The Presidential Years

Silas Nkanunu is set to become the first black president of the South African Rugby Football Union (Sarfu) as part of a dramatic shake-up of the administration of the game that has been set in motion by the resignation of Louis Luyt.

Nkanunu, who runs a law firm in Port Elizabeth, was elected president of the Eastern Province Rugby Football Union in 1994 and became Luyt’s vice-president last year. He was one of the four black Sarfu executive members whose resignation two weeks ago was the death knell of Luyt’s presidency of Sarfu.

Though he may succeed Luyt, Nkanunu will not inherit Luyt’s extensive personal powers as Sarfu president. Rian Oberholzer, the incumbent chief executive officer, will remain in place with expanded powers.

Russell MacMillan, head of major sponsor Supersport, put the changes in a nutshell: “The role of CEO will be expanded and the role of president will become mainly an honorary title. It is vital to ensure the president can never again have the power to force unions to toe the line against the wishes of the majority. The CEO will be the decision-maker, answerable to the board of executives.”

Signs of the sweeping changes in the corridors of one of the last strongholds of white male Afrikaner power were already in evidence within days of Luyt’s departure.

On Thursday, a Sarfu delegation met President Nelson Mandela to officially apologise for dragging him into court. Next week Sarfu’s new interim executive committee will be announced. Humility abounds in the corridors once characterised by the sound of closing doors.

The National Sports Council (NSC) has had its way and early next week Sarfu’s Constitution will undergo the changes necessary to appoint an interim committee. Seven of those positions will go to Sarfu nominees, four to NSC nominees. The four names that are certain to be represented on the committee are Nkanunu, Oberholzer, and the NSC’s Mvuso Mbebe and Gideon Sam.

The reality is that the future of the game will be controlled by marketers, sponsors and players. The days of chewing the cud in the president’s suite and deciding the fate of people 40 years your junior, just because once, a long time ago, you were yourself a muddied oaf, are gone.

Oberholzer can prove his acumen by realising that fact, and dealing with it sooner rather than later.

If he is successful in his appointed task of transforming the game, he stands a good chance of lasting well beyond the end of the 12-month life of the interim committee. He may even throw off the stigma of being Luyt’s son-in-law and earn the respect of non-rugby people.

But while Luyt has been deposed from the top job, he remains the president of the Golden Lions Rugby Union. He is not about to go away, but for a while at least, power has shifted a few hundred metres down Staib Street - to Mbebe’s NSC offices.

Staff Reporter