Respect For Non-Racial Sports Struggle By Cheryl Roberts

7 Apr



ImageThe anti-apartheid, non-racial sports struggle opposed apartheid sport and demanded non-racial sport. Non-racial sport called for a lifetime, if that is what it took before freedom arrived, of commitment to social change and the elimination of oppression. There are those who have no idea, and do not want to know anything, about this commitment or unselfish way of giving to engineer societal change in the interests of all South Africa’s people.

As we look back with pride on the past decades which have brought us to where we are today, we must applaud, honour, remember, acknowledge and celebrate the people who sacrificed their lives for freedom from oppression and for the emergence, from an unequal and unjust sports network, to the dawn of a new sports era and acceptance of South Africa as a legitimate country in the international arenas of sport.

Today, when we enjoy international sport, we must not forget those who made it possible for us to achieve international legitimacy and play international sport. We must remember with pride, honour and recognition the sacrifices made for non-racial sport and the fight against apartheid sport.

Several non-racial sport leaders chose a non-racial way of life when they were

teenagers and today, it’s because of these very choices and commitment for non-racial

sport, that we enjoy international sport, no more as pariahs, but as a non-racial, democratic South Africa.

Sports leaders like Chief Albert Luthuli, George Singh, Norman Middleton, RK Naidoo, Dan Twala, Rama Reddy, Cassim Bassa, Morgan Naidoo, Percy Sonn, Hassan Howa, Errol Vawda, SK Chetty, Frank van der Horst, Dan Qeqe, Colin Clarke, Abdullah Abbass, MN Pather, Danny Jordaan, Sam Ramsamy stand in a league of their own, together with the many women leaders in sports such as hockey, softball, school sport, athletics, provincial sports federations and clubs and the women who gave so much unselfish time to catering, typing the minutes and providing great support to partners, friends and family.

Non-racial sports leaders were not about money or material gain and personal wealth accumulation. They were about the struggle for a non-racial, democratic South Africa. They were not driven by money, profits or personal gratification and their entire lives were guided by non-racial principles, the fight against social inequalities and abuse of human rights and human injustices. Non-racial sports leaders could have gone on to become business citizens of South Africa, accumulating vast amounts of personal wealth, but they chose to give their whole and entire life to non-racial sport and a non-racial, democratic South Africa.

In the non-racial sports gallery and in the hearts and minds of millions of people, those who chose non-racial sport stand supreme for their contribution to the sports and liberation struggle. With minimal resources, they became efficient, astute administrators and non-racial sports leaders. Some of the fruits of their unselfish commitment and principles are being seen today but the trees planted by non-racial sport are yet to experience full bloom as we confront the challenges of creating a non-racial sports dispensation.

Non-racial sport has produced many outstanding, principled, articulate, unselfish sports leaders, administrators and athletes/players. Many non-racial sports leaders like MN Pather Morgan Naidoo, Colin Clarke, Krish Mackerdhuj, Khaya Majola, Errol Vawda, Bill Jardine, Percy Sonn had untimely deaths. These esteemed and principled non-racial people were giving vast amounts of their time and life to developing and consolidating non-racial sport, particularly at the crucial stage of post-sports unification.

We must forever honour and pay tribute to our anti-apartheid sports struggle and remember the sacrifices and principles of our leaders, officials, heroines and heroes who chose a difficult journey and sacrificed a lifetime for an equitable, non-racial sports dispensation in South Africa and should not allow our non-racial sports struggle to be easily erased or omitted from celebration and commemorations.

Playing non-racial sport meant that we played with human dignity and with no reference to one’s colour. Non-racial sport gave respectability to thousands of athletes, supporters, officials, administrators and the anti-apartheid communities who cherished an alternative to apartheid, racial sport.

Non-racial sport organised sportspeople under the banner of sport and not according to class, colour or race. Non-racial sport was about human dignity, it was about belief in all people as human beings and not in the superiority of whites or inferiority of blacks. Opposition to apartheid sport was about struggle for human dignity, for an equitable sports system and for all South Africans to have a chance to participate in sport and represent their country.

Non-racial sports leaders were so dedicated and committed to opposing the human indignity that was apartheid sport, that they sacrificed their lives for non-racial sport. There were no investment returns from being associated with non-racial sport; the only guarantee was that the oppressed were able to play non-racial sport.

Such was the commitment and sincerity of non-racial sports leaders that they gave much personal time and money to sport because non-racial sport was not sponsored nor had much money to survive. Many sports officials used their personal monies to pay for administrative costs without ever claiming expenses, and this went on for years at great expense to their personal families. Some leaders like RK Naidoo, even mortgaged their family home for non-racial sport.

Non-racial, anti-apartheid sport was played on dirty, uneven patches as playing fields and grounds and run-down, under-resourced halls in schools and oppressed communities but they were utilized with passion and produced talented sportspeople, many of whom would have achieved remarkably well in the world of international sport.

