The good, the bad and the downright ugly

This being South Africa, there’s always something to rejoice about – and just as quickly something to tear your hair out about. We’ve all got different triggers; for some people it’s three very different ex-presidents all pointing fingers at the current one saying how kak things are last Sunday.

They’ve obviously forgotten that when you point one, there’s three fingers pointing back at you, literally the sins of the fathers. For others, the trigger might be the clay feet of celebrities; the biggest revelation being in former Proteas captain Faf du Plessis’s biography – as one website pithily put it – “the day I saw Darryl Cullinan was a doos”.

The tyro, straight out of school had been called up into the Titans franchise and was beside himself with excitement at being in the same team as his hero and icon, Cullinan. They’d never met before. Du Plessis took a seat next to him as coach Dave Nosworthy began addressing the assembled players.

Cullinan interrupted Nosworthy, not once, but twice. Cullinan proceeded to publicly berate Du Plessis for having the temerity to sit next to him, a celebrated South African test player. Then he publicly humiliated him by making him get up, take his bag and sit in the bath for the rest of the team talk.

What a captain. What a cricketer. What a c@#$.

Protea fans will remember many things about Cullinan. One of them will be that for all his other attributes, he was also the late Shane Warne’s ‘bunny’: A rabbit caught in the headlights every time he went out to the crease against the legendary leg spinner – and dismissed every time.

The bullied become bullies – and so too it appears to have happened in the change room at Centurion Park. We have learnt a lot about the change room culture in the Proteas; from laddish fines meetings to open racism and, now, public humiliation.

Not all sport is like that. Springbok rugby which you would expect to be worse – after the horrors of Kamp Staaldraad – is a very different place. Siya Kolisi is a true icon. You can’t imagine him behaving like that in a team’s meeting with any player, much less a rookie. You can’t imagine Rassie Erasmus or any of the management staff allowing it either.

Du Plessis was a great cricketer and a great captain. You wonder how much greater he could have been in a world without Cullinan or coaches like Mark Boucher, who threw him to the wolves – instead of standing up for him.

But for every ugliness, there’s always a rainbow: this time Pretoria Girls High School. Eight years ago, it was making international headlines for racist hair regulations that discriminated against black pupils. This week it was in the news again; this time for a young white teacher, Dee Bullock who set Tik Tok alight, when she took up her pupils’ challenge and performed the amapiano hit SalarySalary by Robot Boi. She wrongfooted the haters of all hues and won legions of fans. She understood the assignment. 

It can’t be a coincidence that Erasmus does a mean amapiano himself, can it?

Originally published by the Saturday Star on 29 October 2022.