Prof Piet Naudé
The past week was tough. The reaction to my column on the underlying forces shaping our participation in mass sporting events has been wide-ranging.
My reference to charity work through sport was not the main point at all,
but was not explained well enough. I therefore unreservedly apologise to those
in our city (Port Elizabeth) and elsewhere who give of their time to support
others via sporting events. Thank you for explaining and inviting me to come and
witness your work.
What I tried to say, is the following: If one participates in a mass
sporting event and use that event to (for example) collect money for an old age
home, that action is good in itself. The people participating for this
additional purpose have pure motives, and in a situation of dwindling state
support, this is sometimes the only way out.
That does not mean the possibly negative underlying social forces at work
are cancelled out. In fact, by adding charity, one may exactly be blinded to see
the class, gender and values discrimination implicitly reinforced by such events
(as I argued). That is what I meant when I said charity may be “a false veil”
before our eyes.
Let me illustrate this point with two other examples:
Many missionaries in the 19th century felt themselves called by God to
bring light to Africa. At great personal cost, they trekked to remote African
communities and proclaimed the gospel, translated the Bible into indigenous
languages, built schools to educate and hospitals to help the sick.
These were honest and good people with pure intentions. But below the
surface of their noble action, other forces were at work. Historians refer to
the combination of the three C’s: Christianity, Commerce and Civilisation. A
fourth C was later added, especially after the Spanish invasion of Latin
America: Conquest. No wonder African people said afterward they did appreciate
the gospel, but whilst the white men taught them to pray, they stole their
In this case one can clearly see the sub- and super-structures at work,
unbeknown to the good people who (by the way) fundamentally altered the way of
mission in later years. Their noble intentions were predicated upon partially
destructive forces over which they had little or no control.
To point to these power relations, is not to attack the missionaries in
person – one is filled with admiration for them in most cases – but to speak an
uncomfortable truth about the ambiguity of social action, despite our best
Another example: Imagine a big mining company in the 1970s offering
university bursaries for engineering. On the surface their intention is noble:
They give students a chance to qualify in order to build up the economy and pay
But beneath the surface are other realities: The company’s wealth from
which the bursary comes, has been built, inter alia, on cheap black labour under
inhumane migrant labour laws. By supporting a white university, they confirm a
system of exclusion and unequal opportunity. And we also know that they were
incurring serious ecological costs by messing up the groundwater.
So again: what superficially looks good may be embedded in social
perceptions and practices that are not only contributing to the public good. I
wrote the same about universities two weeks ago.
This ambiguity raises its head time and again – that is a given with the
Now obviously, if one weighs the moral quality of colonialism and
apartheid against mass sporting events, the latter is ethically far less
destructive. But if my columns would only state the obvious or if I only wrote
what everybody already knew, why would I waste my time or valuable media
What inspires me is the tradition of suspicion. It refuses to accept the
veil of the status quo. The results are sometimes uncomfortable (and please note
the views expressed are my own and not that of the university).
I refer to Karl Marx who opened our eyes for class distinctions;
Friedrich Nietzsche and recently Noam Chomsky who taught us to see underlying
power relations; Sigmund Freud who opened up the influence of the sub-conscious;
Thomas Kuhn who showed what we believe is paradigm-dependent; and feminist
scholars who taught us how vicious patriarchy and ecologically destructive a
human-centred view of the cosmos are.
This is why oppressive regimes burn books and ban academics first (or
propose secrecy laws). They know the battle is about the mind.
I will continue to search “beneath the surface” of our society. This
includes politics, law, religion, gender, ethics, higher education, family life,
culture, economics and more.
I promise to leave those in the sporting fraternity in peace for a while.
I need time to train for my first half marathon since 1982.
Anyone know about a special on running shoes?
*Prof Piet Naudé is the former head of the Business School and currently
Deputy Vice- Chancellor: Academic at the Nelson Mandela Metro University in Port
Elizabeth. He writes in his personal capacity. This article is to inform and
educate, not to advise.