Opinion

Buang Jones Is Not the Problem, Racism In Rugby Is

By Pinky Khoabane

WHEN the legal head of the South African Human Rights Commission (SAHRC) Buang Jones lodged a hate speech case against Springbok lock Eben Etzebeth, he had taken his anti-racism crusade too far. In a sport where racism constantly rears its head, that the alleged incident happened on the eve of the Rugby World Cup where Etzebeth is participating, didnt make matters any easier for Jones. He’s also had run-ins with South African Rugby before, having hauled Multichoice before an inquiry into racism at its Supersport flagship following the Aswhin Willemse incident in which he walked off a live broadcast. Willemse said he was undermined and was a victim of racism at the television station. 

In what can only be deemed a disgraceful attempt by the SAHRC and other bodies to silence Jones, and in the process protect racists within rugby, the human rights body has lodged an investigation into his conduct following complaints about utterances he made at a community meeting in Langebaan in the Western Cape where the Etsebeth’s incident allegedly happened. Jones has been instructed to desist from speaking to the media about this case pending the investigation. Racism Denialism 101 at play. 

What tragic irony then that it is a human rights body, mandated to protect our dignity and rights to freedom of speech that would gag its own employee to appease groups which find the truth about racism uncomfortable. 

Some ultra-rightwing formation calling itself Die Afrikanerdom has complained to the SAHRC that Jones’s utterances were inflammatory and incited racism. To deflect attention from their man, they start off by accusing the SAHRC of being incapable of handling this matter objectively and continue to use alleged utterances by Jones to make their case. This is a typical illustration of racism denialism whereby the charge is reversed, the perpetrators portray themselves as the victims and deflect attention from the real issue. 

These are the statements on which Die Afrikanerdom bases its argument. These statements are not placed within the context of a sport constantly embroiled in issues of racism; a man who’s said to have previously been involved in spewing racist slurs at Coloured people; and similar incidents of rugby players who’ve gotten drunk and gone out and assaulted Black people and in one case even killing a man. Bees Roux who killed a policeman in a complete drunken stupor and paid a R750,000 compensation to the family to dodge jail is a case in point.  

– “Etzebeth even gets away with murder.” (Times Live 4 October 2019)

– Also see the video clips by Esa Alexander on Twitter with a live feed from the above Times Live website.

– “Ons wil voorbeeld van Etzebeth maak” – We want to make an example of Etzebeth – Netwerk24

The complaint continues: “Of utmost concern is Mr Buang Jones’ continuation of remarks on Twitter to stoke racial fires”. Jones’s tweets do not stoke racial fires for those truly committed to a society of non-racialism and where the dignity of every citizen is protected. They do however, inject discomfort and disrupt the false notion of social cohesion we are led to believe exists. 

Etzebeth, who was out on the night with friends a couple of days before the Springbok team to the World Cup was announced, is accused of assault and hate speech. He and friends are accused of having started a fight with a white man and thereafter calling a Muslim family hotnots. They were allegedly thrown out of that venue and they went to another pub. At around 2:30 am, they allegedly brutally assaulted two men who were escorting two waitresses home, one of whom is 20 years old. Etzebeth is said to have gone to the car and returned with a gun and pointed it at the two young women. The men were so brutally attacked they ended up in hospital. The victims, with the help of community members, opened a case of assault and racism later that day.  

Etzebeth refuted the claims but he shouldn’t have been in that squad representing South Africa at the World Cup pending an investigation into this incident. He should not have been singing the national anthem, not even the Die Stem part of it.

Instead of dealing with this grave assault on a people’s dignity, our attention is being diverted to Jones. These derogatory terms which white people think they can throw around willy-nilly tear at the victims’ souls. 

The SAHRC is well placed to identify, speedily and easily, the traits of racism denialism; the person who accuses the other of racism is in turn accused as an inverted racist against whites; the motives of the accuser are scrutinised and a trumped-up motive is established; the accuser is said to “see racism where none exists” or “using the race card”. Jones is said to be eying the position of deputy public protector hence the charge against Etzebeth – this is sheer rubbish. The person who must answer is Etzebeth – did he brutally assault two men, point a gun at two women and call several people Hotnots? 

What the SAHRC ought to be doing is calling-out SA Rugby and holding it to account for the pervasive culture of racism in the sport and this must start at grassroots level. In a couple of days I shall publish a story of a young African boy who was set alight by his fellow students for being too good in rugby.

The SAHRC together with SA Rugby must confront the issue of racism in rugby so that we’re able to readily accept the explanation that the exclusion of Makazole Mapimpi from the celebrations at the end of the SA/Italy game was a team joke. Without addressing the festering racism wound of rugby, we will never accept team jokes involving black and white players. 

The SAHRC must confront racism in all its forms lest it returns to its irrelevant status of the past few years when it was seen as useless and toothless against racists. It has gotten its act together in recent months, holding to account, racists including the self-confessed criminal Angelo Agrizzi and Adam Catzavelos. It cannot falter and lose focus lest it be seen as perpetuators of racism in rugby. 

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