The furious emotions unleashed throughout South Africa by an incident in a TV studio over a discussion about rugby seem to confirm Sayre’s Law, which states, "In any dispute the intensity of feeling is inversely proportional to the value of the issues at stake."
We have all seen this law confirmed over and over again. In 1945, when the US Government was deciding whether or not to drop the atomic bomb on Japan, there were a few minutes of calm discussion before they gave orders to kill over 200 thousand people (and probably save over 20 million by ending the war). On the other hand, if you attend the AGM of your local golf club where they are deciding on some obscure club rule, you are likely to see grown up men turning purple with rage and screaming at each other for over an hour.
Perhaps the affair of Ashwin Willemse’s walkout, trivial in itself, did reveal deep and confusing problems in our attitudes towards race. I think so, and I think the resulting uproar was very disturbing. What bothered me most was a sinister vagueness. We were never allowed to get clear evidence or clear rules of correct behaviour.
This is what happened. On Saturday, 19 May 2018, on the SuperSport TV Channel, a chairwoman and three men, all rugby experts were discussing a match. The discussion was proceeding amiably when suddenly one of the experts walked off in a huff saying, "I’ve been in the game for a long time like most of us here. As a player‚ I’ve been called a quota for a long time and I’ve worked very hard to earn the respect I have now. I’m not going to sit here and be patronised by these two individuals (Mallett and Botha) who played their rugby during the apartheid era‚ a segregated era." The other two looked bewildered
I know nothing about rugby and was useless at it at school. I’ve only been to one rugby test match in my life (Springboks vs British Lions at Newlands in 1962) when I was a schoolboy. I was bored stiff. But knowledgeable people tell me this of the three men in question. Naas Botha was a rugby genius, one of the best players of all time. Nick Mallet was both a Springbok player and an outstanding coach. Ashwin Willemse was a fine Springbok player. Commentators seem to feel that on this occasion Botha and Mallet should be classified as “white” and Willemse as “black” (although the ANC’s Employment Equity Act might classify him as “Coloured”, a term it refuses to define).
I have now watched this little episode (3 min 54 sec) four times and could never pick up a whiff of racism from Mallet or Botha or any mention of Willemse as a quota player. Nonetheless, the Sports and Recreation Minister, Tokozile Xasa, called for the suspension of Botha and Mallett. From all the English speaking main stream media the opinion was unanimous: Botha and Mallet were wrong, Willemse was right and had been the victim of racism. What about the argument, surely a plausible one among others, that Willemse was embarrassed because he hadn’t prepared for the interview as well as he should? This was not allowed to be considered.