South Africa the history of rugby.

Author:Parker, Mushtak
Position::Sport Rugby/South Africa

Nelson Mandela played the game. Steve Biko organised several of his outlawed clandestine Black Consciousness meetings around matches in Black townships in the Transvaal, the Eastern Province and the Western Cape. Eminent historians have called it a '(Black) African Game'. The sport, as one may have guessed, is rugby union, which in the South African context has been mythologised for more than a century as a "white man's game."

WHITE SPRINGBOK (THE SOUTH African national rugby team) captains on tour during those heady apartheid years often used to exalt the official mantra: "The Black and Coloured (mixed race) population in South Africa are not interested in sport, as if oblivious to its inherent paternalism, which was the very mainstay of the ethos of apartheid, which infantilised the black populations as mere children who needed to be guided and nurtured by the civilised god-fearing whites.

It is a mythology that supposedly went to the emotional core of Afrikanerdom, and that has unfortunately been perpetuated over the years by both a disinterested and uninformed domestic and international media. It has been propped up over the years by the institutionally racist sports policy Weltanschauung under British rule in the Cape Colony in the late 19th century and by the apartheid regimes of successive Afrikaner nationalist governments respectively, in most of the 20th century.

The irony is that in post-apartheid South Africa there is still a minority of die-hard ideologues within the very corpus of the ruling African National Council (ANC), who still see rugby as a symbol of racially-motivated sporting dominance and the oppression by the Boere (Afrikaners) of the Blacks, Coloureds, Cape Malays and Indians.

These are the ideologues who despise the Springbok emblem as a symbol of multiracialism and would like it removed from the national rugby jersey, oblivious to the fact that national teams representing the Coloureds and Black Africans too have laid claim to the emblem during the apartheid years.

As a compromise, the post-apartheid unified non-racial South African Rugby Board agreed to migrate the Springbok emblem to the upper right of the jersey with the national flower, the Protea, taking centre-stage, with the national flag on the upper left of the jersey. The truth, needless to say, about rugby and race in South Africa could not be further from the truth. Rugby union, in fact, is as much entrenched in the DNA of non-European South Africans as it is in their white compatriots. A word of explanation and context though! In the twisted lexicon of apartheid, Africans were classified under the Race Classification Act as Bantu (native Africans), each legally domiciled to their ethnic "homeland'--be they Xhosa, Zulu, Tswana, Sotho etc. The...

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