Put prejudice where it belongs – on the rugby field

Watching rugby the other day (Super Rugby, featuring the best teams from Australia, New Zealand and South Africa), I got to thinking about the tough, young Afrikaners who, like all good rugby players, were doing their best to maim, if not murder, their Anzac opponents.

That in itself is not new, of course. South African rugby has traditionally been dominated by Afrikaners and rugby has always been a rough sport. (Though I can’t help thinking that the modern game – professional, scientific and with new laws – is closer to a license to kill than it ever was. I happened to fly to Australia last year on the same plane as the South African rugby team and, take it from me, they are fearsome creatures. Even the smaller ones among them look like they’ve been built by the same people who make the Merkava tank.) Continue reading

Can we learn the lesson of Mandela?

When Nelson Mandela was released from prison in 1990, South Africa was a catastrophe waiting to happen. Had Nelson been anything but Mandela – anything but that exquisitely modulated blend of common sense, compassion and authority – the whole place could well have gone up in flames. I was there in the days leading up to the 1994 elections, when Zulu impis were marching through the streets of downtown Johannesburg and die-hard racists were planting bombs and threatening a race war. Things were falling apart and the center wasn’t holding; South Africa was on the brink of civil war.

It’s no exaggeration to say that one man held it together. Had it not been for Mandela – for his dedication to the proposition that people can live together despite their differences, as well as for the profound influence he had over black, and increasingly white, South Africans – things might have turned out very, very badly. One man can – and did – make a difference. Continue reading

Do you like what you see when you look in the mirror?

Much has been said and written about the stupendously cynical establishment of a unity government in Israel earlier this week. I don’t intend repeating what has already been said, but there are two points that I think are worth making.

(Background for the uninitiated: Kadima, the official opposition, has joined Netanyahu’s coalition, creating a ruling bloc that controls 80% of the seats in the Knesset. The move, which was cooked up in secret, came as the country was preparing for early elections and despite repeated public statement by Shaul Mofaz, the new leader of Kadima, that he would never join the coalition.)

The first point is that the process that led up to the establishment of the new coalition was corrupt and therefore the coalition is illegal. Mofaz is on record as proclaiming, while the secret negotiations were underway, that he would never join the coalition. In other words, he lied. In addition, Mofaz will gain material benefits – a ministerial salary and other perks – from joining the coalition. Continue reading