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Jake White and the (other) succession debate

So Jake White has quit his job. By now that should not come as a surprise to too many people.

It shouldn’t be a shock that the South African Rugby Union (Saru) will shoulder much of the blame for his decision.

But what I find intriguing is the number of people arguing why Saru should not have let him go. “Let him go”, or its derivatives, is a phrase that I have heard so many times since it became possible that he might not stay on when his contract expires at the end of the year. Both President Thabo Mbeki and his former spokesperson Bheki Khumalo have suggested that it would be calamitous if White were to be allowed to go.

It is not the object of this posting to argue why he should have stayed or left. I am rather worried by the ease with which other people employed elsewhere feel themselves qualified to say another employer should “not allow” an employee to go. It creates an impression that White is some sort of slave whose freedom or servitude is dependent on the good mood or wisdom of his master, instead of an intelligent adult man able to make up his mind about what he wants and does not want. White too has created an impression that things happened to him and he had no alternatives. Which is not true.

Can you imagine people you don’t know arguing that you, the reader of this blog (assuming that you are employed), should not be allowed to leave your present employment, just because you are good at it? Can you further imagine “our children and our children’s children” (to use Khumalo’s phrase) asking us why we “allowed” Nelson Mandela to go after serving one term?

In a fluid job market where skills are as mobile as they are, it smacks of double standards to say one person should think beyond his immediate interests when deciding to take or keep a job. Just like in the political succession debate, it is a fallacy to say that one person or leader is indispensable. Their retention is thus based on the preference of those who have the power to choose and the willingness to be chosen. Besides, death, disease and boredom often cut through our well-crafted bull, and demand of us to find another person to fill the gap left.

So, granted the sports administrators in our country are the easy targets for the media and the fans, this one is really not about “letting anyone go”.