It was George Orwell who said an autobiography was only to be trusted when it revealed something disgraceful, because a man who gave a good account of himself was probably lying.
Writes Clinton van der Berg for the Sunday Times.
So, does Jake White’s book, In Black and White, pass the Orwell test?
Certainly, it’s an unflinching, behind-the-scenes look at life in charge of the Springboks.
The disgrace, such as it is, is revealed in the appalling behaviour of rugby’s little men, the administrators. They tried, at every turn, to make White’s life miserable. Even now, with his memoirs about to hit the shelves tomorrow, there are threats to nail him for breaching rugby’s “code of conduct”.
Coming from the game’s political pygmies, who routinely breach rugby’s code of conduct, such a threat is best taken with a dollop of salt.
White’s book has at least passed its first test. It’s caused a storm; not a bad thing in an age when sports books are routinely insipid affairs.
There have been a lot of bad books from good athletes and coaches.
Orwell’s second requirement was honesty. White earns no more than a C on this score.
It’s a cracking read and confirms his very human side; his insecurities, biases, frailties and mistakes. White’s personality ranges from supreme confidence, particularly in the early years, to self-doubt, bitterness and anger.
He’s also stubborn and occasionally cheeky, indispensable traits when dealing with the bullies.
The book reveals his foibles and idiosyncrasies. Consequently it’s easy to have empathy with the man whose toughness – he always revelled in being a Jeppe boy – was the best qualification he could have had for the job.
It will be disappointing if White’s book is hyped only for his pot shots at officialdom, because there’s much more than a settling of scores. The story of his early years is particularly appealing and the anecdotes are fun.
“It’s a rugby book and there’s a lot of it there,” he said. “I think it’s pretty good.”
No book can claim to be all-inclusive, but there’s a gaping hole in White’s autobiography and it surprises and disappoints me.
Dale McDermott isn’t a name that will strike a chord with many readers, but the Springboks knew Dale and Jake certainly knew Dale. He was the technical analyst for the Boks under Rudolf Straeuli and technical assistant to Jake with the under-21 Boks of 2002. Like Jake in the early days, Dale was an ambitious rugby junkie with his eye on getting to the top. He loved rugby and everything about it. Jake and Dale were mates. The pair spent many happy hours together. They talked, they strategised, they fished, they drank beer. Dale idolised Jake.
Dale was also the guy who filmed the horrors of Kamp Staaldraad. And when news leaked out about that awful episode it was he, egged on by others, who produced the damning pictures for newspapers.
Who could forget the haunting picture of the Boks, naked and shivering, staring out from that muddy pit?
That was Dale’s shot. Some players with a warped sense of morality saw him as a Judas and he was unfairly castigated for his role in one of SA rugby’s darker episodes for blowing the whistle on that shambles. Jake had yet to be appointed as Bok coach, but he was close to the affair and he knew every detail, every move.
He was, not to put too fine a point on it, deeply involved. Dale lived for the ideal of working with the Boks. When the whole lot came crashing down around Straeuli, he had every reason to believe there would be room for him in the system. Hell, even Jake pledged he’d look after him. But it never happened. Jake got the Bok job, apparently to be told by Brian van Rooyen he could appoint anyone except his mate Dale.
I don’t know what was said between Jake and Dale, but Dale was shattered.
He had received on-off treatment for depression even before his rugby job. The rejection and public vilification plunged him further into a black hole.
Sad and disappointed, he returned to teaching in Durban.
As 2005 dawned, Dale’s depression got worse. Nine days later he was dead, the victim of a self-inflicted gunshot wound.
As Dale’s mum, Mary, wrote: “A comparison with the demoralised Boks in their Kamp Staaldraad hole is ironic – they knew their ordeal would end, Dale did not.”
Said Jake: “Dale was a really special friend of mine. I have known his whole family for a long time and I know that he is going to be really missed.”
Dale, the good buddy, doesn’t warrant a single mention in Jake’s book.