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Sports minister forcing players to kneel ‘can never be tolerated’, says trade union

by ZwemZa on August 20th, 2020

Sale Sharks (Photo by David Rogers/Getty Images)

Trade union Solidarity says minister of sport Nathi Mthethwa has no right to intimidate or victimise players on the basis of their support, or not, for the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement.

This comes after the minister said earlier this week he was seeking answers from SA Rugby after South African players in England opted not to kneel in support of the movement.

Werner Human, deputy chief executive for legal matters and research at Solidarity, hit out at the minister on Wednesday.

“Such behaviour falls completely outside the ambit of the minister’s powers, and it infringes on the players’ freedom of speech, belief and religion. We are not even mentioning freedom of expression, for that matter – what the minister is trying to do here is to bring about a forced expression of speech. This can never be tolerated,” he said in a press statement on the trade union’s official website.

The players wore “Rugby Against Racism” T-shirts, but not many opted to take the knee in support of the BLM campaign.

At the Sale Sharks, where eight South Africans turned out against Harlequins, none of Jono Ross, Faf de Klerk, Coenie Oosthuizen, Akker van der Merwe, Dan du Preez, Robert du Preez, Lood de Jager or Jean-Luc du Preez opted to kneel.

They were joined by England centre, Manu Tuilagi, Wales prop, Willgriff John and Scotland wing Byron McGuigan, with only Sam Hill, Simon Hammersley, Tom Curry and Marland Yarde (all of England) opting to take the knee, as well as four of the seven substitutes.

In other matches, Gloucester’s Ruan Ackerman and Worcester Warriors’ Francois Venter also opted to remain standing.

Solidarity said it would step in on behalf of any of the players targeted by the minister, as well as any other sportsman or woman who are disadvantaged in practising their profession due to their refusal to support the BLM movement.

Hennie Bierman, head of the occupational guilds division at Solidarity, added: “No employer may force anyone to support a political movement. Even worse, no politician may interfere in the workplace to force an employer to do so. Professional sportsmen and women are already in a particularly precarious position with regard to job security. We cannot allow their constitutional rights to be violated as well.”

Mtethwa earlier in the week said he contacted SA Rugby president Mark Alexander for more clarity on the matter.

“Upon seeing this‚ I interacted with SA Rugby through its president and I asked him to explain what’s happening so that we are on the same wavelength.

“You must remember we were together at the World Cup in Japan as a country with some of the players and one thing which cannot be tolerated is when somebody is displaying racist behaviour and showing racist attitude.

“The president of SA Rugby did say that they are going to be having their own meeting and they will make their views known.”

Human added: “For the minister to consider opposition to the BLM movement to be racist is absurd. This movement and its harmful precepts and beliefs should actually be opposed because of the negative consequences it holds for all races. Although, just because we are not prepared to bend the knee for BLM, it does not mean we refuse to grant others that freedom. What is unacceptable, however, is to victimise players because of their own choice in this regard.”

Meanwhile, in an interview with Netwerk24, DA member of parliament Zakhele Mbele, also criticised Mthethwa.

“It’s nothing more than a witch-hunt against players exercising their constitutional right of freedom of expression and association.

“It is precisely pronouncements like these from the minister that divide South Africans. South Africa is a constitutional democracy and freedom of choice and expression are fundamental rights,” Mbele said.


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