Here lies a tyrant

MARK KEOHANE, writing in Business Day Sport Monthly, says former South African rugby chief Louis Luyt was a power-hungry egotist who did more harm than good in his role as leader.

Louis Luyt is dead but the lie that defines his legacy to the game as legendary must also be buried. He was destructive in everything he did as president of the South African Rugby Football Union (Sarfu) and motivated by his own agenda and ego and he was a risk to the future of the game.

He functioned on fiction because only he knew what was closer to fact.

This is a condemnation of Luyt the Sarfu president. It is not a reflection on his right to be respected as a father, husband and friend.

He was a crass leader who thrived on the humiliation of others and he caused pain to many people with decisions that were not based on rugby but on his own insecurity and paranoia. There can’t be reward for lacking emotional intelligence and there can never be justification for the chaos.

Luyt’s legacy was a dictatorship that threatened more than a sport’s unity. He harmed the sport and he embarrassed the sport without consequence or without remorse. He did it regularly and saw it as refusing to be intimidated.

He was a reminder of everything the world detested in apartheid South Africa but he survived on the fears of those who were uncertain about the future and ill-informed and still related to noise as leadership, when introspection and reflection were words more appropriate to change. A legacy is earned through innovation and the impact of an action; not an ability just to react.

Luyt was a fighter and his strength was based on survival. Sarfu needed calm and vision and he provided chaos and confrontation.

It suited his needs because the noise was part of the illusion that he was taking charge of rugby’s future. He was a fascinating character because of his contradictions, but he was not good for the game and he stifled progress through his inability to transform his own thinking. He was unsure about his status and he always overcompensated with boasts when unsure, be it because of lack of knowledge or because he threatened his ability to use Sarfu to define his influence in a community that used his voice when necessary but never fully endorsed him as part of the exclusive brotherhood.

This was down to class and not race. It was this lack of acceptance that tortured him. But he knew about survival because of a background that battled poverty. Wealth would also be measured on status and worth. To get there he would fight. So he fought because that meant not allowing for discussion and not risking being exposed on an intellectual level.

He was a clever man but he lacked introspection because of insecurities in not having a high schooling. It meant he only knew how to make statements.

In his world that was strength. To ask a question was to invite trouble.

Leadership is at its most seductive when those in charge can take pleasure out of another’s achievement. Luyt could never do that because he could not even take pleasure out of his own successes.

He had an incredible work ethic, which intimidated and compensated for an inability to see beyond what worked for him personally and as a leader. He also blurred the power of knowledge with the gathering of information on individuals to further entrench his presidency. He had menace when there should have been mentorship. He never made an apology for any of his actions and a man who always thinks he gets it right is a man who is rarely getting it right.

He embraced those vulnerable to his projections of strength and bullying and he never saw the contradiction in how he applied the morality of the God-fearing man and the lack of morality in his manipulation of people.

We once debated loyalty and he was absolute. People, he said, crossed him once and thought they had won. He told them to enjoy the feeling because he would make sure they spent the rest of their lives reminded of what price to pay for betrayal in loyalty.

His life was interesting but he was too preoccupied in the potential of others to be the enemy that he found a reason to justify an agenda that in turn would justify a reaction for a confrontational engagement.

His ego would never allow him modesty and he insisted he had earned the right to be called doctor. Titles and status are what he felt defined his characters. His actions were for gain. When was it ever about rugby?

His rugby world was a creation to compensate for what he felt he lacked in a personal space. He could be charming but his charm was too often determined by the personal gain. He bored easily if he was not the primary beneficiary. His mind was always busy but the intent wasn’t always flattering and he excused any criticism as a necessary to protect the game from those who didn’t understand it. He blamed the government and rugby was his status for greater acceptance in an Afrikaans elite that would never see him as their equal. 

The bully was his default mechanism and if he was full of bravado he didn’t have to front his fears of being inferior. He did not trust anyone but celebrated just how many enemies he had. Enemies caused fear. Friends could only cause confusion. 

He was convinced he needed no one to survive but he never understood that to survive is not to necessarily inspire. Not that it would have been a consideration. He was angry that he was disliked although he denied it and there was an element in him that deliberately added to the dislike. The man who made rugby his kingdom was always aware that the boy in him wanted acknowledgement and reward.

He never found his place in South African society and always felt he had been short-changed. If he wasn’t getting the recognition then why would he celebrate anyone else.

He took nothing from the game unless he was the beneficiary. He justified everything in the name of Springbok rugby and the Afrikaans culture and he manipulated the game that represented the culture more than a sport. Where most would find a smile he found suspicion.

I liked him but he was not happy.

I always got the feeling he wouldn’t even allow for that because that could be an admission he had not won.

