South African Sport Must Respect South Africa’s Freedom Fighters By Cheryl Roberts

11 Jun



Its not only disappointing, but also shocking and just about disgusting, to know that South Africans this past weekend participated in international sport, here in South Africa, yet did not give respect to Epainette Mbeki’s iconic and legendary life; a black woman’s life that had not only contributed to our freedom from oppression and apartheid but also to South Africa’s international sport recognition.

Proceedings before kick off of the match between the Springboks and a World XV honoured dignitaries present at the stadium and the baby Boks’ stunning victory over New Zealand. But there was no respect for the passing of the trail blazing life of a committed and unselfish Epainette Mbeki. And neither was Epainette Mbeki remembered at the game on Saturday when Banyana Banyana played Botswana in an international friendly.

It seems that South African is much too absorbed with participation in sport, winning and their personal ego’s. When news broke of the passing of a 98 year old extraordinary black woman, who committed her life to human rights dignity, it was expected of South African sport to not only focus on their games, but also give attention to the life of Epainette Mbeki. 

Epainette Mbeki is not just the mother of Thabo Mbkei, a former president of the Republic of South Africa and the wife of ANC leader and Robben Island prisoner, Govan Mbeki but a woman who had an independent mind and life to oppose apartheid and to contribute to South Africa non-racial, democratic dispensation

Sport has this kinda attitude or thing about it that its aura is divorced from other goings in society, that sport is just sport and its all about the action, the players, the winning and losing and the fans. Yes, it’s all of this, including corporate control of sport.

But sport is not just about sport. Neither can sport be dissociated from society and exist in a vacuum as if society isn’t needed. Those whom control sport don’t like to acknowledge the fact that sport, wherever its played, is connected to class, race, gender, sexuality, money and politics of a society.

Epainette Mbeki might not have been an international sportswoman. But she has a connection with everyone playing sport in democratic society.      

Sportspeople always acknowledge the passing away of their team mates’ parents or family or anyone associated with their sport. With the passing of an honourable, powerful, strong woman, you must give respect to this woman’s life, not only for being the mother of Thabo Mbeki, the person who initiated, for the ANC, sports unity talks in SA  and SA’s subsequent international sport recognition and legitimacy, but for her tireless years of dedication to humanity free from oppression and injustices.

SA’s international players and athletes may think the woman has no connection to their sport or to them. Get this! Every South African international sports representative has a connection and linkage to women like Epainette Mbeki, women like Fatima Meer, Lizzie Abrahams, Albertina Sisulu, Helen Joseph, Bibi Dawood because it was the social justice and human rights activism of women like them that contributed to the dismantling of the horrendous apartheid system which had a country in bondage. Sportspeople play international sport today because of opportunities created for them to discover their sports talent and because of freedom fighters who agitated for and demanded a free South African for all.

South African Rugby has a chance to redeem itself this weekend in Durban at the international featuring the Springboks versus Wales.

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