Kaunda Ntunja was not a ‘Xhosa Commentator’

Kaunda Ntunja – the first black SA Schools Captain, Currie Cup winner with the Cheetahs and a Rugby Commentator extraordinaire – passed away this week. Amid the ensuing news reports, a disturbing but all too familiar tendency has emerged, writes Mr Siphiwe Mpye. 

As friends, family and rugby fans like myself, who never knew Mr Kaunda Ntunja personally mourn his death, in a climate where racial tensions in sports are yet again heightened, we have to stand up in defense of one of our own – one who sacrificed so much in the hope that one day black players would be given the respect they deserve, in a sport as embedded in their veins as it is in those deemed to have a birthright to it. As I scan the media in the wake of this devastating loss, I am incensed that after his massive contribution – on the field, behind the microphone and in hostile, arrogant boardrooms – Ntunja is consistently being referred to as just a ‘Xhosa Rugby Commentator’. He was in fact one of the best rugby analysts and commentators ever, period. The fact that his commentary was mainly in isiXhosa was and remains important – because of our history of exclusion and because representation matters in a country with a proud black rugby history originating in the Cape, where the most ubiquitous language is isiXhosa. But to refer to Ntuja as merely a ‘Xhosa commentator’ is in the tradition of ghettoisation, a tacit suggestion that he was ‘other’ and by implication, not as good as his English or Afrikaans colleagues. You are good, for a black guy or woman or muslim or whatever ‘other’ that is not a white male. Sound familiar? That is the territory we are in.

Those who didn’t understand isiXhosa would have heard his insights in English on various platforms and he was on par with the best, anywhere. His commentary in his mother tongue was entertaining, yes, with colourful flourishes and neologisms out of an outer Universe, int’ ezihlwahlwazayo for days. But if you paid attention to his research, insight, his little known anecdotes, you marveled at a consummate professional. When English commentators die, they are not referred to as ‘English Commentators’, they are called commentators, period, and Ntunja was as good as any of them – dead or alive – one of the best to ever pick up that microphone, in any language, anywhere. Let us give him the respect he deserves.
Lala ngoxolo Zizi.
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