Transformation has still not been addressed

January 20, 2016, 9:33pm

By Thulane Ngele, Business Day Live
Photo: Thinkstock

THE Rugby World Cup came and went and South Africans are once again licking their wounds. They failed to lift the Webb Ellis trophy and the disappointment lingers on even now. One would think that after such big tournaments there would be a post mortem to analyse the root causes of our failure and to address fundamental issues that have an effect on how we prepare, turn up and play the beloved game.

But we once gain we fail to reflect, and we will once again fail to select a quality representative team for the next World Cup. I suspect our failure to reflect has something to do with the fact that we do not want to face reality and confront controversial issues.

The elephant in the room for South African rugby is the issue of a lack of transformation. Transformation was topical prior to and during the tournament, yet after the tournament the silence is deafening. One would have thought that the issue would be top of the agenda. Rugby in South Africa is not transformed and we should not be apologetic for saying so. The issue was raised over the years but nothing substantive comes out of it and we continue to raise it intermittently prior to and during major tournaments.

This behaviour is in my view similar to the manner in which the issue of transformation is being handled in South Africa in general. To this day, 21 years after the dawn of democracy, we have never as a nation had a frank conversation about substantive transformation. Instead our government is unsuccessfully attempting to address the issue through legislation. Legislation on its own will not address the issue, calls for a conversation that leads to action. There must be robust debates and dialogue that goes to the crux of the issue, followed by a blueprint on how to move forward.

South Africa has talent and we don’t need reality shows to tell us that. We have diverse talent that must be nurtured through deliberate means to achieve its full potential. We can only do so if we are inclusive in our approach. For some strange reason, transformation is associated with mediocrity. There is a belief in some quarters, including people from previously disadvantaged communities, that the products of transformation are mere tokens and are not good enough to deliver quality. Some black people who are successful do not want to be regarded as beneficiaries of transformation efforts. They make it known that they are where they are purely on merit.

We know that in the majority of cases that is a fallacy. The mere fact that one argues merit to justify where they are suggests that beneficiaries of transformation lack merit. Substantive transformation is not tokenism but the advancement of merit to areas that would not otherwise have been possible due to the historical dispensation. In many instances, including corporates, once black people occupy positions of power they disassociate themselves from transformation. They now mimic their white counterparts and declare their priorities as creating value for shareholders. They now see transformation as less important; they kick the proverbial ladder.

Until we have successful people coming out of the closet and declaring publicly that they are beneficiaries of transformation, the stigma of associating transformation with mediocrity will remain. We should not forget that the white community, especially Afrikaners, had their own affirmative action measures that guaranteed them positions in various spheres of life. In fact the practice continues. Statistically, a white graduate coming from the same university as a black graduate has a greater chance of being employed. They were not born superior as the indoctrination would have us believe. They are where they are through deliberate transformation efforts, albeit exclusionary ones. In fact if one looks at how the apartheid government did their transformation, it is evident that merit was not a strict criterion.

South Africa played Japan in the first game of the last World Cup and lost. Japan, despite their national demographic profile, had more black players than South Africa. Their population of nontraditional Japanese is 1.5%, which includes blacks and other nationalities. This means the black population is even smaller. South Africa has a population of 80% blacks yet we can’t field more black players than Japan. If the loss to Japan is anything to go by, it is an indication that transformation and black people in particular can produce quality.

We have four years until the next Rugby World Cup and the window of opportunity is not big. We must start transforming without delay.

• Dr Ngele is a fellow of Archbishop Tutu African Leadership Institute