It is Saturday afternoon in Johannesburg, a highveldt winter day under clear skies, the sun weakened by a chill north wind from the snow-shrouded Drakensberg mountains. A white schoolboy, 13, puts on his track suit and old sneakers and heads for a piece of dusty open ground in the shadow of an apartment block near the Parkview Synagogue. He meets some schoolmates, and—Caucasians all—they join with a crowd of black men, workers in the smart white suburbs. Together, they play soccer until the light is fading. That's when Edward Hlabane—coach, center forward, referee, linesman, chief cheerleader and descendant of a Zulu warrior—cracks a joke: "Watch that goalkeeper now. Don't shoot until you see the whites of his eyes." Everybody laughs hugely.
The white boys and the black men share a Coke or two. They talk about their idols: Pelé, Jomo Sono of the Moroka Swallows, Patrick (Ace) Ntsoelengoe of the Kaiser Chiefs. Then they shake, first joining hands, then thumbs, then hands again, then clasping fingers, and they go off to their different worlds.
On another Saturday afternoon in South Africa, a televised sports special shows black and white boxers mixing it up, black marathon runners outstriding white competitors, black cyclists riding against whites, a black horseman among whites in a gymkhana and black athletes up against whites at a white Afrikaans university.
In addition to the shocks in South Africa's apartheid society these days, there are many surprises. One is that, impressions to the contrary, there is no law in South Africa that says blacks and whites cannot play sport together—individually, on the same team, or in any other way. Another surprise is that, for all the soul-searching about sport and racial policies, integrated sport does exist.
November 22, 1976
The sad fact is that an informal game such as the one between the white schoolboys and the blacks was never played as far as government officials are concerned. Integrated sport in South Africa exists officially or not at all. If it doesn't have political and bureaucratic approval—the phrase is "within the framework of government policy"—it is regarded with suspicion by policymakers, viewed as something of an aberration, an embarrassment and possibly downright subversive.
This curious approach to what is regarded as normal anywhere else is a direct product of a racial policy that has made South Africa one of the most complex and despised countries in the world. In a country where Japanese are regarded as "honorary whites" but Chinese are not (and neither can marry whites), where blacks can stay in "international status" hotels as long as they don't use the swimming pool, where a black man can visit a white in his home but the white needs a permit to return the call, there is a Minister of Sport who pronounces daily on government policy and declares, "I would like to see dirty bloody politics out of sport and let the sportsmen get on with it."
These are encouraging, if paradoxical, words from the Minister of Sport, Dr. Piet Koornhof, an Oxford scholar and weight-lifting enthusiast. But sportsmen who do try to "get on with it" find that it isn't quite that simple. Under apartheid, nothing is.
There is no law against integrated sport, but within the apartheid legislation that governs every South African's life unto death (and even after, if one includes segregated cemetery lots), there are several provisos that can prevent multiracialism in sport. There is the Group Areas Act, for example, that delineates certain residential areas for certain racial groups and requires official permission for any one racial group to "occupy" an area of another. There is also the Separate Amenities Act, under which sports grounds, clubhouses and so on are reserved for a particular racial group.
Then there are the Influx Control regulations, commonly known as the Pass Laws, which determine where non-whites can and cannot be and what they can and cannot do. These racial partition policies explain why Asian golf champion Sewsunker (Papwa) Sewgolum received the Natal Open golf championship award in the rain outside the clubhouse: the Group Areas Act didn't allow him inside. And that's why a non-white cricket team playing a white one (with official permission) had to be served drinks in the lounge of the club. They couldn't be served at the "white" bar.
The most painful decisions that government officials have to make do not concern the events themselves, but bar and locker-room facilities. What inhibits South Africa's integration of sport is what apartheid seeks to prevent: black and white men drinking from the same cup, using the same toilet and then, of course, marrying each other's daughters.
But if South African administrators want to integrate black and white sports leagues, how can they deal with the problem posed by home and away matches in a society that separates the races and their sports grounds on a geographical-residential basis?
Political conditioning of thought in South Africa's ruling white society has led to the attitude that what happens on the football field—and by extension in the locker room and in the bleachers—may all too easily be transmitted to society as a whole, and the erosion of apartheid will begin. The cry from one of the country's wildest rightists, a former Minister of Posts and Telegraphs, Dr. Albert Hertzog (also an Oxford man), is still heard in some places in the land. Protesting against the inclusion of Maoris on a New Zealand rugby team that was to play South Africa, Hertzog declared, "My God, they'll be invited to cocktail parties, and they'll be dancing with our daughters next." While Minister of Posts and Telegraphs, Hertzog was the most resolute opponent of the introduction of television into South Africa. He said the licentiousness of the box might inflame black houseboys to run upstairs and rape the memsahibs.
