War minus the shooting

Published : Apr 29, 2000 00:00 IST

The Hansiegate revelations triggered hostility towards India and Indians among a section of South Africans who were in denial mode. This hatred of the "other" reflected rampant triumphalist-nationalist passions that are now routinely a part of t he way the game is conducted, and that are manipulated by powerful sponsors and multinationals.

AS always, one has to be clear about which South Africa and which South Africans one has in mind while analysing developments in the country. This is even more so with regard to "Hansiegate", given South Africa's history, the unique social and political dynamic of the still unfolding development, the game itself and the central personality involved in the controversy.

Incidentally, and as a matter of some interest to India, Hansiegate, as things are shaping up, is likely to take on the character and nomenclature of "Delhigate", a description already ascribed to the scandal by a leading columnist of Mail & Guardian , an avowedly progressive paper with authentic struggle credentials which (and this is not an irrelevant detail) has been involved in a running controversy with South Africa's Human Rights Commission on the issue of racism in the media. The ascription of this label to the scandal by a columnist of this paper is an entirely natural development since practices such as bribery and match-fixing are, in the perspective of the 'cricket-loving public' of the country, are unique to the 'subcontinent'.

Secondly, nothing about South Africa's present and future can be understood without reference to its past, in particular institutionalised apartheid which touched every aspect of state and society, life temporal and religious, of the material and the spi ritual, of the here and the hereafter. Indeed, even though apartheid is now formally dead, the practice has been so internalised that even the victims of apartheid have not been able to free themselves from that mindset.

But first, who or what is this 'cricket loving public'? This category comprises overwhelmingly of the minority white population, English and Afrikaans speaking, with some blacks admitted to the brotherhood on sufferance provided they know and keep to the ir places. The blacks - meaning the Africans, the Coloureds and the 'Indians' (South African citizens whose ancestors were of Indian origin) - are now welcome to the stadiums as paying spectators with rights to buy tickets for any stands or enclosures, a lthough even now people tend to gather round their own kind, just one manifestation of the internalisation of the apartheid mindset. It is true that cricket is also avidly followed and played by some blacks, including in particular those whose ancestors were of Indian origin. However, despite efforts by the democratic dispensation to 'transform' cricket, the composition of the teams and the control of the game still remain largely unchanged from what it was during the years of apartheid.

For this section, the news from Delhi on the afternoon of Friday, April 7, 2000, came as a profound shock, something unbelievable. Indeed, insofar as the media patronised by and catering to the 'cricket-loving public' is concerned, this is by far the big gest South African news story, even bigger than the release of Nelson Mandela from prison, the country's transition to democracy and other related constitutional and political developments.

The reaction of the 'cricket-loving public' to the news from Delhi was just plain and simple denial. This too is entirely in character. The denial mode, as was evident at every stage during the hearings of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, was cen tral to the apartheid ideology and continues to be the first reaction of those who benefited from that system - the overwhelming majority of the white people. The truth was, and is, just too awful to contemplate. The denial persisted even in the face of overwhelming material evidence of torture and murder, of unprovoked aggression against neighbouring countries and attacks on civilians, of fraud and theft on a scale unimaginable.

So it is for the 'cricket-loving public' when confronted with Hansiegate. Hansie Cronje, so much of the idealised persona of their kind, is an upright and morally outstanding youth, a practising Christian (like his successor), one imbued with the "mascul ine virtues of honour and sportsmanship" (the description is from a profile that appeared a day after Cronje admitted that he had been dishonest). He simply could not be involved in such things as bribery and match-fixing; and his denial of the charges o ught to be the end of the matter.

