“I must say now, and clearly, that I am of the South Africa of Verwoerd and apartheid … a nation which is the result of an African graft on European stock and which is the product of its instinct and ability to maintain civilised values and standards amongst the alien barbarians … The African may well believe in witchcraft and primitive magic, practise ritual murder and polygamy; his wealth is in cattle. More money and he will have no sense of parental or individual responsibility, no understanding of reverence for life or the human soul which is the basis of Christian and other civilised societies. … A good deal of nonsense is talked of, and indeed thought about ‘segregation’. Segregation of one kind or another is practised everywhere in the world.”
These are the words of South Africa’s greatest sporting icon – Gary Player, and these words are contained in his 1966 book called Grand Slam Golf.
So, as a non-white South African, I approached brunch with Gary Player at the Emirates Golf Club, with some reservations. Nevertheless, I reminded myself that we are in the new South Africa. We just completed our fourth democratic elections, for goodness sake! One that even I, as an expat, was able to participate in!
My first impression of the “Black Knight” was that he looked remarkably good for 73. In fact, he would put most 40 years olds to shame! Although I’ve heard that he is a massive fitness fanatic, seeing him, really cemented the importance of a good diet and exercise.
Dubai is largely a world of false egos, materialism and inflated self-esteems. Another surprise: here was the most successful international golfer of all time and he was humbly posing for photographs, politely signing autographs and even chatting to the waiters and staff of the country club.
Then, Gary Player started his speech. “Its time to go back to basics,” he said assertively. With much emotion and subtle aggression, the audience (made up mainly of South African expats) was enlightened on the virtues of respect for people, respect for time and even the benefits of a vegetarian diet. Then came the moving bits. “I am blessed to come from South Africa! It’s the best piece of real estate in the world,” he exclaimed to rousing applause. “And I’m most positive about our nation. This election has proved that we are a bunch of winners. Remember, in life – always be positive. We all have a part to play in our country.”
To my great amazement, I found myself inspired by the man. So, his beliefs were a bit screwed up in his 30’s, but now, as a 73 year old, his attitude towards apartheid and indeed equality is very different. His charity work over the years and millions spent on development work speaks volumes. So, I’ve decided to leave the past exactly where it belongs and appreciate present day South Africans for who they are. Indeed, we are a remarkable, resilient bunch. So cheers to Gary Player and other South African greats!
I’ll leave you with his words: “I’ve hit more golf balls than any other player in history. There’s only one man who might surpass me and that’s Vijay Singh. But he has to live a long time to do that – because I’m just getting warmed up!”