down a great totem like Kolisi in parliament helps nothing.

Coaches themselves must transform, but someone like Rassie Erasmus can only select black players who are offered up through the system. If transformation works, as it increasingly does at schoolboy rugby weeks, where quotas are largely unnecessary, great black players will emerge without social engineering.

Quotas serve only to help the optics and are not sustainable, rooted as they are in the crude numbers game. Transformation is a more fluid and viable ambition and, done properly, will reach far more aspirants than the chosen few.

Kolisi is the embodiment of transformation. He should be lauded for working so hard to become one of South Africa’s best.

@ClintonV


Sunday Tribune

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