Monday, November 24, 2008

Why Bok ban will be a really big mistake

Quite breathtaking, the nincompoopery of those who would like to abolish the Springbok. First of all, because, surely, there are other issues more worthy of the attention of the fine minds behind it all.

Why not find ways, for example, to use sport as a means of encouraging children to further their education, find jobs and steer away from crime? OK. Silly question, I suppose. To do that would require far too much imagination and honest hard work. Much more fun, much less demanding to stand on your soapbox and rant.

Another reason why this is all so idiotic is that it's such Old South Africa thinking. These guys imagine themselves to be in the country's ideological vanguard, or something, but they are as trapped in the past as Hendrik Verwoerd was. To continue banging on about the Springbok as a symbol of apartheid oppression is as old hat as the Group Areas Act. It is not a symbol of apartheid oppression; it is a symbol of the best thing South Africa ever did for itself and the best example it has set humanity for the rest of time: unity and reconciliation.

The Springbok has played that role not once now, but twice: in 1995, the first time the rugby team won the World Cup, and the second time in 2007. Each time the masses, of all shades, went out on to the streets to celebrate what they saw as a great cause for shared national celebration. The thing about the masses in South Africa is that, in common with masses everywhere, they don't give two figs for that minority sport known as politics. I remember Makhenkesi Arnold Stofile, the Minister of Sport, making that very point to me when I interviewed him a couple of years ago for a book about Nelson Mandela and the 1995 rugby final.

Stofile remarked that most people's concerns were far removed from the political debates that occupied the minds of individuals such as himself.

No group is further removed from the day-to-day concerns, hopes and fears of the common folk than the Springbok-bashing old farts who can think of nothing better to justify their narrow little lives than to spout sulphurous hot air from their walled-off ivory towers.

Allow me to add one possibly new argument in favour of not consigning "this animal", as Mandela once described the Springbok (jovially putting the whole debate in its proper perspective), to an early grave. You might think there is a hint of self-promotion in my mentioning it (and maybe there is) but I still think the point is worth making, despite the risk of encouraging people to imagine (wrongly) that I have a dog in this fight.

There is going to be a Hollywood movie made based on my book. They start filming in South Africa early next year. It is going to star Morgan Freeman as Mandela and Matt Damon as rugby captain Francois Pienaar. It will be directed by Clint Eastwood and will be financed by Warner Bros.

Now, if this film is as good and as successful as I suspect it will be, it will provide a boost for South Africa's global image beyond anything that money can buy. Absolutely for free, without one penny of that tax-payers' cash currently lining the pockets of some of those who want the Springbok to go, South Africa will be exhibited at its best for everyone to behold from Madrid to Mumbai and beyond.

For there is no doubt that history will look back on Mandela's achievement in stopping a civil war and unifying his country as the greatest legacy South Africa has left the species. The way Mandela transformed a symbol that signified hate and division into a force for love and reconciliation is chiefly what the megabucks Hollywood film will be about.

So, imagine then, how unbelievably silly South Africa will look when the movie comes out - probably shortly before the football World Cup - if the very symbol around which Mandela performed his greatest miracle turns out to have been scrapped, scorned, derided by the very country to which it brought so much honour.

And, no, it is not the film that will look silly. Well, maybe it might to some in South Africa. But the fact is that it will record, faithfully, something that really happened, recently, in the real world. And when people learn in Japan, in India, in Brazil, in the US that the exemplary lesson contained in the film has been dismissed by South Africans as some sort of embarrassing historical aberration their reaction will be, "What a silly, petty, ludicrous bunch Mandela's heirs have turned out to be!"

So there you have it. There's the choice. South Africa, come the global spotlight of the football World Cup, can look bloody silly or it can look bloody great. Sure, there's more important, more intrinsic things, like those I mentioned at the beginning, plus the obvious stupidity of gratuitously annoying a significant sector of the South African population when you'd think that, really, this might be a time to calm spirits rather than inflame them; that at this moment in South African history there are other fish to fry.

But I think this matter of how South Africa is seen and felt abroad is not unimportant, both for national prestige and for questions of foreign investment.

The country, aided by the big propaganda boost the Eastwood movie is likely to deliver, has a chance to project a magnanimous and exemplary image of itself; to be perceived as a beacon of hope for the ages in a world where everywhere you look you see resentful little people generating absurdly needless conflict, to the detriment of all.

2 Opinion(s):

Bleh said...

All this film will do, is entrench the idea of a Utopian South Africa even further. There are so many people trying to bring the atrocities
here into the international spotlight and this will counter act that effort. A movie like this will again anchor the liberal belief that what they did to South Africa was justified.

Nelson Mandela had personally written off on civilian bombings and refused to denounce violence in exchange for his freedom on more than one occasion. Only a week before his 90th birthday was he taken off of the FBI's known terrorits list. He won the Nobel Peace prize for not killing people(isn't this absurd)? Despite all this he will be hailed as a saint once more.

Anonymous said...

Fully agree! There is no end to this damn madness.