Indeed, this was the reaction not merely of an adoring 'cricket loving public', but a supposedly critical and sceptical media as well as of the highest levels of both the government and of the United Cricket Board of South Africa (UCBSA). The outrage aga inst the Delhi Police and a more generalised loathing of India and Indians found free expression in the letters columns of newspapers and the audience response component of numerous radio talk shows; and after a slight cooling off following the shock of Cronje's admission on April 11, was soon back in full force. Half an hour after the news was first broadcast, Ali Bacher, managing director of the UCBSA, was quoted in a news broadcast as describing the report from Delhi as "rubbish". Another distinguish ed member of the 'cricket loving public', Bob Woolmer, described it as "absolute garbage". On April 8, Ali Bacher was fulminating against the "outrageous" behaviour of the Delhi Police, demanding explanations from the Government of India for the "tapping " of the cellphones of Hansie Cronje and other South African cricketers, and condemning New Delhi for not observing "protocol". Above all, he (as well as Aziz Pahad, the Deputy Foreign Minister) demanded that India immediately hand over the "original tap es" to enable South Africa to conduct an "independent inquiry" into the affair. "The UCBSA is dismayed," Bacher said, "that the integrity of South African cricket and its players has been questioned. We remain adamant that our players have never been a p arty to match-fixing."

Indeed, this was the burden of every interview with Ali Bacher on the numerous radio programmes through the weekend. None of the journalists thought it necessary to remind Bacher that he could not afford to be so categorical in denying allegations of bri bery and match-fixing. After all, he had himself paid and thus persuaded so many international cricket players to take part in the so-called rebel tours of this country, in defiance of a sports boycott.

There has been no moderation of this belligerence towards India at the level of the 'cricket loving public'; and less overtly, at the level of the UCBSA. Indeed, during the media conference on the afternoon of April 11, one journalist asked the acting pr esident of the UCBSA whether he would moderate his hostility to India in the light of Cronje's admission. The acting president simply said that he would not respond to the question.

HOW does one explain such denial? Writing in Business Day (April 14), Max du Preez, the well-known South African journalist, recalled how as a 15-year-old he returned from school on the afternoon of September 6, 1966 to find his parents benumbed w ith shock, father grim-faced and mother tearful, as the father said: "My son, Dr. Verwoerd was murdered today." Du Preez notes that Tuesday, April 11, when Cronje made that early morning telephone call to Ali Bacher admitting that he had "not been entire ly honest" in his denials, was probably the closest that Afrikanerdom came to that "dark day" 34 years ago.

But to situate Hansiegate at some deep dislocation of the Afrikaner personality and character - and by implication see extenuating virtues in the English-speaking "cricket-playing public" - is simply to turn the apartheid mindset upside down. Indeed, six years into the democratic dispensation, on balance the Afrikaners have adjusted themselves better to the changes than the English speakers. This is natural for, unlike the English speakers, the Afrikaners have really have no 'home' outside South Africa.

The fact is, the corruption and criminality that is being exposed in the affair is no result of personal greed or kink. They are inherent in the very nature of competitive international sports played between teams representing nation-states, with the fla unting of rampant nationalist symbols - flag waving, painting of faces with the national colours and physical and metaphorical drum beating, all indulged in by the spectators. Each and every one of these symbols and gestures is intended to excite the wor st forms of national chauvinism and hatred of the other. The very vocabulary of media reporting (the media, especially television, is a big player in this racket and manipulation) of such contests bristles with images and metaphors of war. Media reports do not simply report that a team was defeated in a fair sporting contest; rather, the reports speak of humiliating and routing and annihilating the enemy. A strikingly coloured (in deep red) advertising insert in a financial weekly that was on the stalls soon after Cronje's admission touted its "latest digital technology" which, it said, was "an infallible device to help umpires make the correct decisions during the Australian innings". When the insert was opened, as directed, one had this wonderfully s porting message: "You're OUT, you b...", with a kangaroo leaping away after getting a kick on its backside.

With such rampant triumphalist-nationalist passion and hatred of the other manipulated by powerful sponsors and multinationals and advertisers being the rule of all international sports, and with so much big money involved, it is naive to expect that cri minals and racketeers will not try to take over the game, be it cricket or any other. Indeed, all indications are that the so-called international sports, which has nothing sporting about it, is already well and truly taken over by the criminals who are not really different from those who control big capital - the multinationals and the advertising industry and the information industry with their complex linkages.

This, rather than the nastiness towards India and Indians on the part of the South Africa's 'cricket loving public', is the real issue of Hansiegate. The one bright spot of the sordid affair is that these passions have not touched the majority of South A fricans, in particular the Africans. But then, this would have been a different story had a notable South African soccer star been implicated in similar shenanigans in India.

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