Professor Brian Williams believes the debate should be reopened as to the use of the Springbok as the emblem for South African rugby‚ a symbol that he says is tainted for large sectors of the population by its association with apartheid.
Williams was speaking at a ‘Racism in Sport’ forum hosted by the Institute for Justice and Reconciliation (IJR) in Cape Town‚ where he also slammed SA Rugby as ‘untransformed’ in the post-apartheid era.
Williams‚ who has started a Peace Ambassador programme on the Cape Flats and is regarded as an expert on governance issues and mediation‚ said that for too many the Springbok emblem will always have negative connotations that will turn potential supporters away from the sport.
The national rugby side remain the only SA team to continue to use the Springbok‚ with all other codes having switched solely to the Protea.
“The issue of unifying symbols in society is very important‚” Williams said in answer to a question over whether he felt the Bok emblem was still appropriate.
“All formations that seek to unite‚ do so around symbols and ideas. It is in the nature of humanity.
“We need to feel part of something‚ a sense of belonging. But many people have negative feelings towards the Springbok emblem because of what it represented.
“Part of the problem with kids in townships is that they don’t feel part of something. But in some signs they can start to feel power in a sea of disempowerment.
“How do we unite people to have a common sense of nation? We assume because of [democratic elections in 1994] we are a South African nation‚ but it is not automatic.
“We are a nation in formation‚ but there is not a single language that is spoken and understood by everyone.
“On a sports level we need to have unifying symbols.”
Williams believes that it is for this reason that many South Africans would rather support New Zealand than the Boks as they feel betrayed by the symbol on the jersey and the emotions it triggers for them from the past.
Included in that is also the fact that supporters feel SA Rugby has not been transformed to the level it should be in the boardroom some 24 years after the first democratic elections.
“The question of why people support the All Blacks … for me it is part of a rebellion.
“People are saying to the Boks‚ ‘I will not give you my heart because I am still not happy. We are not there [transformed] yet‚ so don’t pretend‚ don’t be superficial. Show me you are serious by what you have done [to transform]’.”
Williams said he felt that many SA sporting codes were still run on racial lines‚ where the ‘old guard’ sought to maintain power by playing lip-service to transformation.
“The dominant culture of racism is still in sport‚” he said.
“Administrators have said‚ ‘How do we maintain power and influence? We need to slow things [transformation] down and exert power through corporates and other means’.
“This is allowed to continue because we haven’t addressed the subject of racism in sport.”
The Springbok team was seen as a symbol of Afrikaaner nationalism during apartheid and there have long been calls for the emblem to be discarded.
Former president Nelson Mandela moved to maintain it as a sign of reconciliation ahead of the 1995 Rugby World Cup that was won on home soil by the Boks‚ and despite a debate in parliament as recently as 2016‚ it remains on the jersey.