There is no one narrative of sport in South Africa. All South Africa’s sport stories are not the same. South Africa’s sport narratives represent a privileged era where white people got the best and most of a country, although white people were the minority grouping. And then there exists the anti-apartheid, non-racial sports narrative which is about an oppressed people’s unselfish, tireless, principled struggle to attain a just and ‘equal opportunity’ sports network within a non-apartheid society.
The injustices of South Africa’s horrendous past, still impact with pain and disappointment, in the democratic era of South Africa’s life. I write this because the pain is deep seated, not easily overcome or eliminated in this time of seemingly ‘opportunity South Africa’.
It’s over twenty years since South African sport’s antagonists were called in around the unity table to initiate unity talks; this initiative spearheaded by the exiled African National Congress (ANC). It’s also over 20 years that our country battles with the challenges of a still exiting unequal society, one which benefits people on their class position of whatever colour.
Post- apartheid sport has been manipulated and used to galvanise a society emerging from strife, struggle, protests, privilege and elitism, oppression and oppressor into believing nationhood as one country, one people can and does exist.
However, the more elite and corporate control of sport tries to cover up the cracks existing in our unequal and unbalanced country controlled by capitalist and elite geed and power, the more the conscious minds and thought of people break through to challenge, contest and demonstrate that the sport’s paradigm is being maintained for elite control and for those whose class status allows them to participate in the system.
Today, the pain of oppression, the hurt of apartheid’s injustices, the commemoration of the anti-apartheid sports struggle is not forgotten. Not by the people who fought the injustices and challenged the oppressive regime. So today, when we see those players, athletes, and people who are not white and who are working class being delivered the worst blows and injustices in this democratic, one nation South Africa, we rally our strength and voices and call out the wrongs.
We recall the talented sports people (women and men, girls and boys) born into an unjust country, forced to accept apartheid. We remember with clarity how we participated in sport through community and grassroots structures with minimal resources in under-resourced, marginalised and severely neglected schools and residential spaces. We didn’t have much money and facilities and equipment but we had community support and the tireless commitment of sports leaders and officials who sacrificed their personal lives and families so the oppressed people could enjoy sport with dignity and respect.
Today, democratic South Africa has opened opportunities for more South Africans, the formerly disadvantaged and oppressed; there’s no denying or doubting that. But democratic South Africa is all about class. If you’re middle class or elite, then you are going to survive. If you’re working class, especially if your gender is girl or woman, then you’re going to get a bad deal in your democratic country.
We recall so clearly the injustices of the oppressive apartheid era that we don’t want democratic South Africa to look after only the advantaged. This is clearly seen in sport where learners at working class and township schools struggle for facilities and the chance to participate in sport. Sport organization in working class hoods outside of school are kept alive by committed community officials who use their own money and resources and time to keep a sport alive and keep working class youth, children, girls and women in sport.
We detest this elite control of sport. We ask why must sport be owned and controlled by the moneyed and powerful? Why must money and funds be given to a few men’s sports like rugby, football and cricket? Why must girls and women be given crumbs here and there in allocation?
I started writing this opinion by saying that the injustices of the past still hurt us, the formerly oppressed. We challenge and speak out because we don’t want injustices and inequalities about skin colour, gender and class membership to disqualify the disadvantaged from being given the deserving and just deal in sport.
We get angry when we see sport in the power of an elite grouping who think they personally own sport. We call out sports leaders and officials and employees who don’t speak out against society’s inequalities which impact on the social positioning of sport.
You see, the injustices of our unjust and oppressive past can’t be erased or taken out of our existence and memory. They are still too raw and painful. We don’t want disadvantaged people to be victims of an unequal South Africa. We demand much, much more from the sports network, for it to be revolutionized and the sports apparatus to exist not only for the elite and middle class and men.