THE BLOG
12/06/2018 06:46 SAST | Updated 12/06/2018 06:46 SAST

Do Indigenous Languages Have A Place In South African Rugby?

'I’m writing this in English because it seems this is the language of preference at SA Rugby these days.'

David Rogers/ Getty Images
Siya Kolisi, the first black African captain of the Springboks, poses with head coach Rassie Erasmus at the Pivot Hotel on June 8 2018, in Montecasino, Fourways.

What a proud moment it was seeing Siya Kolisi lead out the Springboks against England on Saturday. As they say in Afrikaans, "Hoendervleis".

Talking about Afrikaans, I left the press conference after game wondering what role indigenous languages may play in the future of South African rugby.

At the media conference, coach Johan "Rassie" Erasmus and captain Siya Kolisi were given ample time to explain their thoughts on the Boks beating England 42-39 in English. Indigenous languages like Afrikaans and isiXhosa were, however, only given a few minutes at the end.

David Rogers via Getty Images
Siya Kolisi, and Rassie Erasmus during the media session at the Pivot Hotel on June 8 2018.

As a journalist who works in Afrikaans media, my job is to tell sports stories in Afrikaans — but it is very difficult to do if, like on Saturday, I'm only allowed to ask one question. Erasmus, whose mother tongue is Afrikaans, answered questions in Afrikaans, and Siya Kolisi was also given time to answer a few questions in isiXhosa.

The reason I'm writing this in English is that it seems like this is the language of preference at SA Rugby these days.

This is not an attack on the English language, and I'm not advocating purely for the indigenous languages — I support transformation, equal opportunity and inclusivity. And that's what I want — for indigenous languages to be included and given equal opportunity by sporting bodies like SA Rugby.

I've worked in the media for more than a decade, and in that time I have seen how sports stars struggle to express themselves in a language that is not their mother tongue.

It's great that we have a coach who is Afrikaans and captain who is Xhosa, but why don't SA Rugby give them more time to express themselves in their mother tongues?

I attended a press conference last year where the French rugby coach spoke at length in his mother tongue, England coach Eddie Jones did the same... not the Springboks though. English, please.

Rugby is not the only sport guilty of doing this. Earlier this year I was at Cricket South Africa's annual Pink Day launch. AB De Villiers was given an extended period to speak to the English and international media, yet only two questions were allowed from the Afrikaans media before we were told by the then-communications manager that our time was up.

My media colleagues tell me, "This is just the way it is". I've worked in the media for more than a decade, and in that time I have seen how sports stars struggle to express themselves in languages that are not their mother tongue. If you insist that English be a part of the protocol at media conferences, then you are excluding millions of South Africans.

The one team that has managed to create an environment where English and indigenous languages enjoy equal status are the newly crowned World Champions, the Blitzbokke. Their coach and captain regularly do in-depth interviews in Afrikaans and English, while players like Tim Agaba, Seabello Senatla and Siviwe Soyizwapi do the same in English and their mother tongues.

Soccer bosses and players have also perfected the art of getting their message across in English and in all the other indigenous languages. So my question is, "What's the use of having a diverse and transformed Springbok team and coaching staff, if you are not prepared to allow them the time to express themselves in a diverse way?"