I think Siya Kolisi is misinformed in terms of what Nelson Mandela stood for when it comes to opportunity and fairness in the work space.
Mandela was a big advocate of affirmative action and the quota system in sport, because if people can’t transform to the level where opportunities are equal to everybody regardless of colour, then the issue must be forced one way or the other.
And in rugby, unfortunately the issue of numbers on the field – representative numbers – was the way to go.
It was supposed to be a pathway to a lasting solution on players being selected on ability regardless of the colour of their skin.
But unfortunately when the system was introduced, everything was done to make sure it stayed that way – selection on race criteria and not selection on the criteria of skill and ability.
We are now 25 years down the line and it is still all talk.
We lived the quota system where it questions your own self-belief and confidence.
We were involved in a team, and we were only supposed to be four non-whites in this team, really!
So some were saying there should have been four whites who should have been here, yet they couldn’t be.
Now that starts players questioning their own ability – is there somebody better out there who should be playing here?
We lived that life and it is a life that – 25 years down the line – we were hoping that our little brothers like Siya didn’t have to live.
I can understand Siya being against the quota system because it questions his own self-belief and merit of being in the team.
Even worse, to have that self-doubt when you are in a leadership position is even worse – so I can certainly feel for him.
I also think he wasn’t prepped on the line of questioning, so he would have thought deeper into it, and to how he was going to respond.
It may have been something he was caught cold with, and he had to think on his feet… and unfortunately the pressure of having to balance his responsibility as Springbok captain with where you have to balance things on both sides of the fence.
Siya is there as the first black Springbok captain and he serves black people and he serves white people.
And those interests should be equal on both sides for him.
To be caught having to think on your feet trying to balance both sides is tough.
Firstly he tries to balance the issue of the quota in a manner that satisfies the white side of the equation, in terms of why is it that people are not selected on merit – and everybody wants to be selected on merit.
That in itself then says we will go back to a “majority of white people should be in a team” if we are talking merit.
And then he tries to backtrack when he realises, having included Nelson Mandela’s name, that Madiba wouldn’t have supported it because logically, by trying to balance this side of the fence, a leader like Nelson Mandela would see the unfairness in forcing people to be part of something “they are not good enough to be part of”.
Then Siya backtracks again and addresses transformation in a manner that it should be happening in townships, and that facilities need to be put in townships – but that is still not addressing transformation.
Transformation starts in the mind.
How do I see someone as they sit in front of me?
Do I see you as a human being who has a skill set which can deliver on what I require?
Or do I first see you as black with the skills that I require for you to do the job?
Unfortunately in rugby, because of the system, a black player is always going to be looked at because he is black, and if his skill will not weaken the team, therefore his is included in the position.
There is always that balancing act of a black player who has what it takes to uphold the standard that we are looking for.
It is never “that player” actually has skills to be the best in the world, “and by the way he is black” – it is always the other way around.
That is the kind of ‘transformation’ we need to be addressing.
The other thing we need to address with transformation is the fact we have these heated arguments every World Cup year.
Until we are in a stage in South African rugby where everybody has been offered equal opportunities regardless of what they look like, we can never stop having the debate.
But this needs to move past the debating stage to the action stage.
This topic has been there ever since I made it to the national team, and nothing has happened in all the years since
Somewhere, somehow, there is a person who needs to stand on the podium and say “now we are going to move in this direction”.
I feel the responsibility falls into the hands of the government, as people entrusted to lead a country forward.
They should be standing up and saying “no more will we have teams representing the country, only represented by four players of colour on the field, it needs to change.
“No more will we have coaching structures that represent the country at various levels, that are not transformed as they are in this sport of rugby.”
Specifically in rugby, government need to be more bold in the decisions they take in moving the sport forward.
Rugby and the way that it is run and the way it’s stuck on moving on transformation is the same as the economy.
It is stuck.
It doesn’t move from certain hands to empower the rest and those in the pound seats are constantly manufacturing new ways of holding on to that, so not everybody has equal opportunities.
Rugby is exactly the same.
People are holding on to the status quo and promises are made every World Cup year.
Now the promise is, when they build new schools, they’ll make sure there are facilities in the townships so kids don’t have to go to town to get into a gym.
They promise to implement nutritional programmes, but where are they?
They never happen because after the World Cup, all that stuff was swept under the carpet before the World Cup … well, that carpet never gets lifted.
Instead new dirt gets a new carpet to be swept under, and those things need to be changed, and I’m looking to the leadership of the country to be the first to say so.
The leaders of SA Rugby past and present have proven themselves unwilling to facilitate the change in this because they are the biggest participants in saying what is going to happen, yet it never happens.
Every year there is a new idea of how we are going to fast-track transformation and somehow it never delivers to a satisfactory level the kind of transformed Springbok team we are looking for.
It is getting to a stage where it is really tiring to be having this conversation every four years – government needs to act.
We can’t blame Siya for what he said, he is misinformed in some ways, and in other ways he is caught in a system where he needs to be politically correct in what he says because it is his livelihood, he can’t run like an open tap of water in his deep beliefs of what should be the status quo.
He has to be guarded in what he says and I can understand having to balance that.
We’ve lived that life and it is a life that is not fair for our kids to be living.
We should have moved on by now.
* Kaya Malotana is the first black African Springbok and played at the 1999 Rugby World Cup, and was also the first black player to represent his alma mata Queen’s College. Malotana also represented Border and the Lions and played Super Rugby for the Cats. He is a Xhosa rugby commentator for SuperSport and a former coach at various levels at the Golden Lions. He writes for us in his personal capacity.