Appointment Of SA Rugby’s Black Coaches Couldn’t Be Stopped! By Cheryl Roberts

13 Apr

allister coetzee

The appointment of Allister Coetzee as head coach of the men’s Springbok team and assistant coach Mzwandile Stick represents a significant anti-white privilege turning point for South African Rugby. The mindset of believing in the coaching potential and prowess only of white coaches, has now hopefully been eliminated. It has taken some tumultous moments to prove that only white coaches are not the best rugby coaches, in South Africa. SA Rugby officialdom, no doubt pushed by black voices calling for white privilege to be removed from rugby, has been forced to recognise the coaching prowess of coaches such as Allister Coetzee and Mzwandile Stick.

Springbok coach, Allister Coetzee represents the dignity of generations of oppressed sportspeople and oppressed sports fans who played sport for freedom. Coetzee holds high the oppressed sports people who sacrificed playing international sport, so apartheid could be destroyed and freedom could arrive.

Allister Coetzee was an exceptional rugby talent. He would have been a Springbok player had he had the opportunity to play for and represent his country. Being an oppressed South African, he chose to play anti-apartheid, non-racial rugby. Through coach Allister Coetzee, we are reminded of the phenomenal black rugby talent who played sport for freedom, during the horrendous apartheid era,  from oppression and from apartheid.

Whiteness and white privilege have been dominating rugby in South Africa with white players and coaches given unfair starts ahead of talented black rugby players and coaches. This focus on and belief in white rugby players and coaches, has seen young black rugby players finding it difficult to break through the rugby pyramid. There were always arguments about how small black rugby players were; how they wouldn’t make it at international level. But then some black players forced their way through, with ball in hand they broke barriers to ensure they couldn’t be not recognised.

Rugby unification of two disparate and opposing rugby structures was supposed to have ushered in a brave and bold new era for rugby in South Africa. However, it was a new journey, not for both rugby bodies, but primarily for the white dominated South African rugby Board (SARB), which was led by Danie Craven.

In the post-unity phase, the talent and potential of black rugby players was easily discarded; in fact, it wasn’t even considered. Fierce and heated debates of opinion dominated selection members as the lone black selectors, often out-voiced and and left on their own to fight for black players, had to battle white privilege and white racist mindsets and opinions.

This battle to have black players noticed and selected is evident from selection of SA’s 1995 world cup rugby squad. Anti-apartheid activist and freedom fighter, Bill Jardine took on the might of apartheid’s support and beneficiaries when he fought and challenged white domination of SA’s 1995 world cup rugby team. Jardine mounted a strong attack to argue for the inclusion of Chester Williams in the Springbok team, and after threats to not support a white Springbok world cup team, a black player in Chester Williams got selected.

In subsequent years, particularly the first decade of rugby unity in SA, black players were given a bad deal. White selectors and coaches didn’t believe in black talent and easily selected mediocre white players ahead of a black player with potential. When a black player got selected at elite provincial level, he wouldn’t start the match but would, if lucky enough get a few minutes game times and in those few minutes he had to prove himself and score tries.

I refer to this period in SA Rugby’s existence as black rugby genocide. Yes, it was genocide! How else do you explain the non-selection of black players? The anti-apartheid, non-racial South African Rugby Union came to rugby unity with thousands of rugby players, who played in competitive junior and senior competitions. The elite players were highly skilled; they just needed opportunities to perform and prove their abilities at international level.

Why were these players not selected for rugby’s Currie Cup provincial teams and for the Springbok team, in the years leading up to 2005? Black public pressure was mounted on SA Rugby’s leaders and officials, white selectors and coaches were called out. Black voices demanded change, for black rugby players to be part of SA Rugby and not left outside of the selection and player realm.

Then, at school boy and youth level, teenage boys started getting noticed. One such talent was Gcobani Bobo who not only got selected for the SA u19 world cup team, but also got to captain the team. But black players were still being kept out of provincial Currie Cup teams and the Springbok squad with the ocassional ‘Coloured’ player chosen to represent Western Province rugby.

South Africans with a critical and social justice consciousness, especially those who supported anti-apartheid rugby called for black player talent to be identified and selected. But black rugby players still remained left out. As SA Rugby was forced to implement a quota of black rugby players at youth level, black rugby talent couldn’t anymore go unrecognised or unnoticed, as the players were performing. These young black players got selected into academy teams, the objective being to groom and harness their development so they develop into provincial playing senior players.

Through the years we called out the dismissal of black rugby players, the white privilege selection of white players and the apartheid mindset of selectors and coaches.

There’s much black rugby talent in South Africa. Springbok coaches Coetzee and Stick must utilise their black gaze in selecting player potential and talent. Most importantly, they must be brave and bold to select a black-dominated Springbok squad and team. The talent amongst black rugby players exists.


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