The role and contribution of
oppressed and black women in sport, to South Africa’s struggle for freedom from apartheid and a democratic country, is largely undocumented, almost invisible and largely ignored.
In South Africa, there’s no national or provincial or city galleries or museums existing in memory of the black women who participated in anti-apartheid sport and helped advance the struggle for freedom in South Africa, largely through sport.
The memory bank in existence for this documentation, memory and knowledge is in the personal archives of the women participants themselves, in their families and the communities of sport in which they not only played and enjoyed their sport, but also resisted apartheid in sport and society.
The democratic era of participation in Sport in south Africa just found no time or space to give honour, respect and acknowledgement to the women who existed in anti-apartheid sports resistance, being the foundation and rock of sports development when the apartheid regime sought to advance only apartheid/whites only sport.
Without this visual and written documentation and memorialisation of the role and contribution of women in anti-apartheid sport, there exists the perception that oppressed and black women didn’t play sport before 1994, that black girls and women only got involved in organised sports and sport’s activities in democratic South Africa.
Just like white women, Black women have been involved in sport for over a century; They have been in rugby and cricket clubs, played hockey and softball, swam the pool in competitions and been on the athletics track, and many other sports.
Black women have been sports leaders and officials, showed sports talent and prowess when competing, assisted men-dominated sports teams like rugby and cricket with support and encouragement. Participating in sport where men were in control in leadership positions, the women were given roles which the men-dominated officialdom thought best fits their ‘role in the home and society’ such as catering and food provision at meetings, typing of minutes and meeting information and being partners when the men officials attended events and functions.
Black women in sport have been amongst the founding members of anti-apartheid sports organizations in South Africa. Although primary documents will reveal men officials as executive committee members, presidents and secretaries, the women were forming clubs at community and grassroots levels of participation in sport. But this anti-apartheid sport involvement of black women took place in a patriarchal, male-dominated society which impacted the visibility of women in leadership positions and officialdom in sport.
But the women played their role and made their contribution to anti-apartheid sport and the creation of South Africa’s democratic era. It was the women as wives, girlfriends, mothers, aunts, family and community members who were the rock of anti-apartheid sport, who endured their husbands and partners were able to participated in sport while they did the household chores and prepared the men for their roles in sport.
Oppressed girls and women were able to participate in sport albeit in under-resourced and disadvantaged communities and schools. And they chose to play anti-apartheid sport and resist apartheid in society.
It was women who helped with setting up meeting venues, providing the food at meetings and conferences, hosted meetings at their homes, prepared the children, youth and men for their sports participation. It was the women who did the cheering on at sports events and the fundraising. And it was the women who cared for the family home when the men were playing sport and resisting apartheid sport. There are those who will say ‘forget the past and let it be’. Why should we just forget the past when it’s because of the past that you today enjoy international sports and play sport in democratic South Africa? Who laid this foundation for you? Who resisted apartheid and challenged the apartheid regime so apartheid could be eliminated? It was the oppressed women involved in apartheid sport, those women who helped build and develop non-racial sport from grassroots levels of participation.
And most of those women are still living, many of them still involved in community and club sport. And they still participate in sport just for the passion, with no payment. So how about some honour and recognition, a national gallery of memory that will ensure the pivotal contribution of anti-apartheid sportswomen and women in sport to South Africa’s freedom, will never be erased?