A reputation of tough and tenacious, SA Rugby loses its spine
By Lennie Lurie
In an unprecedented vote on the 6th November 1962, uniting nations on both sides of the Iron Curtain, the UN General Assembly passed Resolution 1761, condemning South African Apartheid policies and called for the imposition of economic sanctions on South Africa. While nations such as the United States and the United Kingdom were at first reluctant to impose sanctions, by the late 1980s, both countries and 23 other nations had passed laws placing various trade sanctions on South Africa.
An immediate arms embargo was followed by a trade embargo which played havoc with the burgeoning vehicle production factories in the eastern Cape province. Despite the large numbers of black employees who were dismissed as a result of production cut backs, they heartily approved of the economic sanctions even though their income was grievously affected. Anything which would contribute to the removal of the cruel, wicked and humiliating racial policies of Apartheid was encouraged and the black workers were prepared to bear the load of the economic boycott as it affected them as well.
When it was realised that the SA Government was not bending under the economic boycott, a cultural boycott was imposed on the Republic. No foreign entertainers and singers visited SA and no South Africans performers would be welcome overseas. The iconic and celebrated SA singer of authentic African music, Miriam Makeba, who gained international fame with her popular “click” song, wholly supported the cultural boycott, which made a strong impression on South African artists and entertainers.
Here again, the resolute and determined SA government remained steadfast in the maintenance and implementation of the Apartheid system.
Finally, it was decided to impose a sport boycott on all South African sportsmen and women preventing the proud ‘Springbok’ teams – notably in rugby and cricket – from competing abroad as well as officially banning any overseas countries and foreign sports team from touring South Africa. And this, dear friends, was the final straw which broke the back of the Apartheid system!
Economic sanctions against South Africa placed a significant pressure on the SA government. The cultural boycott made SA unwelcome overseas and isolated the country from foreign entertainers and performers. The real fear that the Springboks would no longer compete against the sports teams of other countries proved to be a hardship (particularly on the rugby field!) that even the most fervent white nationalist could bear.
In 1990, President Frederik Willem (F.W.) de Klerk recognized the economic unsustainability of the burden of international sanctions and felt the isolation of his country in all aspects of culture and sport. Reluctantly but finally and unreservedly, he released the nationalist leader Nelson Mandela and unbanned the African National Congress (ANC) that Mandela led. De Klerk and Mandela together guided the country to democratic elections in 1994, with Mandela as president. When Mandela was asked if the sanctions, especially the sports boycott, helped to bring an end to the apartheid system, Mandela replied “Oh, there is no doubt!”
Who can ever forget the emotional scene when Nelson Mandela congratulated the Springbok rugby captain, Francois Pienaar on winning the 1995 World Rugby Cup in Ellis Park. Rugby was as dear to Mandela as any white South African rugger lover – he never forgot the pressure of the international sports boycott on his country and how it contributed in breaking the vile and contemptible Apartheid system.
In light of the above historical review of the sports boycott on South Africa, it is therefore most surprising and deeply disappointing to read that the South African Rugby Union (SARU), had on the 3rd February, 2023, rescinded its invitation, given in August, 2022, to have the Israeli rugby team Tel Aviv Heat compete in the 2023 Mzansi Challenge tournament – also known as the Currie Cup First Division, which is scheduled to start on the 24th March with teams from Kenya, Namibia and Zimbabwe and six SA provinces.
The Tel Aviv Heat team includes a number of South Africans and its coach, Kevin Musikanth, was born in South Africa.
The SARU President Mark Alexander stated that it had “listened to the opinions of important stakeholder groups” and took the step “to avoid the likelihood of the competition becoming a source of division.” A more accurate and honest reason being that the SARU bowed under pressure and alleged threats from supporters of the South African BDS (Boycott, Disinvestment, Sanction) Coalition.
This cowardly and shameful volte-face decision by the SARU is not only insulting to the Israeli Tel Aviv Heat rugby team but it is a despicable slap-in-the-face to the sporting image of South Africa which knows only too well the historical background of imposing a sports boycott on a fellow sporting nation or team. To comprehend that the all-powerful SARU has cowardly kowtowed to insidious pressures and / or threats of the SA BDS Coalition, an anti-Israeli group of South Africans who are known as talkers, not doers, is all the more pathetic. It is indeed a sad day when South African rugby has lost its independence, objectivity and neutrality in matters relating to sport and becomes a spineless puppet manipulated by an anti-Semitic group, simply pulling on distant strings!
Let SARU bow its head in shame in stooping so low as to callously affront the proud and heroic image of that South African leader, known to all his friends as ‘Madiba’, who had the courage to welcome and support a sport boycott as a means of exerting pressure on a government that oppressed his people under the scourge of Apartheid.
Not long ago, the University of Cape Town, again under pressure from BDS student supporters, decided to impose a boycott on all Israeli universities and colleges. UCT soon realized that it had more to lose than gain by such an ill-advised and self-defeating act and promptly withdrew its boycott threat after it was inundated by letters from former students informing the UCT council that they would discontinue all financial aid should UCT enact the boycott. Frankly, UCT could be in greater need of ground breaking Israeli academic discoveries and inventions than vice versa!
Likewise, SARU has already lost face in the eyes of many Israelis and probably Israeli supporters world-wide. Making excuses about “competition becoming a source of division” when it is well-known that the BDS threat was the real reason, places SARU as a pathetic and weak-willed organization, susceptible to the crudest form of verbal pressure.
Even the image of the proud Springbok emblem has been irrevocably tarnished and sullied by the cowardly collapse of SARU.
One can only exclaim: How the mighty have fallen!
About the writer:
A B.Sc. graduate in Economics and Geology from the University of Cape Town (UCT), Lennie may be the only volunteer from abroad who was granted permission to leave his group on kibbutz during the 1967 Six Day War to rejoin his paratroop brigade that he had served with years before following his matriculation in Cape Town. In Israel, Lennie has worked as an Export Manager for some of the country’s major food manufacturers and chemical companies as well as an independent consultant in Export Marketing guiding many small Israeli businesses to sell their products and services in the world-wide market. As a result of a work accident in 1995, Lennie made a career change and became an independent English teacher working mainly with hi-tech companies and associated with universities and colleges in the north of Israel.
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