The majority of South Africans did not have proper and adequate sports amenities and facilities, government funding or sponsorship from business yet they organised and developed sport in the disadvantaged, oppressed and severely deprived communities. Talented sportswomen and sportsmen emerged from these communities but they received very little media recognition or sponsorship. Non-racial sport was organised to give dignity to black sportspeople and to advance non-racialism in sport and society instead of playing multi-national or multi-racial sport.

People who chose non-racial sport put principles above money and chose to advance a non-racial, democratic society where all South Africans are one nation, living in one country and are treated equally. Blacks got very few facilities at school and in communities under the apartheid regime but at least they played non-racial sport and contributed to the creation of our non-racial, democratic society. Millions of people fought for non-racial sport and for the liberation of South Africa.

Non-racial sport got little publicity and coverage in the few mainstream print media on offer. Publicity profiles increased when the print media launched “Extra” editions purposely for black readers and it was in these newspapers that non-racial sport was recorded. Most black journalists throughout South Africa were also committed to non-racial sport and wrote about the talent, achievements and records, victories and defeats of non-racial sport.

Brochures played a significant contribution in recording the annual history of all sports federations and brochures were produced for every national and provincial tournament and sometimes also for club events. These brochures were treasured items and every participant got a copy. Today, many people who participated in non-racial sport, have brochures dating back decades ago.

It was via the brochures that the history of the sports federation was passed down as information about the sport, its leaders and champions and it was via the tournament brochure that the principles and policies of non-racial sports were transmitted. Brochures, printed in black and white, were treasured memorabilia and were usually published in time for the welcoming function or first day of play.

The role of women cannot be adequately appreciated and recorded. Wives, girlfriends, mothers, grandmothers, women family members, women spectators and supporters also played pivotal roles in assisting the development of non-racial sport.

Women assisted largely with catering and with administration like typing letters on typewriters, doing the post and preparing the tea/food when meetings were held at home and when teams stayed at family homes. But women also participated in sport as players and athletes, coaches, officials and activists.

Non-racial sport did not use hotels but relied on schools, church halls and family homes for accommodation during tournaments. Hotels that were used were those in oppressed communities such as the Himalaya in Durban, Bosmont Hotel in Johannesburg, Alabama in Port Elizabeth, Kemo in Kimberley, Landdrost in Cape Town. National sports federations survived on minimal financial resources, sometimes on R2000, 00 a year, sometimes with no money but they would be carried by sports leaders who used their own funds.

The awarding of colours and trophies were big moments in non-racial sport as well as the taking of the provincial team photograph. Blazers were worn with pride and honour and only by those to whom they had been awarded. When a player/athlete/official wore your colours, you were treated with great respect and admiration when showcasing your provincial colours which was one of the ultimate achievements of most sportspeople.

Trophies were the only prizes given out in non-racial sport, with a certificate of congratulations. Professional football awarded prize money but it was not much, in the 70’s the FPL footballer of the year won R500. Trophies were often donated in memory of a sports official or were named after a senior, long serving official, or a community sponsor.

It is important to emphasise how non-racial sport survived with no major sponsorships and no government financial support. Sports federations ‘charged’ a levy per club and per member and the provincial federation paid registration fees to the national body which survived on these small finances. Non-racial athletes did not get sponsorship from sports companies or endorsements from companies which were accorded by these businesses to the white sports person.

Small shop owners, black professionals like lawyers and doctors often supported non-racial athletes with donations of R20, R50 or R100 to assist them to cover their traveling costs. Travel would often be by road travel – bus or car or kombi. Air travel was rarely used as it was a very expensive method of traveling for non-racial sport.

Non-racial sport was about human dignity, humility, struggle, principles and passion to achieve your best potential, despite adverse and negative playing conditions. The talent was plentiful, the passion galore and the commitment unrivalled. Talent surfaced in all sports and from all communities, both women and men, throughout South Africa.

Young adults, sometimes teenagers, became administrators at club level and were very soon developed as officials at club, provincial and national level. Meetings were structured, once a month executive committee and council meetings at which all clubs were present and where the operations of the sport were discussed.

The non-racial sports movement found it in their hearts to forgive those very people who were guilty of atrocities and racism. Acknowledging that only time would heal our scars and battle wounds, non-racial and anti-apartheid sports representatives unified the disparate sports groupings in South Africa and ushered in a new sports dispensation.

The spirit, integrity, honesty, character, principles, commitment and passion of those who chose to advance non-racial sport and fight against apartheid in sport and South African society was exemplary. The millions of non-racial and anti-apartheid heroines and heroes committed themselves to sports unity and a desire to develop South African sport overall so that all South Africans may be proud of our non-racial sports structure.

I want to forever honour non-racial sport because it’s where I grew up in sport, developed principles, self-esteem and a non-racial way of life, give tribute to the commitment and sacrifice of the millions who resisted apartheid sport and advanced non-racial sport. It’s about remembering where we have come from, respecting our rich and vibrant sports history and life and going forward on the basis of being informed of where we have come and where we want to be, and that is, a sports structure that creates opportunities for South Africans and not only a minority elite.

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