Still Boer-baiting after all these years

Andrew Donaldson writes on the reaction by the UK press to the Rassie Erasmus video


THE 1969-70 Springbok tour to the United Kingdom and Ireland was a miserable business, coming as it did in the aftermath of the Basil D’Oliviera affair. At every turn, it seemed, the tourists were faced with anti-apartheid demonstrations led by the young activist Peter Hain. 

On the field, captain Dawie de Villiers [1] and his men were woeful. They lost to Scotland (3-6) and England (8-11), drew with Ireland (8-8) and Wales (6-6), and pulled off an unlikely victory against a Barbarian side (21-12).

As expected, the tour generated considerable discussion back home and the team’s performances were analysed for months afterwards. When, however, it came to possible causes of the Boks’ failure, none was more alarming than the one offered by schoolmaster Gert Yssel. He wrote to the Sunday Times:

“To us in South Africa, rugby is really our god with a small letter, and to be defeated like that: the mishaps, the players who were injured — it was abnormal. God spoke to us. The people of South Africa are sinning against God by these shameful dresses — miniskirts. God took the matter up and He is punishing us…” [2]

Fifty years later, rumbles of displeasure echo through the pantheon and divine wrath is to rain down on South African rugby once more. The gods are angry. Venerated mastodons stir, steam hissing from battered cartilage that once passed for ears. There has been impertinence. The Guardians of the Game have been called to assemble and pronounce on recent disturbances…

This time, however, it is not short skirts that have angered the heavens, but Rassie Erasmus. And, what’s worse, there is mounting evidence that it is not merely the director of SA Rugby that is the source of rancour but very many of his compatriots as well.

This, at least, was the impression I had upon taking in Owen Slot’s column in The Times on Tuesday morning. Slot is the Thunderer’s chief rugby correspondent, an award-winning journalist who, according to his bio, has “covered every rugby world cup since 1995”. [3] He is, like his colleagues Stephen Jones and Stuart Barnes, also a god. A minor deity perhaps, but a noisy one all the same.

These guys, in other words, walk on water as they bloviate. And do they ever. From great heights. Ever since Erasmus loaded up his hour-long instructional video in which he took issue with officials’ decisions during the first test against the British & Irish Lions, they have been pestering World Rugby to act against our errant water carrier. Not a day has passed without calls for the sport’s governing body to rear up on hind legs and put some brutes into detention. 

“It is five days since [the video was released], shocking the rugby world with its audacity,” Slot wrote. “As time moves by, though, the biggest surprise may not be the length of the video, or the tardiness with which World Rugby finally delivered a response to it. No, what really strikes you here in South Africa is how Erasmus has carried his country with him.”

The video, Slot claimed, is the “most open and controversial challenge” to the sport’s governing body. It has been widely condemned in the British and Irish media who first regarded Erasmus as “delusional” and then, interestingly, as some sort of “Bond villain in a tracksuit”.

“Here in South Africa, though, what the controversy has achieved is the buffing of his halo,” Slot said. “His hero status has grown. He is regarded as brave and strong. Some believe that he has sacrificed himself in the name of the Springboks, others that he has done so in the name of rugby.”

Damn and blast, Caruthers! The very nerve of these wretched natives, how dare they! Brazenly sticking up for their chap like that. Whatever next?

Slot suggested some sleight of hand behind the camera. The video did appear to be an emotional response to crappy decisions by referee Nic Berry and the match’s sacrificial lamb, TMO Marius Jonker. But it would never have been made “without a lawyer by [Erasmus’s] side”.

It was all “theatre”, like the way Erasmus was in tears when describing winger Makazole Mapimpi’s tragic background [4] in Chasing the Sun, the 2020 documentary on the Springboks’ World Cup victory. This, according to Slot, was “completely out of character”.

That may or may not be the case, but the “character” that appears to be uppermost in the minds of the visiting press is that tired stereotype of the Afrikaner. 

Never mind that age-old trope of the Springboks’ unimaginative, one-dimensional, physically brutal and, often, winning game, what we’re talking about here is the perception of their fans as knuckle-dragging troglodytes with a penchant for violent confrontation perhaps only matched by English football hooligans. 

One sports writer even suggested it “almost seemed a blessing” that the game was played before an empty stadium. 

“Had Erasmus forgotten that Tri-Nations game between his country and New Zealand 19 years ago, when the Springbok fan Piet van Zyl ran on to the pitch and physically assaulted the Irish referee Dave McHugh during the course of the game,” David Walsh wrote in The Sunday Times. “That situation needed Richie McCaw and fellow players to pull Van Zyl off the referee. How safe would the officials have been in front of the home crowd yesterday?”

An isolated incident that took place 19 years ago? Seriously? 

