Protea Lungi Ngidi caused something of a stir with a remark at a press conference in response to a question about race and the Black Lives Matter movement.

But where do South Africans stand on these issues?

The Institute of Race Relations (IRR) has been the leading authority on relations between South Africans for over 90 years. It is able to speak with significant insight on race relations given its long-standing commitment to building a free, non-racial, free South Africa, its history over almost a century of working alone and with others in fighting the injustice of racial discrimination, and its extensive data-led research over this long period.

About a year ago, our report, Race Relations in South Africa – Reasons For Hope: Unite the Middle, canvassed and analysed the attitudes of ordinary South Africans to matters of race, reconciliation, governance, and social challenges and justice. This report is the latest in a series based on polling by the IRR over many years, and is therefore not merely a snapshot analysis but part of the organisation’s continuing monitoring and analysis of race relations in South Africa.

The Reasons For Hope report confirms the long-standing and repeatedly vindicated position of the IRR that South Africans are moderate, decent people who share many ambitions, hopes and concerns across racial lines and fundamentally find common ground on matters too often portrayed as the source of deep and even dangerous division. One of these is the topic of race and sport.

Media storm

Published shortly after the media storm over alleged racism towards former Springbok rugby player Ashwin Willemse, the report noted:

‘We then explored further by asking people whether the selection of sports teams should be based strictly on merit or should put more emphasis on demographic representivity. Part of the background here was ex-Springbok rugby player Ashwin Willemse’s walkout from a live TV broadcast in May 2018. Willemse said he had been ‘labelled a quota player for a long time’ and was not ‘going to be patronised’ by his fellow rugby analysts, Nick Mallett and Naas Botha. An inquiry by Advocate Vincent Maleka found no evidence of racism, but recommended that the issue be referred to the HRC for a fi nal decision, as Willemse had declined to take part in his probe. The HRC announced its decision to hold a full and public inquiry into the incident in December 2018. In commenting on the Willemse case, sports minister Tokozile Xasa has stressed that national quotas remain vital. By contrast, Archbishop Desmond Tutu had earlier suggested that the focus should instead be placed on developing ‘adequate facilities’ in schools and clubs in township areas ‘to develop the talent’ there.

‘Against this background, respondents were asked whether South African sports teams should be selected ‘only on merit and ability and not by racial quotas’. Some 83% of all respondents – and 82% of black people – agreed that players should be chosen on merit, not quotas. Though support for this view was particularly pronounced among whites (96%), there was strong endorsement of it across all racial groups, as set out in [the table below].

‘Despite the minister’s support for racial quotas, the proportion of black respondents who reject this option is significantly greater now than it was in 2015 (74%) and 2016 (70%). This rejection of racial quotas in sport is also broadly shared across all racial groups – an outcome evident in IRR polls going back to 2015.’

Pursuit of national success

Lungi Ngidi is a great young cricketer of whom the country can be very proud. He embodies a continuing story of how things that once divided South Africans through state-imposed racism can now, and do, bring people together in pursuit of national success. There can be no quibbling with his saying in an interview that a stand must be taken against racism, but it must be remembered, especially during this time of great uncertainty and crisis, that sport has become for many an expression of the best of South African non-racialism. Where problems have arisen regarding race and sport in South Africa, they echo the age of state-imposed racial division and government-sponsored racial tension.

The challenge today is to confront such problems sensibly and honestly. Precisely because, as our data shows, South Africans want sport to be a symbol of non-racial unity and success, it is crucial to resist pressure from those who, under the guise of anti-racism, pursue ends starkly reminiscent of the racialism and division of the old days.

Very real danger

There is a very real danger that the Black Lives Matter movements falls within this ambit and so threatens South Africa’s strong and constructive race relations. That black lives matter is beyond question, but no-one must make the mistake of judging a movement by its moniker.

The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, for example, is not democratic, does not empower or belong to the people, is more tyrannical monarchy than republic and does not cover the full Korean Peninsula.

If South Africans want to assert the admirable claim that the lives of black people really do matter, it will be necessary to confront the truth –tragically evident in the death of people like Collins Khosa – about the extent of government failures in protecting lives of the most vulnerable and socio-economically unempowered among us.

