South Africa has an abundance of sports stadia in cities and urban areas; much of this stadia is world class and constructed with sophisticated infrastructure. Some of the stadia and sports centres are named after the areas in which they are located, some are named after people, most of them men.
However, missing from the naming of the stadium and sports venues are the legendary and iconic sports leaders and sports champions of the anti-apartheid, non-racial sports era in South Africa.
When it comes to acknowledgement of people who fought tirelessly for freedom in South Africa, why have the anti-apartheid sports officials and organisations been discarded? Why has the honouring of significant, bold and fierce freedom fighters in sport been neglected and so easily dismissed?
Durban/eThekwini undertook a street/roads renaming, and renamed streets after anti-apartheid struggle people and freedom fighters. However, anti-apartheid sports officials, except for RD Naidu (a weightlifting and SA Community party official) were forgotten in the renaming process.
What about remembering the pivotal contributions of anti-apartheid, non-racial sports officials who worked tirelessly throughout the 50’s, 60’s, 70’s and 80’s to have apartheid sport exposed and apartheid South Africa isolated from international sport? During the late 1960’s and early 1970’s, when people’s resistance organizations were banned and forced into exile, it was non-racial, anti-apartheid sport that kept apartheid in the international spotlight and forced the world to take note of the atrocities committed by the apartheid government.
We can’t and should not discard the pivotal contribution of the South African Football Federation, of the South African Sport Association (SASA), South African Non-Racial Olympic Committee (SANROC) and South African Council on Sport (SACOS) to building the non-racial South African nation. We can never write out of memory the fierce freedom fighters of non-racial sport; sports officials such as Father Sigamoney, Geo Singh, Dan Twala, RK Naidoo, Chief Albert Luthuli (I do note there are roads and freeways named after Chief Luthuli), Chris de Broglio, John Harris, Reg Hlongwane, Mr Rathinsamy, MN Pather, Hassan Howa, Dennis Brutus, Morgan Naidoo, Cassim Bassa, Vincent Baartjes, Taben Tengimfene, Dan Qe Qe, Regie Feldman, Matt Segers, Mervyn Johnson, Errol Vawda. Our non-racial, anti-apartheid sports officials struggled to grow non-racial sport, most often using their personal money and resources. And in doing so, they gave dignity and respect to oppressed South Africans to enjoy sport without discrimination or reference to skin colour.
The anti-apartheid sports leaders were working class people, organizing sport at community level with no resources, using their personal time, passion and commitment to build and grow non-racial sport in SA and expose racist, apartheid sport internationally. For their anti-apartheid efforts, they were banned, house arrested, had their passports confiscated, shot at and injured by apartheid’s vicious police, forced into exile and imprisoned on Robben Island.
South Africa’s talented oppressed sportspeople participated in sport in their under-resourced and disadvantaged communities, yet they achieved world class, African and national standards of play. And we must never forget, but forever honour and acknowledge, our ‘Stars Behind Bars’; the oppressed sportspeople who rejected apartheid and played sport for honour and dignity. There are many, many oppressed sportspeople who sacrificed their sports talent and the chance to play international sport for another country; theses sportspeople chose instead to fight apartheid and achieve freedom in South Africa. Some of our ‘Stars Behind Bars’, I’m thinking of immediately as I write this article, are Papwa Sewgolum (golf), David Samaai (tennis), Jake Ntuli (boxer), Amos Mafokate (show jumping), Iris Barry (table tennis), Dharm Mohan (football), Yvette Petersen (tennis), Lefty Adams (cricket), Cassim Peer (table tennis), Jumartha Majola (rugby), Faghme Solomons (rugby), Shaun Vester (athletics), Temba Ledwaba (rugby).
Please note that I am noting just a few sports officials and leaders in this writing; I do acknowledge there are many, many more officials and champions who must be honoured and remembered.
Stadiums built for the 2010 football World Cup should have been named after anti-apartheid football officials such as Dan Twala, RK Naidoo or non-racial sports leader, MN Pather. In this time of corporate sport with money, power and sponsorship, South Africa is unlikely to ever have the calibre of our anti-apartheid principled, authentic, fierce sports leaders who organised sport for freedom and dignity, and not for money or personal wealth. A football official such as RK Naidoo took out a mortgage on his family home to help subsidise the non-racial South African Soccer Federation. Which sports official does that today?
The privileged, neo-liberal elements and those who have seemingly lost their social justice consciousness, controlling our non-racial, democratic South Africa may have tried to discard and write away from memory our anti-apartheid sports struggle. But this will never succeed. We are NEVER eradicating from memory the principled and unselfish sports leaders who contributed to South Africa’s freedom from apartheid discrimination and oppression.