Ag, no Rapport!

Jeremy Gordin says the media's shaming of Elton Jantjies and Zeenat Simjee was mean and unnecessary

I recently read that the whole world is reeling from the news that Springbok rugby player Elton Jantjies and team dietician Zeenat Simjee were sent home in disgrace from Argentina – where the white-knuckled Bokke are preparing to face the Pumas on Saturday.

This happened after reports emerged that the two of them apparently had a “secret” tryst in August while both were “on duty”.

Maybe though it’s only the “rugby world” that is reeling. Perhaps, because a red veil of anger suffused my eyes when I read the reports, I might have somehow mixed up the death of HM Elizabeth II with the travails of the (erstwhile?) Bok flyhalf and dietician.

Anyway, the point is that I, a tax-paying, law-abiding citizen and fourth estate veteran, feel deeply aggrieved about the way in which Jantjies – and Simjee and Jantjies’ wife and children – have been treated.

As you probably know, this shoddy and shameful brouhaha was precipitated by a nasty report in Rapport.

According to this weekly Afrikaans-language fish wrap, aided and abetted by other scurrilous news purveyors, Jantjies, aged 32 and winner of 46 test caps, allegedly “spent” several “romantic” nights in two “luxury” guest houses in and around Mbombela – with, as I said, Bok nutritionist/dietician Simjee – during the week leading up to the August test against the All Blacks.

I wonder why (jumping forward in time) Jantjies and Simjee were sent back from Argentina on the same flight, as they apparently were, just the other day. Were they made to sit next to one another? Or not allowed to do so? Either way, if you think about it, sending them back on the same plane was clearly “cruel and unusual punishment”.

More to the point, I must ask what sort of impimpi mentality pervades a publication so that it reveals information of this kind just when the Springboks, stuck in the South American wilds, are on the very cusp of trying to win the (southern hemisphere) Rugby Championship?

Was this Rapport report not tantamount to fifth column espionage? Where’s the esprit de corps? Honour? Patriotism? Ubuntu? Is this a “transformed media”? No wonder that there are people who believe the local media should be more strictly controlled; one begins to sympathize with them. 

Why have the SA Press Council and the SA National Editors’ Forum (SANEF) not taken issue with such so-called journalism? Why have we not heard righteous and apologetic words from Adriaan Basson, editor-and-virtue-signaller-in-chief of News24, of which Rapport is part?

Do coach Jacques Nienaber and the members of the SA Rugby Union (Saru) own backbones? Why allow yourselves to be bullied by the Press and public opinion? No wonder that in Javanese saru means “indecent, improper, unbecoming, and annoying”.

If former president JG Zuma has taught us anything at all, surely it is that a person is innocent until proven guilty – and that in any case his or her innocence (or not) should not be probed until after a key rugby match or matches. Remember the 2019 run-in between Eben Etzebeth and the loons from the SA Human Rights Commission?

The Elton confabulation was further larded with eye- and ear-witness testimony from some “father and son” from Pretoria (making me ashamed of where I was born); they were apparently booked into the room next door at one of the establishments. “‘[My son] told me it wasn’t Elton’s wife because he knows what she looks like,’ the father told Rapport. ‘We have lost the last ounce of respect for Elton’.”

Who cares, sir, about your petite bourgeoisie self-righteousness? All you wanted was your 15 minutes of fame in Rapport. Be ashamed of yourself, you misguided specimen of Seffrican whistle-blowing. And who’s interested in the self-righteous, private-school-type, Elton-damning musings of IOL rugby writer Mike Greenaway who, notwithstanding his employer, I previously quite respected?

Nogal, the forementioned creature from Pretoria apparently recorded – recorded! – “the [alleged] sounds of pleasure” emanating from Jantjies’ and Simjee’s room in the afternoon, and the [alleged] later heated argument in the early hours of the following morning.

“It was terrible, terrible swearing and shouting,” said the Pretoria man. “I heard Elton plead at one stage: ‘Please, my baby. Please, my lovey’.”

So? Never previously heard these moving and creative sounds before? Were your offspring delivered by a stork? And “please, my baby” doesn’t sound like swearing to me.

And the public crucifixion of Jantjies – and, for shame, that of his wife and children – continued apace in the Rapport report and others. There were allegations that Jantjies “left the following morning without paying” an amount of about R26 000 “and only settled his bill weeks later”. The reports further noted that “this latest shocking story” came just months after Jantjies “was detained at OR Tambo International Airport for a widely-publicised incident on board a flight back to South Africa”.