Hertzog, it should be recorded, was dropped from the government. South Africa now has television, and Maori rugby footballers this year danced with white South African daughters. And South Africa's Springbok national rugby team—an all-white bastion—beat the touring New Zealand All-Blacks (which refers to the color of their uniforms, not their players) in a series of games that were televised to audiences of spellbound South Africans.
This year, through a TV hookup with Montreal, South Africans saw the Olympic Games in which they have not been allowed to participate since 1964. They saw and pondered the black boycott of the Games because of New Zealand's rugby tour of South Africa, and from a previously sympathetic New Zealand government they heard the hint that future tours would be discouraged unless South Africa was prepared to field a multiracial national team picked on merit.
The sporting world has been closing in on South Africa for years. The expulsion of the country from international track and field this year was the 13th area of world sports from which South Africans have been banned, and they're ostracized in most others.
"Hell, what have we got to worry about? We've got bowls, darts, sky diving and jukskei left," an embittered sportsman muttered into his Lion Lager at the Wanderers Sports Club in Johannesburg. Jukskei is an Afrikaner game like horseshoes, except that the players throw a skei—something like a rolling pin—at a peg. It is not an Olympic sport.
South African sportsmen are depressed by their isolation. Danie Malan, one of the country's greatest athletes of the past decade (he set a world record in the 1,000 meters in Munich in 1973), has decided to retire to his wine farm in the Cape. "Now I've lost what little international competition kept me going, there's no reason to stay on," he says.
Titus (Dynamite) Mamabolo, a former South African Open 5,000-meter champion, feels much the same. His nickname derives not only from his prowess, but also from his job as personnel officer at Modderfontein, one of the world's biggest dynamite factories. Modderfontein, like the gold and other mines it supplies with explosives, has among the best track and field facilities in the country for black workers.
Dynamite Mamabolo echoes the loneliness of the South African black long-distance runner. "Like most athletes," he says, "I've always dreamed of competing in the Olympic Games, of pitting myself against the best runners in the world. But there's no point in running anymore if there's no prospect of us ever competing in the Games. So now I'm going to coach, and think about it all, and hope that maybe one day South Africa may be admitted to the IOC again, and when that day comes I'll be able to produce world-class black athletes to run against the world."
But world pressure on South Africa has undoubtedly brought about relatively liberal changes in the country's sporting life—a long way from the day when, shortly before the 1964 Olympics, the Minister of Sport at the time, Senator Jan de Klerk, told the IOC that under no circumstances would the republic allow interracial competition and national mixed teams.
Koornhof brought in a new look in 1972: multinational sport. This was in effect the politicians' way of multiracializing sport without admitting it to conservative constituents. South Africa is in the process of separating its people by nationality and ethnic origin rather than by color (a specious step, because all blacks will ultimately be classified as foreigners). Koornhof's multinational policy thus permitted sportsmen of different races to compete as representatives of their own national ethnic group—as whites, Asians, Zulus, Xhosas (of the now-independent Transkei homeland), Vendas, Sothos and so on. In this same vein, merely inviting neighboring Rhodesia or Malawi turned an athletic meeting into an "international event."
But it was all a matter of semantics. The multinationalism was limited to individual competition and contests on "national ethnic" lines between teams representing specific racial groups. There were no racially mixed teams, everything being conducted on a selective, invitation basis.
Then last year a mixed South African soccer team played against an Argentinian team in Johannesburg. When the visitors were beaten soundly, black and white spectators and a national TV audience cheered not for players of any particular color, but for a South African team. One of the South African players, Cedric (Sugar Ray) Xulu, said, "Color? I saw no color. Only a football. You just saw soccer being played color-blind."
Then came Koornhof's policy statement of a few weeks ago in which he (the government) encouraged sporting bodies of various racial groups to get together and form "Premier Leagues" in which they would enter teams to play other racial groups. Still strictly "within the framework" of policy, it was mixed-race sport at club level but with no mention of multiracial sides.