He was always in conflict and his tenure was about fighting whoever he felt provided a cover to the real issue, which was his insecurity.

He took but he gave little.  

It is one thing to preach from a self-made pedestal but a leader of men is also an inspiration to the very men he leads.

He wanted mystique but then couldn’t resist telling you what he had done for South African rugby. He created an identity he believed would give him acceptance and he alienated every dominating personality.

He was a preacher of what he wanted portrayed, yet the intention to be liked and revered was not something he could ask for, so as he lost a disciple who realised the legend is what makes the man but the actions of the man that confirms the flaws in the legend.

If the game was his passion and the future of the game was his only concern we would be talking about his vision, his succession plan and his leadership.

The story would be of the guy who turned rags into silk but knew God. It is embarrassing. The only thing he gave rugby was conflict and blood. He adopted a militant style approach in which he spoke and never allowed for a response.

He stripped players of power and humiliated them and threatened their futures in the media. In a country where fear and conflict were positives that someone was in charge, he put himself in charge of the game and was never asked what he was actually going to do to make it the game for all South Africans.

He used the divide and rule among blacks and whites because he recognised weakness in an individual and played the vulnerabilities to facilitate whatever outcome that comes with uncertainty.

He took Nelson Mandela and the government to court to prove he was still a white Afrikaner who would not be intimidated by the black government.

He made sure it was a page one report.

He did it, he said, to show Afrikaners still had a voice and still had fight. He then used rugby as the punching bag.

He used culture, white fears and black unknowns to have so many applauding his strengths. But it was never about resolution or calm. It was about conflict and chaos because when there is no fight then there is usually reflection. In a fight there is only time to react.

Luyt’s legacy conflicts with every single entity that makes up the fabric of the game. He took the game he supposedly loved and made it his own game. He was an untouchable because he manipulated the executive structure – and when fear no longer sufficed neither did his games inspire even laughter.

He still couldn’t see the moral crime in subjecting Mandela to take the witness stand. He claimed victory but it also confirmed stupidity.

He tried so hard to create an identity of the Lions but he was a railway clerk whose arrogance and defiance was a misrepresentation of the culture whose silence he interpreted as a fight.

He fired by fax and turned the most disgraceful of acts into a kind of legend which applauded a man who was prepared to make the hard calls. All he knew was hardship and that is all he gave back to South African rugby.

It is disgusting that he was allowed to operate in such isolation and as a law unto himself. He clearly had a mind that favoured his own survival but emotional intelligence is the result of an environment and tutorship and being taught, not self-taught.

He never added value to the game’s evolution. There is no legacy to applaud. His rugby administration was a contradiction. Morality was as interpretive as was loyalty and betrayal.

Rugby was the platform for Luyt to turn a lost soul into a tortured one and he tried to make everyone believe that his soul knew only sacrifice.

He was a sad man because not only did he derive pleasure at the expense of others but the ultimate humiliation was of his own doing because his identity and influence believed there was substance to his existence, but he could never get what he thought was a show of strength. And arrogance was ignorance and in degrees of ignorance the worst form is when there is a belief that all the ugly qualities that make a leader uninspiring are presented as strengths of a no-nonsense leader.

Luyt did not entertain minds that would expose the limitations of his own and it is one thing to fight but another to succeed without a fight.

A day before his death no one cared for his rants. A day after the myth is magnified. The platitudes have been predictable and inoffensive but the inane nature is more insult than compliment to the King of Ellis Park and self-proclaimed King of the Rugby Jungle. 

In death he did no evil. In life he only knew evil.

Luyt’s final act as South African rugby chief was to embarrass the intellect and integrity of Afrikaans-speaking South Africans who are excited by inclusion on the world map and not offended that it was not listed as the chosen planet.

The good doctor was so insecure at what he hadn’t experienced because of his environment that he believed titles would create the illusion of intelligence and that fear was just another way of making sure no one disputed he was the boss.

His decision to humiliate one of the world’s saints was the act of a sinner; alternatively a man who was showing his lack of class, education and upbringing. His attempts to justify his action and his conviction in doing so belong on The Jerry Springer Show.

He always spoke of not needing to be popular and then he found something in popularity that he sold to himself as weakness.

Come to think of it, he rarely spoke about what was good for South African rugby. He always spoke about what he was doing for South African rugby and he created the chaos and never had time to explain what it was that kept him so busy. He didn’t give South African rugby professionalism. He didn’t care. In the last few years all he did was condemn the government. He manipulated the weakness in rugby’s administration to impress his strength.

He was an impostor as a leader and the game deserved so much more. Luyt, when he lived, benefited from the illusion of his leadership.

Don’t allow the lie to continue.

– This article first appeared in the March issue of Business Day Sport Monthly, which is distributed FREE with the newspaper on the second last Friday of every month.