Pick a side

Commenter Chris (not THAT Chris), says:

For all I know, [Dame Susan Devoy] may be a complete dud, or a wonderful race relations mediator. But whatever she is, you are being totally unrealistic passing judgement on her because she refused to appear on TV within a day of starting her (part-time) job.

Well, no. A part-time job that pays $270k per year? Someone appointed to a role like this should not need on-the-job training to be able to answer basic questions about it. Nobody is asking for detailed policy analysis or in-depth engagement with specific issues — only for broad discussion in principle, so we can get a sense of where she stands, and how her qualifications on race relations differ from those of some random person down the pub.

On previous performance I’d have thought there wasn’t that much to distinguish her from someone down the pub on these issues. But recently Toby Manhire dug up this wee gem from her autobiography, in which she reveals that the only thing preventing her from playing the “sunshine circuit” in apartheid South Africa was the threat of sponsorship being cancelled and that “media coverage could damage my reputation in this country.”

She also doesn’t think sports boycotts helped the situation there. Here are two people who do:

Dame Susan’s words were probably written in 1992, and it is possible she holds a different view now. I hope someone will ask her. But by 1992 the end of apartheid was already nigh, several years of negotiations to end it having already been undertaken between the government of FW de Klerk and Nelson Mandela (who had been out of prison since 1990). South Africa fielded a “non-racial” team at the 1992 Olympic Games in Barcelona — the first Olympics it had been permitted to compete in since 1960. The notion that sport had not been an important factor in its end is simply not credible, and was not credible in 1992 either.

So I know whose side I’m on. Still, it beats the Prime Minister’s claim that he didn’t know what side he was on. At least Dame Susan is open about her ignorance of the issue.


9 thoughts on “Pick a side

  1. Yes I’ve picked my side on that one too. Hope you’re going to post about the PM shenanigans, perhaps in light of his popularity – always enjoy your take on things even if I don’t agree 100% with everything.

  2. Where do you get this “on the job training” argument from? – you are just making that up.

    The woman has been hounded by the media even before she took up the position and the media have tried to keep the story alive by looking for a specious reason to demand a public comment from her within hours of starting the job. Her job description does not require that she fulfill the medias requests for interview, more especially those that are really sought for the purpose of trying to embarrass her.

    I see in your zeal to criticise Devouy for her published comments that you conveniently overlook that All Black Chris Laidlaw for years played rugby against the Apartheid South African Springboks before he was subsequently appointed Race Relations Conciliator.

    The Race Relations Commissioner position is a complete waste of money, and the faux howls of anger about Devoy’s appointment come from the left because they have always believed the position was reserved for someone of their political persausion.

  3. Interesting post Lew, although I think you should have related Dame Susan’s remarks to the major context for NZ-SA sporting contacts, the 1981 Springbok Tour of NZ. I guess you prefer to imply that the current debate over her appointment takes up unfinished business? That’s how I see her appointment, its progressives versus conservative boof-heads all over again.

  4. Chris,

    “On the job training” refers to her own comments in response to queries that any holder of public office should be able to answer without effort.

    Regarding Chris Laidlaw — yes, he did play against South Africa in both the 1965 and 1970 tours. But he did later oppose later apartheid-era tours, and he brought some other handy qualifications to the role — a Rhodes Scholarship, a career as a diplomat, and particularly as High Commissioner to Zimbabwe, which has its share of racial complexity.

    As to the matter of partisanship, I have no knowledge of Dame Susan’s politics. She has given us no clear indication of what they are. Inchoate “one nation” sentiments are by no means the sole preserve of the right. As I said on the last thread, the point here is not her politics — it’s her qualifications.


  5. Harry, yes! That historical battle of the culture wars is over (HART and the ANC won) but the underlying issue (whether or not racism is a matter for general solidarity, or simply a matter for stirrers & radicals) continues to be fought every day.


  6. I really hope someone asks her that question about the sport boycott too.
    Im starting to think shes almost a shrinking violet, surely thats not appropriate for this position

  7. Well – as we all know – getting rid of aparthied hasnt done anything for South Africa as a country. Sure its opened up a few spots in rugby teams but as we all know – the country is worse now than it was on the day aparthied was elliminated.

    Thats not to say that aparthied was in any way desirable – its just that so many people put far too much trust and hope in these changes.
    Its like climate change. There is a strong movement that getting get rid of carbon based fuels will stop global warming. But even if we stopped using them tomorrow it will not have an effect for at least 100 years and maybe as long as 500 years.
    So the real problems in S Africa are tribalism, corruption and fraud. Aparthied actually masked them by providing the blacks with a bigger cause for them to combine against. Now that its gone – they have fallen back on the old conflicts – that actually affect all of africa.

    And if mandela (who I think is pretty smart) and Tutu (who is just a silly old man) really thought getting rid of aparthied was going to change things then they are sillier than I thought. All getting rid of it was going to do was change the tribes from the black/white scene back to the old scene of 10 to 15 tribes who – like maori – had spent history fighting each other.

  8. Here’s the big question – Devoy aside, is it possible for National to appoint a RRC whose views on racial politics accord with those of the party base, while still respecting the various procedural and qualification requirements that exist surrounding the position? Or do these requirements basically prevent the National Party (let alone ACT Party) from putting someone who agrees with its policies in this position?

  9. Sporting boycotts had a small effect on the end of the apartheid regime, but the impact may be overstated. South African sport has always been quite self contained, and they probably would have been perfectly happy to continue playing against each. Even without the sporting boycotts, apartheid would have collapsed under firstly the pressures of economic divestment, and secondly the internal contradictions of the regime itself. The white government gave up power because they came to realise that eventually the black masses would rise up and violently overthrow them, a la Zimbabwe, if they did not. By peacefully transferring political power, the economic power of the white elite was largely preserved.

    Sporting boycotts are always much more about the country doing the boycotting rather than the boycotted, they are a mechanism to reassure yourself that you are better and more enlightened than another country. But hell, are our hands really that clean? I mean, we’ve just appointed someone with borderline racist views on one of the founding documents of our country as our race relations commissioner. Immediately after the Springbok Tour we elected a Parliament overwhelmingly composed of white males, and a government that had supported the tour. The rest of the Western world was little different. What exactly gave regimes with the implicit denial of opportunity to non-whites the moral authority to not play sport against certain racist regimes, and must that not have seemed like gross hypocrisy to the apartheid regime?

    We love to highlight comments like those made by Mandela and Tutu, because they make us feel like we helped remove the apartheid regime. They probably made them in an effort to garner international goodwill for the new regime. But let’s not be fooled. Apartheid was isolated economically, and the regime was going to collapse anyway. Sporting boycotts weren’t much more than a nice symbol for our disgust at racism that was explicit and obvious.

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