A bunch of rugby players—the hardcore "contact" sport that everybody said would never crumble—finally broke the multiracial team barrier last month. Led by a gutsy Springbok trialist, Dan (Cheeky) Watson, and his brother Vallance, nine whites defied an official warning from Koornhof and split up five and four to compete on otherwise black sides. The match was played in a black stadium in Port Elizabeth, in the middle of a township that had recently been the scene of violence and discontent at white authority and whites in general. After the match Watson was carried triumphantly from the field by blacks.
The rebel white rugby players were threatened with suspension as well as fines for entering a black township without a permit. Says Watson, "A policy isn't law, and I can't see how you can be arrested for contravening a policy. The real winner was rugby."
Dan Qeqe (which is pronounced like the sound of two knocks on a door), one of the black organizers of the mixed match, said, "The only way to stop this match would have been to lock us all up, players and spectators as well. We're sportsmen and human beings, and nobody can tell us with whom we can and can't play."
Koornhof blasted the players for "wilful disregard" of policy, but even the hotheads in the nationalist government were advised to cool it. When the Port Elizabeth dust had settled it was noticeable that South African sport had taken a shuffle forward.
The president of the Rugby Board, Dr. Danie Craven, a former Springbok star, had once vowed that no non-white would ever play on a national team and that the Springbok emblem was and would evermore be reserved for whites only. Now he admitted that future teams for international matches would be picked on a multiracial, merit basis.
Mixed rugby at club level would come, conceded Craven, and "when the day dawns when there will only be mixed South African teams, we [the whites] shall gladly share the Springbok emblem with the rest, if that's what they want."
This change of attitude in rugby, which in South Africa has been a white citadel until now, is nothing short of amazing. But changes are also evident elsewhere. In a national invitation meet at the exclusively all-white Rand Afrikaans University in Johannesburg, black athletes, including Matthews Batswadi (who won a splendid 5,000 meters), Edward Sinani (winner of the 200 meters) and Sam Ditsele (800-meter winner), were cheered all the way. "There was nothing multinational about the meeting," said an official. "It was multiracial, and magnificently so. We invited the black athletes on ability and spectator appeal alone."
After the meet Batswadi, a product of the Western Deep Levels Gold Mine Athletic Club, said, "Can you imagine how I feel? I run against the best whites in the country and we are sportsmen all. And I win and it's great and I know that they don't resent my winning. I hear the crowds, the whites, applauding. And I'm thinking as I run, 'We've got something, we've got something.' And then it's all over and you look to the world, to the international scene, and you wonder, 'Where do we go from here?' " Sinani said, "Yes, it's moving. And how much faster would we all be now if this competition had been with us from the beginning, and if we blacks had got the sort of coaching that many whites get from youth."
As the Southern Transvaal League track and field season began, it was announced that meets would be open to all races. Other provincial leagues are likely to follow. South Africa's soccer associations, black and white, are getting together to work out a formula for "normalizing," as it's called, their sports. And on the cricket fields of the highveldt, the barriers, like the wickets, are tumbling down. In the Premier League established for the Transvaal, two white cricketers turned out for a non-white club against a white team. One was a former Springbok wicketkeeper, Dennis Gamsy, the other a former Natal University cricket captain, journalist Marshall Lee. Said Lee, "Playing for the non-white side was a new experience for me. It made me realize that it's the game that counts."
There is still opposition in high places, however, to anything that might go beyond government policy. Administrators, more than sportsmen, are afraid to rock the boat. "My experience over the years has been that white commitment to non-racial sport is just lip service to get international recognition." says Hassan Howa, president of the non-white Western Province Cricket Board. "We want whites to show their good faith by rejecting completely government policy, to commit themselves totally to allowing clubs to admit whom they wish so that we can have real multiracial sport."
One of the country's leading black sportswriters, Theo Mtembu, says, "I'm supremely optimistic about sport and race relations in South Africa. I've been a sportsman and a sportswriter for some years, and I can remember when a visiting team came here to play the all-white so-called national side, and we shouted for the visitors. The South African side wasn't completely our side, you see.
"And then I think my greatest moment was watching that Argentinian soccer game against a mixed South African side, and I saw those players, black and white, hug each other like school kids when Jomo Sono began scoring those beautiful goals of his. And the crowd, blacks and whites, cheered with one voice. And then there was the rugby match in Port Elizabeth. 'Listen,' I said to pals. 'Listen to what?' they said. 'Listen to the barriers falling,' I said. 'Listen to the walls come tumbling down.' Sure we've got a long way to go. And for a lot of people we aren't moving fast enough. But I know that South African sportsmen are learning, even if they're learning late, that integration's the name of the game."