IOL Sport writer, Lungani Zama.
Only Siya Kolisi knows what he meant by the comments he made in Japan, but whose ramifications reverberated across South African Twitter.

Only the Springbok captain can clarify what compelled him to say that he believes late President Nelson Mandela would not agree with the quota system.

As statements go, it was a hell of a way to start the year. Of course, this country doesn’t need a second invitation to debate the merits of race and race relations in society  never mind in sport, and especially the historical hotbed that is rugby. So, if the SA Rugby Union wanted to go quietly into a truly massive year, then things have not really gone to plan.

South Africans love to debate across the racial fences that these storms create. Heck, the Kolisi chronicles have attracted so much attention that alleged fraud dealings have become barely a footnote, even if they implicate one of the most powerful men in world rugby.

In England, New Zealand or any other major nation, a misappropriation of funds case involving the CEO of the sport  even if it was before his term  would be a major scandal. But, in SA it has become the cameo role on the wing, while the transformation scrum holds court.

There are never any winners in these spiteful barbs shot across social media, often with nothing more than the intent of pouring slightly cheaper petrol onto a raging furnace.

Now, we have thousands of experts on the mind of Mandela and his line of thinking. We have interracial relationship experts, who can confidently attest that marrying across the colour line immediately changes your line of thinking.

We have rugby ‘experts’ claiming that Kolisi is showing emotional maturity, because he is unafraid to speak the truth. Depending on what version of the truth you live by. We have chunks of that eternal slugfest, Black Twitter, calling Kolisi a sell-out, and no longer one of ‘us’.

It’s always the way in South Africa. Us. And them. Those people, their thinking, their mistakes, our culture, our history.

Nearly 30 decades since his release, and Mandela is still a headline in debates about unity and transformation.

Kolisi, of course, is welcome to his views. There may be something in the constitution about freedom of speech. The rest of the country doesn’t have to agree with him. But, upon reflection, he might want to ponder whether he would have been a Bok captain in the 80s. Or, the 90s even. He might ponder whether a school like Grey High might have considered him as an option, had the criteria for teams at higher levels not looked to be more inclusive. He might also want to revisit the idea that the Gwijo songs he leads before matches - and after - would have been possible in the formative years of the rainbow nation’s ideals.

He might want to look at old Bok team pictures, and then gradually see the changing face each year. While he’s at it, he might want some figures in the crowds, and see how the introduction of the Dyantyis, Nyakanes, has seen the Thembis and the Siphos flick to grounds around the country. To support a team that the can identify with.

That is transformation.

No one can speak for the departed, but at least Madiba’s considerable actions spoke for themselves. He convinced a majority to turn the other cheek, and rather try to unite as one, instead of spilling civil blood in a war. He also bucked the trend, by going to a place like Ellis Park, unusual for men of his colour, even in 1995. I certainly don’t remember pictures of Pik Botha or FW De Klerk at the Old FNB Stadium to take in a football match of significance.

That is transformation; doing things differently to before, even if it is initially uncomfortable for some. Kolisi will have some interesting months ahead, but that has always been the lot of a national captain. And, given the divisive nature of his statements, he might find that rugby is a walk in the park, compared to the baying mob on the street.

This is South Africa, the perennial HQ of race relations and retaliations.


Sunday Tribune

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