Yesterday when I was driving home listening to SAfm phone issue topic on Gary Player I couldn't help to realize that only one out of ten callers had something positive to say about him. They were saying things that I have never heard off. Funny enough Most of the callers were white males, probably they know him better I thought. Today I stumbled across a little or not so little piece written by Terry Bell a Business report labour columnist on Gary Player. I thought let me share it with you maybe you like him.
Gary Player’s history has caught up with him again, for the second time in little more than two years. This time it was the involvement of his United States based company with the brutal military dictatorship in Burma; last time it was the exposure of his more than cosy links with and support for the apartheid state.
The Burma connection has once again thrown up the mass of contradictions in Player’s life, contradictions that have seen this “black knight” of the golfing world publicly dubbed everything from a “consummate chameleon” to a “distasteful opportunist”. The only area in which there exists no contradiction is in the assertion that Gary Player, in his trademark black kit, is one of the greatest golfers the game has known.
However, as former human rights lawyer, amateur golfer and now judge Christopher Nicholson made clear in 2005 in his excellent book, From pariah to legend, potentially one of the greatest golfers South Africa produced, Papwa Sewgolum, had his career stymied by an apartheid system Player supported. As Nicholson pointed out, the black knight also did nothing to assist the illiterate former caddy who won the 1963 Natal Open.
In 1966, the year after Papwa had beaten Player in the Durban Open, Papwa was banned from playing against white golfers. There was no protest from Player. In fact, it was the same year that his Gary Player Enterprises rejected a plea to help the impecunious Natal Indian golfer play in the US.
Many of Papwa’s supporters expected this reaction. For 1966 was also the year that Gary Player’s long awaited autobiographical Grand Slam Golf was published. Amid a mass of insensitive and frankly racist comments, Player noted: “I am a man of Verwoerd and apartheid.”
It was not that Player was not confronted about his attitudes and the effects of apartheid. He was. Even in the quite timid local media. Time magazine also joined other overseas publications in warning Player that his support for the apartheid state would soon see him targeted by the growing international anti-apartheid movement.
He was and often had to be provided police escorts at tournaments. He complained that anti-apartheid demonstrators were infringing his civil liberties.
But by then, Gary Player was very much a part of the apartheid state’s propaganda machine. He was not only a member of the misnamed and department of information sponsored Committee for Fairness in Sport, he also played a role in the then government’s sanctions busting campaign.
A frequent golfing partner of President John Vorster, Player invited leading US businessmen to South Africa to play golf with himself and Vorster. Where such appointments caused him to miss out on lucrative overseas golf tournaments, the state ensured that these losses were made good.
Vorster and the department of information realised that Gary Player could leverage greater economic participation by so winning friends and influencing business leaders.
And this is precisely the reason given by NMCF spokesperson, Oupa Ngwenya for Player having “traditionally been invited” to participate in what is the country’s leading charity sports event. According to Ngwenya, Player had, in the past, been called upon because it was thought he would “leverage greater participation” by the business people and celebrities who make the Nelson Mandela Tournament a major fund raiser.
But Player has never been a simple invitee. Ever since the first tournament in 2000, he has been the official host and guest of honour. Even the debacle two years ago when much of his apartheid supporting past emerged, failed to have any effect on his position with the tournament.
But when British polymath, journalist and global justice campaigner, George Monbiot, exposed the fact that Player’s company had built a golf course used by the Burmese generals, the outcry reverberated around the world — and was taken up by leading figures such as Archbishop emeritus Desmond Tutu.
The protestors were aware that history seemed to be repeating itself: in the first place, the Player golf course was being used by the Burmese generals to do business in very much the same way that Vorster and Player had done in the apartheid past; in the second, Player appeared again to be in the sanctions busting business since the US had imposed sanctions on Burma in 2000.
Tutu versus Player was another case of deja vu. In 2004 when the SABC launched its 100 Greatest South Africans contest, it chose to feature Player, “the black knight”, and Tutu, “the black bishop, on billboards, calling on the country to choose.
Many of Tutu’s friends and supporters were outraged and, amid a wave of protest, Player’s apartheid past and his refusal to apologise for it, received a wide airing. The SABC dropped the project, but Player continued to host the charity golf tournament which is listed as benefiting both the NMCF and the Gary Player Foundation.
For Player makes much of his dedication to South Africa and the “good works” he is involved in. His motivation at all times, he has said, is to “support my country”. He even went on record in 1977 to condemn fellow golfers Sally Little and Brian Henning as “lousy chickens” for emigrating.
However, in yet another contradiction, Player’s major business enterprises are based in the US and his website lists his residence as the very exclusive town of Jupiter Island in the US state of Florida.