Diehards have no defence

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The Independent Online
THIS is to acknowledge a debt to the patriots whose crass behaviour at Ellis Park, Johannesburg, last week demonstrated once again that the notion of racial harmony in South Africa has no currency on the high veldt.

The sordid truth is out, and from now on it will take an eloquent advocate to make a convincing defence for the diehards of South African rugby. From here, no defence at all is discernible.

To get the full impact of what happened at Ellis Park, or to be more precise, what was heard there, it is necessary to be aware that the African National Congress of Nelson Mandela, formerly the most notable of black detainees, gave sanction to tours by New Zealand and Australia on the strict understanding that the Afrikaners' anthem, 'Die Stem', would not be played.

What came across on television to millions around the world when the Springboks took on the All Blacks was surely the most emotionally intimate, sustained look at any culture in recent history.

If some people acquired a new sense of reality from hearing 'Die Stem' sung with such passion when the 72,000 in attendance were supposed to be observing a short period of silence for peace in South Africa, it was no less than a rather fearful admission that the removal of sports sanctions was premature.

The sights and sounds of Ellis Park indicated that there are a great number of people in South Africa who want nothing to do with a change of heart or policy, or democratic thrust, preferring in their ignorance and fear to risk the potentially awful dangers of discrimination against the black majority.

In this instance they were most arrogantly represented by Louis Luyt, 60, a rich and powerful man who is president of the Transvaal Rugby Union. It was Luyt, in defiance of the ANC, and having been party to the agreement, who decided that the anthem should be played.

Even when the storm broke, bringing the possibility that South Africa's match against Australia in Cape Town on Saturday would be called off, Luyt was unrepentant. 'I have no regrets. I'd do it again. I haven't done anything wrong,' he is reported to have said.

A crisis was averted yesterday when the ANC agreed that the match in Cape Town can go ahead on the renewed understanding that the anthem will not be played, and the only flags on display will be those promoting peace and democracy.

The issue was evidently too sensitive for the ANC forcibly to back up their initial response, which was that Luyt had 'single- handedly tried to demolish rugby unity and the benefits it has brought South Africa'.

Recent initiatives, most importantly the dismantling of apartheid, led to South Africa's return from sporting exile. But there is a long way to go, a lot for them to prove. What Luyt proved last week was that prejudice dies hard in the Afrikaner mind.

In a statement earlier this week the ANC said: 'We are appalled by Luyt's opportunism and saddened as well as outraged by his arrogance and short-sightedness. We wish to remind Mr Luyt that the ANC has the capacity to put a definite and immediate end to rugby tours.'

There is progress in the ANC's right to speak out against Luyt and warn him as to his future conduct. Doubtless that hurts, makes him yearn for a time when such words would have been adjudged subversive, and probably resulted in detention.

The point here, it seems, is that if Nelson Mandela had foreseen the consequences, he could only have counselled the ANC against allowing rugby tours, putting paid to South Africa as a location for the 1995 World Cup.

A few dignitaries apart, Ellis Park was a white preserve ringing with the worst form of nationalism. 'The ANC will regret it if they let the Wallabies go home,' Luyt said when next Saturday's match was still in jeopardy.

In Johannesburg last week Luyt jumped the gun, broke a promise, and reneged on an important agreement. In doing so he made it abundantly clear that South African rugby cannot be trusted with the workings of democracy.