A decade of Jacob Zuma has made South Africans more desperate but also more wary of politics and receptive to Siya Kolisi’s brand of sincere, lived-in pragmatism. It could all soon end in defeatism if Eben Etzebeth’s denial of the charges does not stand up, writes Cecelia Balfour.
Siya Kolisi has a fine sense of occasion, so on Monday, after a whistle stop at Parliament to show off the Webb Ellis trophy, he made an overtly political statement at the Grand Parade. He looked at the sea of people and said: “Look around you. Here’s different races, different people of different backgrounds, but look at how special you made it for us.
“So I’m saying it’s time for us South Africans to stop fighting, stop arguing.”
It was the first, plaintive, rallying cry on the country’s race plight by a Springbok captain and he made it sound as matter of fact as telling the scrumhalf to get the ball out of the ruck now. Ever serviceable, Faf de Klerk shoved a protea into his one-love, one nation pants, and danced a little dance.
On Tuesday, the political fighting continued apace in Parliament and it embroiled the Springboks from the morning in the portfolio committee on justice to the afternoon in the National Assembly.
First up was Buang Jones, the acting head of legal for the South African Human Rights Commission, who was party to the decision to report lock Eben Etzebeth to the Equality Court for racial abuse. He was interviewing for the job of deputy public protector and got called offside by Democratic Alliance MP Glynnis Breytenbach with a seemingly benign question about his understanding of the rule of law and the principles of natural justice .
Breytenbach heard out his textbook response and then asked how he reconciled it with calling Etzebeth a repeat offender who got away “even with murder”.
Jones replied that the remarks were informed by the number of people who claim to have been racially assaulted by Etzebeth while the police and the National Prosecuting Authority did nothing.
“It is correct that I said we will make an example of Mr Etzebeth, this statement was made in reference to the criminal theory of deterence and it is also in the Equality Act because as a country we should take incidents of racism seriously given our history, so the statement was made in reference to other alleged incidents involving Mr Etzebeth and his family and friends and we said it stops here.”
I clearly heard him mention along the way that Etzebeth hails from red-neck Parow but don’t know if I imagined the inference that this added meaningful context.
Later, as the National Assembly debated a motion to congratulate the Springboks, the Economic Freedom Fighters’ Mbuyiseni Ndlozi elaborated on his spoiler’s tweet to say the squad did not mirror the demographics and the wild street party welcoming them home was the sight of blacks colluding with white dominance to forge a false shared subjectivity.
He had five minutes instead of 140 characters, time to add nuance and a politically expedient reading of Franz Fanon’s early theory. Ndlozi was right to remember the black rugby heroes of the seventies, obscured by segregation, and to ask why only Makazole Mapimpi has risen out of the ghetto of black league rugby while there are [almost] as many black rugby players in the Eastern Cape than white people in the country.
But his inevitable call for the Bokke to fall was a reminder that race forcibly defines every part of lived reality around here. After two earlier World Cup where any hope of transcendent meaning wasted away, we might be running out of time and opportunity. A little like the DA, who after two failed attempts to stay the course behind a black leader cannot, for crying in a bucket, find an honest, alternate policy response to affirmative action.
What we have right now in rugby is an alternative to Ndlozi’s taunting and the Institute for Race Relations’s wishful thinking that a white male leader of the official opposition would yank the country into a future where race is irrelevant. It is as unconscionable to trap anybody in a mindset of oppression as it is to order them, in Cape Town fashion, to just let it go. Only those suffering decide when and how they find a makeshift peace.
Kolisi would have made his own reckoning, somewhere in what he calls his conversion from the township to the world of white private school privilege, and it was probably harder than it sounds in his telling and a more sophisticated feat than we suspect even now.
For the EFF, and sometimes the ANC though, black South Africans will remain in Fanon’s abject hell of “non-being” until the land is returned. We could take licence with his writing and argue instead for his later more redemptive vision of subjectivity as “a yes that resonates with cosmic harmonies”. We could remind Ndlozi that equality through redistribution would require a biblical miracle because the wealth base is too small, and that Fanon himself rejected the notion of reparations.
But it’s a mug’s game because his true agenda is to undermine the Ramaphosa regime. Right now it’s backfiring because the country’ is so hard-up for hope, we’ll take it anywhere we can find it and allow Prince Harry to pity us. On a side note, surely patronising a country, a former colony, is ruder than saying “hi” in your underwear?
This correspondent came to rugby very late, in fact roughly 25 minutes into the first half of this particular final, and saw grace in Mapimpi’s flight across the try line after a lifetime of refusing to watch an ungainly game with baggage. It is sweet irony that it took a black wing to turn a white woman on to a white game. It’s about right too that suddenly old Springbok fans cannot understand their new hero half the time because he is speaking Xhosa and don’t complain much.
A decade of Zuma has made South Africans more desperate but also more wary of politics and receptive to Kolisi’s brand of sincere, lived-in pragmatism.
It could all soon end in defeatism if Etzebeth’s denial of the charges does not stand up. There is television footage of him getting sentimental at Kolisi’s wedding to a white woman. Who wouldn’t cry, he said of the captain welling up, when you see the love of your life walk down the isle.
If the same man had turned into a racist thug outside a pub, Kolisi’s campaign will be undone by a team mate and personal friend. The country will retreat into self hatred. We shouldn’t because this is an existential long game, where nothing is ever fully resolved but it no longer defines everything. Where we wake up with the familiar ache of dichotomy in our bones and are free, even and especially the oppressed, to find our own emotional response.