It would be a welcome development, for instance, were prominent South Africans, taking up Ngidi’s call, to step up and say the life of Collins Khosa mattered and the lives of unempowered, vulnerable people who remain deprived of liberty matter. Around this, all South Africans can rally.

Long-overdue justice

Just as important is to question whether the Black Lives Matter movement really does, in a sustainable way, advance the cause of long-overdue justice for people like Collins Khosa and, from almost a decade ago, Andries Tatane.

Life in South Africa, especially the lives of the poorest and most vulnerable, have become tragically cheap.

Ngidi is not wrong in his call for a stand against racism. But the unavoidable challenge for South Africans, the vast majority of whom live daily by the creditable standards of non-racialism, is to stand united against the genuine evil of too many lives not seeming to matter at all to those in the highest offices of state.

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Hermann Pretorius
Hermann studied law and opera before entering politics and think tankery – an obvious career path. In furtherance of the logicality of his career trajectory, he worked for the election campaign of a liberal, formerly growing opposition party in 2019. In an attempt to deal with his PTSD from this latter experience, he took up a position as an analyst at the IRR, where he is currently the IRR’s Deputy Head of Policy Research. A Protestant, landless, Anglophilic, Afrikaans classical liberal still awaiting his letter of acceptance to the Patriarchy™, Hermann tries to make the best of, you know, things.

2 COMMENTS

  1. I have always been skeptical about this survey since it is abstract. There is no context to the question. In theory people might say they don’t care about race in selection, school teachers and a host of other statements. In practice, when it applies to them or get mixed up with politics…In fact this is a good example. Ngidi is talking about supporting BLF as the Proteas, but this article references a survey on sport team selection and raises a libertarian talking point (state) to go back to political positions that matter to the IRR (no races based policy)…Listening or addressing the issues in South Africans context or say along the lines of Aswell Prince’s translation into SA context – instead this survey question is used to suggest we don’t need quotas in sport or maybe that South Africans don’t care about the racial makeup of sports teams?

  2. Ngidi is a very privileged young man that should be grateful for what he has and had achieved. This however does not give him the right to project his black agenda on others and to manipulate a Sport Body to fall in with his agenda.

    I wonder why Hermann only mentions black victims, even going back as far as 30 years but a white name, one of many people whose lives were brutally ended are not mentioned. Obviously black lives matter, how should there be debates about this? And if people say this, what are they saying, that other lives are less valuable? What demonic nonsense this is!?

    My question is why is he so quiet about the white lives that are brutally ended, many as result of torturing as if white people have no right to life?

    My further question is why Ramaphosa and all this bias politicians are so quiet about it. The only conclusion one can make is that other lives than black lives like White, Asian and Colored lives, do NOT matter.

    When racism is mentioned it is portrayed that only white people are the racists. Nothing is further from the truth than this. There is more racism in South Africa now than ever before, coming from Africans targeting and terrorizing whites and nothing is said or done about it. Many many whites are targeted, falsely accused, unfounded accusations of racism concocted against them, and they stand absolutely alone and even when no grounds for the false accusations were found NOTHING is done to the malicious, false accusers, they go free. I was also a victim of this, and although I was innocent and found not guilty I was terrorized, targeted and treated as a racist for the rest of my career until they worked me out 5 years short of my retirement. While my accusers committed not only criminal offenses but also serious misconduct they walked away, nothing was done to them.

    I suggest that this body, the IRR looks at things objectively and portray things in that manner.
    At the core of racism is rejection. Not even animals can handle rejection. Look how a dog behaves when rejected. How much more human beings of any nationality?
    What the Apartheid Government did was pure evil and no-one can ever try to justify that by any means. Black people revolted, and rightly so. Why? Because they were rejected, and look at the result of that all over the world. We were never created to be rejected, but to be accepted for the immense worth that was instilled in us to contribute constructively to the environment where we find ourselves. Why? Because everyone is equipped with abilities that others need.
    Now the same is done to white, and even to Asian and Colored people. They just did not create signages “Blacks Only” like the “Whites Only” of the previous government at public facilities. They created it in so many other ways that are even worse.
    While we are looking at our differences we cannot see our worth, only the unworthiness of others because we love not ourselves.

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