Desmond Tutu is calling for a boycott of companies that do with business with Burma’s (Myanmar) military junta. One of the companies belong to apartheid era golfer, Gary Player.
In recent days it has emerged that Gary Player designed a golf course in Burma that is said to be used by the junta rulers.
I read this story and thought "why not?" Gary Player is apartheid’s progeny. The man spent most of his illustrious golfing career parading as a de-facto ambassador for the apartheid regime in Pretoria.
Sean Jacobs of the blog Leo Africanus reminds us how Player defended apartheid in 1968. He said to the New Yorker that: "[We are] maligned, misunderstood, pilloried by people who can tell us how to order our affairs from a range of 6 000 miles without ever coming down to South Africa and seeing for themselves and trying to understand."
In another instance Sean Jacobs reports that he said "... I must say now, and clearly, that I am of the South Africa of Verwoerd and apartheid."
Since then, Player has used a slick marketing campaign to buy influence among the leaders and glitterati of the post-apartheid era.
Among those who have sold their reputation and thereby, themselves, to Player is none other than our first post-apartheid president, Nelson Mandela.
I first heard of President Mandela’s association with Player from a graduate student in one of my classes in Portland. She described how her daughter was working as a charity promoter for Player in South Africa.
The charity was a golf tournament that brought Player and Mandela together for the purpose of raising money for underprivileged kids. She offered to mention to her daughter that I would be in South Africa during the time of the tournament.
Within a week of our conversation a flashy package appeared in my office with invites to this and that function and lodging information. The brochure had pictures of Player and Mandela embracing.
My blood began to boil and I could barely contain my utter disgust.
I remembered seeing Player appear in a guest TV spot where he was teaching young Black teenagers to golf during the apartheid era. In one scene he was standing by the side of a young man and telling him to bend and use his African genetics (this he said while slapping his thighs and butt) to propel the ball.
I was appalled. How more racist and demeaning could he be? It was clear that he was doing the spot to soften his presence in international golf.
Now two decades later, Player is found eating at the trough of brutality in Burma. But he is found doing so with his name attached to Mandela.
The “Player's Nelson Mandela Invitational tournament is set to take place at Arabello golf club near Hermanus (South Arica) next month."
A major sponsor of this tournament is Coca-Cola. I suspect that there will be a call for Coca-Cola to remove their sponsorship.
At this time, however, Archbishop Desmond Tutu is only calling on Mandela to remove his association with Player. As of this writing, Mandela has not responded directly but his personal assistant, a white Afrikaner woman, has done so on his behalf.
Ms. Zelda La Grange says that it is unnecessary for the anti-apartheid leader "to take a stance on the subject."
She says further that: "Mandela is a humanitarian and will always oppose any human rights violations," she then added, "Is it necessary for him to stand up every time they (rights violations) happen and make a statement, at 89?"
Ummmm, in short, yes!
Nelson Mandela does not only represent himself, his struggle is the struggle of all South Africans that stood up against the inhumanity of apartheid. He cannot at this stage of his life merely be excused because he is 89.
The struggle for justice did not end when Mandela retired. Burma is part of our larger struggle for justice.
I think it important to recognize that Mandela is not beyond reproach in this matter. His association with Player, like his association with the Mandela Rhodes foundation, is nothing short of a betrayal of the anti-apartheid struggle and its guiding principles.
And I am not at all sympathetic to the naysayers who would point out that Mandela is doing this to help poor rural children. In fact, I am even more horrified that Mandela would associate the lives of these children with Player.
We should not be fooled into thinking that money can buy principle and an advance of struggle.
George Monbiot of the Guardian broke this story in an opinion piece on Friday. He writes:"Some of the country’s courses have been built on land seized from peasant farmers, who were evicted without compensation. Golf is the sport of the generals, who conduct much of their business on the links."
Monbiot points out that Player's company is based in Florida, this raises the question of whether US sanctions against Burma have been broken.
Manbiot is urging Mandela to break with Player. And so is Tutu who, to this day, cannot be faulted for selling any part of his commitment to justice, anywhere.
And we are not free.
***Update (October 8)
A report says that Player has removed his name from the golf tournament. As of this writing, Nelson Mandela has not said a word in public about Player and the Burma controversy.