It’s no wonder Boks fans won’t listen to these experts. One of these local types is the columnist Gareth van Onselen, who echoed many of his fellow supporters’ sentiments when he tweeted last week: “Cannot tell you how much I rate that @RassieRugby video. Just a devastatingly calm and systematic breakdown of refereeing decisions that defy logic. Outstanding, and perfectly valid questions which deserve an answer.”

To the British writers, though, the video was anything but calm and systematic. This from Stephen Jones in the The Sunday Times on the “most poisonous build-up” to the second test: “[Erasmus] kept up such a preposterous torrent of moaning that what started as the traditional complaints of the losing coach became rank bad sportsmanship and by the end of the week had become a disgrace … The centrepiece of his raving and ranting was [the video] that he made of his complaints.” (These guys have obviously never reported on rallies addressed by Eugene Terre’Blanche.)

As Van Onselen suggests, the video contains many valid questions that deserve to be answered. But there is one that sticks out, in my mind, and that concerns race.

Among the points Erasmus raised was the that referee Berry did not spend more time in conversation with Bok captain Siya Kolisi, dismissing him while having on a number of occasions a fair old natter with his Lions counterpart, Alun Wyn Jones.

The fact Kolisi supported his former coach on this matter both before and after the second test, Slot wrote, would reassure those fans who were “feeling slightly agnostic” about Erasmus. “Here was the team’s Afrikaner leader and its black leader pulling in the same direction. Do not underestimate how reassuring that image is to a fractured nation.”

Gee, thanks for the condescension. Still, we know you mean well…  

Others were not as generous. This was a “sinister” insinuation, and there was amazement that Kolisi would “double down” on the claim that he’d been disrespected by Berry. Worse still, here was the race card. It was “sewer-level stuff”, Jones fumed. No-one had yet mentioned the “R” word, least of all the South Africans. But it was inevitable that someone would. And why not?

There it is, racism of one kind or another, forever lurking beneath the surface of the South African narrative, waiting to be fished out and waved about like a trophy. (As Bob Dylan sang of the man who walked into the room with a pencil in his hand, “Something is happening here, but you don’t know what it is, do you, Mr Jones?”)

And what of Saturday’s game? The British writers are suggesting that, as the officials have been told to hurry up the TMO process, the game won’t be the “unwatchable” stop-start affair that it was last weekend, with a first half that dragged on for more than an hour — although, as the eminently sensible Darrel Bristow-Bovey tweeted, “I am starting to suspect that people who claim to find Saturday's match unwatchable didn't watch all of Saturday's match.”

Bristow-Bovey, incidentally, provided Saturday’s tweet of the day, which came, unsurprisingly, during the second half of the game: “South Africans are looting these mauls.”

And now that Erasmus is to face an independent misconduct hearing, there is some consensus among the visiting hacks that the third test will be a more pleasant affair. Rugby will be the winner, as they so often say. A more measured Jones, his neck wound in ever so slightly, had this prediction on the closing fixture of the “most bizarre” tour ever staged: “The South Africans will also be different. Hopefully, Erasmus has gone hoarse — or will when he begins to to realise the betrayal he inflicted on the reputation of South African rugby.”

That’s quite a pronouncement, but then, as you know, it comes from above. ___STEADY_PAYWALL___

Another fierce contest

All-out sibling rivalry this week as Zuma twins Duduzane and Duduzile vied with one another for our attention and support as they continued to paint poor Pop as a man unjustly shortchanged by the courts.

Duduzane got off to a running start, bagging an interview with Rapport in an attempt to distance himself from the riots carried out in his father’s name. Unfortunately, the next president forgot to bring along the family brain cell and it wasn’t long before the scoreboard reflected not one but two unusual own goals, both scored while dribbling with a foot in the mouth.

First, Dudu Two Shoes suggested the looters were victims of systemic poverty and had “no other choice” than to go on the rampage. Why, he’d probably do the same if he was in their situation — even though it was most likely wrong to do so. 

“It should never have come this far,” he said. “The people who’re responsible for the violence must be held accountable. Whether they’re people who’ve stolen on the ground, or whether they’re people who’ve made themselves guilty of inciting violence and anarchy, these people must be prosecuted.”

There’s no denying many South Africans are in dire straits, desperately poor and jobless. But neither should we forget that this is a direct result of the ineptitude, corruption and cronyism of ANC rule. The real looters, in other words, were those who hung out at the Saxonwold Shebeen with uBaba’s blessing. 

