Rugby club tackles white privilege

(This article was published in the Weekend Argus, a weekly newspaper in the Western Cape province, South Africa, on March 19 2016.)

Written by Yazeed Kamaldien

By the end of this year, when newspapers set out routinely rounding up lists of all that was noteworthy, a term that could likely make the list would be ‘white privilege’.

Right now, as South Africans seem to be confronting more vigorously their apartheid past, the term white privilege pops up regularly on social media websites, in debates and newspaper column spaces.

It refers to structural racism that has benefited whites while excluding everybody else from its benefits. Unfortunately some white people take it as a personal attack instead of seeing it as a way of admitting that apartheid was real and wrong.

While white privilege is exposed and challenged, its impact is still evident and dissected at all levels of society, including at the Primrose Rugby Football Club, headquartered from its Kenilworth clubhouse.

Primrose celebrates its 120th anniversary this year and is one of the Western Cape’s oldest rugby clubs for people of colour.

Ideally, in post-apartheid South Africa there should be no reference to the racial composition of any sporting institution. Sporting clubs should ideally be open to anybody, regardless of their race.

But the reality is that sport, particularly rugby which is perceived as one of the cornerstones of what it means to be a white Afrikaner, is still dominated by race and questions of racial transformation.


Former Springbok player Eddie Andrews, left, with Yusuf Abrahams, lifetime president of the Primrose Rugby Football Club, which celebrates its 120th anniversary this year. Picture Yazeed Kamaldien

South Africans across racial lines may have embraced rugby but a recent video cemented the idea that white Afrikaners who do not want to be challenged still dominate this sport.

This video showed how black student protesters at a rugby match at the University of the Free State last month walked onto a rugby field and were beaten up by white spectators.

At the Primrose training ground, this is viewed as an example of how white privilege reacts to ‘outsiders’.

Primrose is one of the Western Cape’s top clubs, playing in the Super League A division which comprises the top 15 clubs of the provincial rugby union.

But here’s the catch: it remains a ‘community’ club which feeds former whites-only boys schools with players every year. This is the system of white privilege, says its executive committee, holding back their progress while they lose their top players.

The club’s president Faghier Gamieldien cites Springbok player Nizaam Carr as an example of the entrenched feeder system.

“Many of our players are recognised and then offered bursaries to study at private schools where they get professional training. Nizaam Carr is one of those players,” says Gamieldien.

“He was recognised by Bishops (The Diocesan College, an independent, all-boys school in Rondebosch).

“Would Nizaam have been where he is had he stayed with Primrose? He went to a private school where he was prepared for the national team.”

Club treasurer Yusuf Maged adds: “That is the model in rugby and cricket”.

“Old money is backing those schools. We can’t raise that money to train players. You can’t compete also with universities. It’s a pipeline you can’t compete with.”

Primrose life president Yusuf ‘Jowa’ Abrahams, who has served the club since 1963, says this indicates rugby remains untransformed from the ground up.


Primrose rugby club on a tour to Johannesburg in 1972. Picture Supplied

It is among challenges discussed last year when loud calls were made to send to the Rugby World Cup, held in the UK, a more racially inclusive rugby team as opposed to a largely white-faced squad.

“Transformation is a big challenge. There’s still a large discrepancy between advantaged and disadvantaged clubs in terms of sponsorship. We have been knocking on doors and people don’t see us,” says Abrahams.

The knock-on effect is that talented players in junior teams are lost to schools, where they can also get a better education, and senior players prefer to sign up with clubs that can pay them to win matches.

“Rugby in the Western Cape is under serious threat,” says Abrahams.

“We can’t afford top coaches and players with talent go and play elsewhere because they get incentives. Community-based clubs like Primrose are under threat.”

“Universities and clubs that have money can pay the best coaches. They pay ex-Springboks to coach their teams. There’s a direct impact between funding and the quality of players.”

Not all talented rugby players have progressed via the school or university pipeline though.

Former national team player Edwin Andrews, who started playing rugby at Primrose, made it through the ranks via trials where selectors took note.

Usually, selectors are seen at the sidelines of former whites-only schools and universities known for producing top rugby teams, to select their provincial and national team players.

Andrews says if Primrose and other clubs like it could receive financial assistance to develop talent, instead of losing it to privileged schools or clubs with money, “imagine what this club can achieve”. His 11-year-old son plays for Primrose.

“We have an apartheid legacy that we have inherited and we have to chip away at that. You also have to ask how often selectors visit Primrose and clubs like it,” says Andrews.

“It’s easier to go to established clubs with top coaches.”

Gamieldien says the detrimental cycle continues without being challenged, as parents who can’t afford to private school fees would bring their children to join Primrose with the hope they would be “snatched up”.

“Parents to bring their youngsters here because we play against those (private) schools. If those schools see you as a talented player, there is a good chance they will offer you a bursary,” says Gamieldien.

“Every year we have youngsters from our club going to those schools. We won’t keep the youngsters from opportunities. But we can sustain our own players if we had infrastructure and financial support.”

Abrahams says in its 120-year history, Primrose has supported non-racialism in sport and actively lobbied against apartheid structures.

“We were politically very strong,” says Abrahams.

“One year, some of our top players participated in a friendly match at UCT (when sport was still racially segregated). The club said, ‘No, you broke the rules’. They were barred from playing for our club.”

Abrahams says rugby remains a sport that is “important for a diverse group of people” and not only whites.

“People of colour are passionate about rugby. The white establishment for years didn’t know us but we know them because of the coverage they have received in newspapers,” says Abrahams.

“We hardly feature in the media. If we do, newspapers publish small stories about us days later. We are still in a disadvantaged era.”


SIDE BOX – the club’s history

Primrose Rugby Football Club was founded in 1896 by a group of rugby playing workers at the Maitland municipal abbatoir.

It is not the oldest club in the Western Cape and not the only one which had members who were of colour.

Other clubs included Violets, which at some point had merged with Primrose and then started up on its own again.

When Primrose celebrated its 100th anniversary, it invited other top clubs to join it and that have been around for longer. This included Hamiltons (founded in 1875), Thistle (founded in 1891) and Temperance (founded 1895).

Primrose, under the patronage of the late anti-apartheid activist Imam Abdullah Haron, killed by apartheid police while in detention in 1969, was part of Haron’s vision in creating a society free from all forms of prejudice.

Haron’s funeral service was held at Primrose’s sports ground, City Park, on Monday, September 29 1969, with thousands in attendance.

Claremont became a base for the club with practices held at a park in Stegmann Road and at Rotary Park in Kenilworth.

Club meetings were held at the former Talfalah School in Draper Street and the Stegmann Road Mosque hall.

Political changes in South Africa and the dismantling of apartheid resulted in unity being brokered between the South African Rugby Union and the South African Rugby Board in 1992.

In 1993 the club acquired Rosmead Sports Ground in Kenilworth. By 2013 the club was promoted to the Super League A division of the Western Province Rugby Football Union.

The club’s youth teams have played against visiting clubs from Argentina, Chile, England, France, Ireland, New Zealand, Scotland and Zimbabwe. Its senior team has played on tour in Morocco.

Source: Primrose Rugby Football Club





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About Yazeed Kamaldien

Self-employed journalist and photographer from South Africa.

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