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.)
But leaving aside the obvious attractions of the sport, what I still find remarkable about Super Rugby is what’s not there – namely, off-field conflict. I know that’s not exactly new and it may not mean much to you whippersnappers, but I still remember the Seventies and Eighties, when anti-apartheid boycotts and mass demonstrations brought South African rugby to a virtual standstill. South Africa’s disastrous “rebel tour” of New Zealand in 1981 was so contentious and so violent, that no rugby was played between the two countries until the unraveling of apartheid in the early Nineties.
In a political incubator, everything is political; rugby, cricket and all sorts of commercial and cultural activities were fair game in those days, with the result that the years of anti-apartheid boycotts had a profound psychological effect on white South Africans. For all the bravado of the apartheid regime, the boycotts were devastating and instrumental in breaking the general will to persevere with the policies of racial discrimination.
Giving up on their racial hegemony wasn’t easy for the Afrikaners Even more than rugby, racial prejudice was part and parcel of the Afrikaner DNA. It was primarily as a means of differentiating themselves from the black-skinned natives of the region (and, later, from the British, after their occupation of the Cape), that Afrikaners began define themselves as a separate ethnic group in the early 18th Century,
Differentiation based on skin color was the seed from which Afrikanerdom grew. Over the years it combined with their largely-Lutheran faith to assume religious, even biblical, substance. I remember an Afrikaner sergeant explaining to me, a Jewish army conscript, that the compilers of the bible were talking about black people when they referred to hewers of wood and drawers of water. The Afrikaners may not have had the obvious advantage of actually being mentioned by God, but they sure knew how to appropriate his statements in their own defence.
When, in the Eighties, they had to decide between international rugby and apartheid, they chose apartheid. That, too, was not an easy thing to do. Rugby may not have been a central tenet of the faith, but it was definitely an immutable part of the sacrament. For a small, immature nation with little going for it, rugby (at which they were – and still are – incredibly good) allowed them to hold their heads high on the world stage. It took a rare confluence of personalities and factors – as well as the sheer exhaustion of trying to sustain the unsustainable – to finally decided the issue.
Apartheid collapsed and South Africa returned to its rightful place at the top of world rugby.
I don’t know if the Afrikaners, as a group, are happy in post-apartheid South Africa. I guess that some are and some aren’t. It stands to reason that the corruption, incompetence and reverse racism of present-day South Africa must rankle with those who themselves were once synonymous with corruption and racism, if not sheer incompetence.
But the simple fact is that, despite the doomsday scenarios of the apartheid regime (the commies were going to murder everyone in their beds), the Afrikaners are still there. Very few of them left South Africa after the fall and, on the whole, they’re living lives that are not very different from those they led in their heyday, save for the absence of political power. They are doing far better than just about anyone would have predicted, prior to1994.
And, of course, they’re still playing rugby. The homicidal instincts that once were targeted at blacks, commies and pinko leftists are now channeled in a far more wholesome direction – against poms, ozzies and Maori bastards on the field of play. That’s what I was thinking as the monstrous and coal-black Tendai Mtawarira was mobbed by his delighted white teammates – the cream of the Afrikaner crop – after trampling over half-a-dozen unfortunate opponents to cross the line.
The point is that the Afrikaners were forced to abandon a central tenet of their belief – one for which thousands of them had died in the Boer war and skirmishes with local tribes – and, lo and behold, they lived to tell the tale. Not only that, but they still have rugby, their families, beer in the evening, boerewors for breakfast and braais on the stoep on warm summer evenings. Life has continued, despite the collapse of their deranged dream of racial superiority and the dire omens of their leaders.
It’s not a lesson that Israel’s Jewish xenophobes are likely to learn any time soon. Here, terrorists (read commies) are still thirsting to push us into the sea (read kill us in our beds) and obscure texts of unknown provenance are still taken as title deeds to land. It is likely to take many more years of boycotts, pariahdom and violence before we see the truth. The tragedy is that we would save ourselves, and the Palestinians, all that pain and suffering were we only able to see it today.
Watch a bunch of Afrikaner studs wreaking havoc on the rugby field. In such small things is the truth revealed.