His second goal was a doozy. He’s adamant that his father is innocent of all wrongdoing and that the Constitutional Court has infringed on his rights. But the “old man” is a fighter and “seemed to be doing well” in prison. There are fears, Rapport noted, that violence could erupt again if his father’s bid to overturn his prison sentence fails. Should that be the court’s ruling, Dudu believes his father should complete his stretch. “If I were in his shoes,” he said, “I’d just serve the prison sentence. It’s only 15 months.” 

Well, exactly.

His sister probably doesn’t agree. Duduzile has a calendar and 15 months is simply 15 months too many. On Monday, thumbs heavy as ever on the upper case key, she tweeted: “Today Is The 27th Day @PresJGZuma Is Sitting In Prison, Jailed Without A Trial. The ConCourt Is Still Silent On The Rescission Judgment! Where Is The Justice? #FreeJacobZuma #FreeZumaNow

More interestingly, the Village Ivanka then took on Naomi Campbell in a fit of rage after the supermodel posted an open letter to her father, urging him to man up and appear before the Zondo commission. Decrying the violence and criminality of the Zuma riots and how they will impact on peaceful South Africans, Campbell said:

“Each day you defy the courts and stoke division you take a step backwards from Madiba’s vision for South Africa to prosper and for their not only be equitable political justice but also economic justice. (sic)

“If you still consider yourself a leader then please act and take responsibility like one. Agree to finish your appearance in front of the State Capture commission and equally you will have your days in court to contest the corruption charges alleged against you. . . Put the Nation first PEACE IN SOUTHAFRICA #NAOMIAFRICA

Dudu hit back low and hard with tweets about Campbell’s battle with addiction and a reminder that, in 1997, she had been given dodgy uncut diamonds by Liberian dictator Charles Taylor at a dinner hosted by Nelson Mandela. Typical of catfights, there was also hair-pulling. Dudu posted unflattering 2010 paparazzi photographs of Campbell that suggested she was losing hair as a result of traction alopecia. [5] She warned the model that writing nonsense about politics would get her into “Hairy Situations”. Such a wag, that one.

With that, there came a torrent of abuse from Zuma supporters, bluntly telling Campbell to butt out of South Africa’s affairs as she had no skin in this game. 

This is nonsense. Had Naomi not symbolically adopted Mandela as her honorary grandfather? Was that not enough? What else was a poor girl to Dudu?


[1] When De Villiers was appointed ambassador to the Court of St James in 1979, he received a note from novelist William Donaldson (no relation) writing as Henry Root, wet fish merchant: “Because of the internal difficulties of your great country … you’ll run into a bit of flack over here from ignorant elements in our society: professional liberals who, at a safe distance, like to protest at the robust methods by which your hard-pressed security police uphold the law. I don’t have to tell you not to pay any attention. Peter so-called Hain has no constituency. What does he know of your country’s internal difficulties? It’s an intolerable impertinence, in my opinion, for the citizens of one country to criticise the customs of another, and I hope very much that, in the course of your stay with us, you’ll be outspoken in your own criticisms of anyone in this country who holds an opposing view.” De Villiers fell for the hoax, even obliging a request for a photograph. From The Henry Root Letters (Weidenfeld & Nicholson, 1980)

[2] Yssel’s letter, published June 14, 1970, continued: “Miniskirts are the outstanding sin in South Africa. The fact is that they disclose their thighs, which is sexually mingled up in a man’s mind with the private parts of a woman. If you see the upper thighs of a woman, you are struck, sexually struck. And the worst part about it is that when the ladies sit next to a man driving a car they can see almost up to their private parts. What man can withstand that? And my main point is that God came from Heaven. When Adam and Eve fell into sin, they covered themselves in leaves; they made a kind of miniskirt; and God came down and He had animals killed and He took those skins and He made proper dresses for them.” From Apartheid: The Lighter Side by Ben Maclennan (Chameleon Press/Carrefour Press, 1990)

[3] “Yes, but covered with what?” — Unnamed sot, the Slaughtered Lamb (“Finest Ales & Pies”)

[4] Mapimpi was raised in rural Free State. His mother died in a car accident in 2004, which left the 14-year-old boy in the care of his grandmother as his father had long since abandoned the family. Five years later, his sister succumbed to an illness in her brain. Then his brother was electrocuted stealing electricity cables. He is, the Telegraph dramatically reported last month, “in pain. Not the sort which shows up on a scan or can be dulled by an ice bath, but the kind of gnawing, gut-wrenching pain for which there is no known cure – that caused by grief.”

[5] B-movie aficionados recognise the catfight as a regular trope of the “Babes in Cages” sub-genre of exploitation cinema: scantily clad women brawl with one another for supremacy in the prison-yard until wardens turn firehoses on them. Sometimes, where African-American women are involved, wigs are yanked off heads and used to distract or even temporarily blind opponents, a martial art manoeuvre known as “weave jitsu”.