Wayne Smith | June 09, 2008
WHAT should have been a unifying moment in Springbok rugby, Saturday's comprehensive defeat of Six Nations champion Wales by the first Boks side coached by a non-white, has instead been clouded by a controversy that cuts to the core of racial politics in southern Africa.
Among the six black players chosen by new coach Peter de Villiers was prop Brian Mujati, the powerfully-built 118kg Western Province tighthead who was born in Zimbabwe but made his way into the Test side via the Lions and Stormers. But it is his family background, not his rugby past, that has plunged him into controversy.
Last week, the British-based newspaper The Zimbabwean, which describes itself as "A voice for the voiceless", reported that Mujati's father, Joseph, had ordered a famous rugby player of the 1960s off his third-generation farm in the Odzi-Inyazura region of Robert Mugabe's troubled nation.
The white farmer, Marthinus 'Tienie' Martin, had been earmarked for Springboks selection at five-eighth in 1968, only for injury to cut short his career.
But he had returned to his family property Tiny Farm and built it into a prosperous, well-managed operation until the day in December 2003 when Joseph Mujati, accompanied by 12 youths, presented him with a letter informing Martin he was taking over the property immediately.
Martin phoned the police, who arrived first thing the next morning, only to stand around doing nothing while Mujati and his men started looting the property even before the Martins had finished packing.
It was an all-too-common occurrence in Mugabe's kleptocracy, as was the eventual outcome. Like his colleagues in ZANU PF, Mujati allegedly sold all the farm equipment and livestock and then left the land to die.
At a time when even Mugabe admits there is famine in Zimbabwe, a crisis the rest of the world identified at least six years ago, Tiny Farm, like so many other once-productive properties, is now derelict and overrun with weeds. The nearby sports club that had once been the heart of a thriving community is now reportedly a torture centre run by the ZANU PF militia.
Martin, his wife Charlotte and their daughters now live in a small rented townhouse in Harare, having never received any compensation for the home that was taken away from him.
But according to the Zimbabwean journalist who broke the story, Martin was initially reluctant to let the tale be published. "I don't want to mess the youngster's (Brian's) career up," he told the newspaper. "What happened to me was not the son's fault."
He then made what the newspaper described as "a telling point" - "but, hell, his dad didn't give my children too much thought when he threw them out of their houses."
It may be that Martin now regrets going public. After the story, Joseph Mujati allegedly twice threatened him over the phone, prompting Martin to take his family into hiding.
The South African Rugby Union steadfastly supported Brian Mujati in the days leading up to his Test debut against Wales, though it has not denied the accuracy of The Zimbabwean's report.
"This is a shabby attempt to smear the name of a Springbok rugby player on what should be one of the most memorable days of his life," said Andy Colquhoun, SA Rugby's strategic communications manager.
"There are no allegations against Brian, and an attempt to visit the alleged sins of a father onto a son is beneath contempt, however it may be dressed up."
Shortly before the Test, Colquhoun was not able to say whether Brian Mujati had read the reports.
"I have not asked him," Colquhoun said. "I'm sure that all he has been thinking about is getting on top of his opponents in the scrum."
As it happened, that was the one area of the game where the Springboks struggled in their otherwise comprehensive 43-17 victory at Bloemfontein on Saturday.
According to the Planet Rugby website, "Brian Mujati was exposed at tighthead and may find he pays the price when the side for next week's Test is announced."