I ask again: never got a trifle fershnickered on some long-haul flight, when the movie apparatus was out of order, and tried to set up a date with the flight attendant, who, as the aircraft came closer to Joey’s, suddenly stopped being so friendly? (It’s part of their training.)

Personally I can’t claim to have done so – I tend to spend long flights reading – but I have some friends who’ve done so, and they’ve mentioned the toll it’s taken on their self-confidence. And we also need to remember that Jantjies – by inclination and training a man of action – was probably at a bit of a loose end after many hours of tedious travel.

Talking of which, can you imagine the huge stress – especially for a young man born in the wide-open spaces of Graaff-Reinet – of being locked down and spending months and months in hotels with the same bunch of guys (due to Covid)?

Orange juice with Siya Kolisi, mouthing his patriotic fiddle-dee-dah, Eben Etzebeth, Bongi Mbonambi, Faf de Klerk, and Kwagga Smith – every morning. Besides the halitosis (sportsmen will be sportsmen), imagine the level of conversation.

The only person I can think of who has to undergo comparable stress is Ramaphosa. Imagine (if you have the strength) those ANC NEC long weekends and having to break your fast with Gwede Mantashe, Zizi Kodwa, Bheki Cele, and Aaron Motsoaledi?

In the days when he was still writing vaguely comprehensible stuff, that nippy scrum-half manqué Jean-Paul Sartre wrote a play, No Exit (Huis clos, 1944), in which three deceased characters are punished by being locked into a room together for eternity – and during which we encounter the famous phrase, “L’enfer, c'est les autres,” “Hell is other people”.

Is it any wonder then that Jantjies was dying for an exit, just wanted to be with someone kind, gentle and knowledgeable about nutrition, with whom he could discuss, say, Jane Austen or even (if she insisted) Frantz Fanon. In my opinion, it’s quite credible, for example, that Jantjies said “please [don’t], my baby” when Ms. Simjee wanted to read aloud yet another Fanon passage.

Now then, one Craig Ray, generally a more competent rugby reporter than most, wrote in the Daily Maverick yesterday that “Although [the] private lives [of Jantjies and Simjee] and the consequences of their alleged liaison are really no business of anyone else, ... the story published by Rapport details unpaid guest house bills and late-night disturbances for other residents. That takes it into a different sphere”.

No, it does not.

There’s a story in the Babylonian Talmud (Shabbat 31a) about “a gentile” who said to Rabbi Shammai that he’d convert if Shammai could teach him all the Jewish laws and practices while he, the potential convert, was standing on one foot. For his impudence, Shammai whacked him with a “builder’s cubit” (a measuring stick; Shammai was a builder by trade).

So the fellow then went to Rabbi Hillel the Elder and put to him the same proposition. Hillel thought about it for a moment, told the fellow to stand on one foot, then famously said: “That which is hateful to you, do not do to another; that is the entire Torah; the rest is commentary”.

In other words, unless we are members of Jantjies’ family, Simjee’s family, Jantjies’ pastor, or his psychologist, there is only one issue that need concern us about Jantjies. How is he playing rugby? Well or not-so-well? The rest is needless commentary – and not our business. Finish en klaar.

What upsets me most, of course, is that this gleeful revelling in Jantjies’ and Simjee’s “outing” has in all likelihood ended their Springbok careers. They have been destroyed. They – and Mrs. Jantjies and the children – have been thrown without weapons, like Christians in ancient Rome, into an arena with flea-bitten but hungry lions. And yet we in the new South Africa are supposed to have seen the end of gratuitous cruelty.

Here’s what upsets me second-most, however. How can it be that in this day and age, Rapport – which, as mentioned, operates in a group where one of its editors-in-chief is a national paragon of virtue – and how can it be in this day and age that in all the other “media” which aped the Rapport story – that such an appallingly harmful stew was served up and greeted with general approbation?

Jantjies was also allegedly confronted about “the noise” at the guest house and responded: “Do you know who I am?” Besides the response to this question being (unfortunately for Jantjies) Yes, the question of course went straight up the confronter’s nose and then up those of all the nation’s self-righteous.

But it seems to me – if you follow my drift – that there are multitudes in this country, including members of the media, who don’t actually know who anyone is; i.e., who don’t really see anyone else as a fellow human being.