CAPE TOWN – The Saru SACOS Legends believe that the reported suggestion that Allister Coetzee should be a “ceremonial” Springbok coach under the watch of Rassie Erasmus is similar to a “baas en kneg” (master and servant) situation of the bad old past.
In a hard-hitting open letter penned by the Legends’ media and publicity secretary Sedick Crombie to SA Rugby president Mark Alexander this week, the non-racial organisation felt that it was “patronising and paternalistic in the extreme” to expect Coetzee to work under new director of rugby Erasmus.
In a letter to SA Rugby, Coetzee expressed his anger about a meeting he had had with chief executive Jurie Roux, where the coach expected to discuss the performance review and procedures.
“Instead‚ the meeting was used as a platform to inform me of SARU’s decision that it intends to‚ inter alia‚ terminate my contract of employment with immediate effect,” Coetzee said.
“You further informed me that a further aspect of the decision is that my services will be terminated regardless of the outcome of the anticipated performance review‚ as contemplated by my employment contract.
“And‚ should I wish to remain in SARU’s employment‚ I will be reduced to a ceremonial coach‚ and further that Johan Erasmus (‘Rassie’) has already been employed to replace me and is already performing the duties of the Springbok Coach.
“Should I be reduced to the position of a ceremonial coach, I would have to face the indignity of reporting to Rassie.”
The Saru SACOS Legends said that while Coetzee had not “pledged his allegiance to us”, the organisation wanted to air their views as many of the members had played alongside the former scrumhalf in the non-racial Saru fold in the 1980s.
The group felt that SA Rugby’s imminent dismissal of Coetzee “follows a set pattern when people of colour are being removed from their positions when coaching national sports teams” – citing previous black coaches such as Peter de Villiers and cricket’s Russell Domingo.
Coetzee is in the firing line after a poor first two years in charge, where the Boks have won just 11 out of 25 Tests for a 44 percent win average.
And despite an improved – results-wise – 2017 season, Coetzee’s team still suffered a record 57-0 thrashing at the hands of the All Blacks in Albany, and another history-making 38-3 loss to Ireland in Dublin.
The coach, though, said in his letter that there are mitigating circumstances to his performance, including his late appointment in April 2016 and not being able to choose his own management team from the start.
“My treatment since my return (from Japan) suggested that elements in SARU embarked on a deliberate attempt to undermine me from the word go, and to create the public impression of incompetence on my part, whilst wilfully obstructing my efforts to be successful,” Coetzee said.
“I will not allow elements in SARU to wilfully destroy me and render me unemployable, as was done to Peter de Villiers.”
That last line is a big part of the reason for the Saru SACOS Legends’ letter to Alexander.
“We do not ascribe to conspiracy theories, but do find the occurrence of such incidences, concerning the tenure of coaches who hail from disadvantaged backgrounds, quite regular.
“This has happened in the same undignified way with former Springbok coach Peter de Villiers, Stanley Raubenheimer (at Western Province) and even with cricket’s national coach Russell Domingo, where they were all unceremoniously being kicked to the side of the kerb.
“Disclaimers by those in authority that race was no yardstick cannot help to dispel the obvious.
“We have observed that the treatment meted out to Allister has taken on a set strategy ever since his tenure as Western Province coach.
“We do not personally know Rassie Erasmus, and he might for all and intentions be a great bloke, but the way he is being held up as the holy grail of rugby by certain rugby scribes, pundits and ‘those in the know’ for the top job makes one instantly see the link with Allister’s demise.
“Any person with a modicum of self-respect and those that know him surely can vouch for his character, and that he will not accept such ‘new’ conditions which he is expected to work under, that of a ‘ceremonial coach’.
“How patronising and paternalistic in the extreme to expect it of him, and which is akin to our not-too-distant inglorious past of ‘baas en kneg’ relationships.
“We do not afford our support to any cause as a knee-jerk reaction, but has with a degree of great disquiet watched the shenanigans displayed in putting down another coach of colour in such an unprofessional manner.
“We do not condone nor refute Allister’s claims, but do find it uncannily similar to that of Peter de Villiers’ claims of his demise, and this becomes a point which we in the SARU Legends find hard now to simply reject outright.”
The Legends said they will continue to monitor the Springbok coaching saga.
“The hard-fought victories of our non-racial sports fraternity need to be respected in equal measure, and be held in the same esteem as that of those who cannot lay claim to such noble contributions, for without us, South African sport and rugby would not enjoy the fruits it currently does.
“We have contributed to the game of rugby for more than a 100 years, and wish to remind all and sundry that the days where people of colour only carried the tog bags are long gone.”