[DEBATE] : (Fwd) Apartheid sport lives on
pbond at mail.ngo.za
Sun Sep 14 08:25:33 BST 2008
(The author of this iol.co.za article was Dennis Brutus's main dementor
in the Sports Hall of Fame incident. See below.)
Apartheid sport chickens come home to roost
September 14, 2008 Edition 1
Forty years have passed since a chain of events that would be known as
the D'Oliveira Affair became synonymous with the terrible iniquities of
apartheid sport. As much as the recounting of the story still gives rise
to many unanswered questions and shame, the relevant question today is
how much progress South African sport has made in the intervening years.
We must perforce look back, but, more importantly, we must look into the
mirror. We are better off than in 1968 when Basil d'Oliveira was not
allowed to play representative cricket for England in South Africa
because he was, in the rigid race classification of the day, not so much
an Englishman as a "Cape coloured".
Forty years on, we can all play together, whatever ethnic group we
belong to, and no one is going to be insulted in the way D'Oliveira was.
It is different now, and we should be grateful for that. But it is not
This coming Wednesday marks the moment 40 years ago when the then prime
minister, B J Vorster, drew rapturous applause from a party political
congress in Bloemfontein for declaring he was not prepared to accept an
England cricket team, due to arrive for a full tour of South Africa
later that year, because, in his estimation, it had been selected by the
At the heart of a demeaning business stood D'Oliveira, the
Worcestershire all-rounder who had already played 16 Tests for England.
He had left South Africa for England in 1960 because he was too good a
cricketer to stay here and stagnate and not white enough to represent
his own country. He was surely good enough, but that was not enough.
Earlier in the 1960s, moves had begun to isolate apartheid sport, but,
with Vorster's pronouncement in Bloemfontein on September 17, 1968, it
was downhill all the way.
Through much of 1968 there had been frenzied speculation about whether
or not D'Oliveira would be selected to tour South Africa. He had had an
unsuccessful tour of West Indies during the English winter and when
Australia arrived in the summer he was dropped from the Test team.
Then he was recalled for the last two matches and in the final Test at
the Oval in late August he was the top scorer with 158. He wept like a
child when the team to tour South Africa was later announced without him.
There was an outcry in England and beyond. The selectors were accused of
omitting him to avoid a political crisis. Throughout the preceding
months, there had been secret talks and threats, conflicting messages
from the South African government and cricket authorities, and strong
suspicions of bribery to keep D'Oliveira out.
Then, on Monday, September 16, 1968, the Somerset fast-bowling
all-rounder Tom Cartwright failed a fitness test and withdrew from the
The selectors announced that D'Oliveira would be his replacement.
Vorster believed his inclusion was the result of political pressure. In
the light of his subsequent statement, England had no option but to call
off the tour.
To his eternal credit, from first to last, D'Oliveira did not once make
a single political statement, level any accusations or apportion blame.
He was a professional cricketer, nothing more, nothing less. He dreamed
of playing in South Africa because he believed it good for cricket. He
could not be blamed for wanting to show black cricketers in South Africa
that they could aspire to be the best.
For South Africa, the doors of international sport slammed shut, not
instantly, but within a few years. Twenty more years would elapse before
South Africans, black and white, finally emerged from the wilderness to
take their place as a "unified, democratic nation" on the world stage again.
The troubles were finally over.
Or were they?
Today there is a sense that, far from being some nasty inscription in
the history books, the repercussions of the D'Oliveira Affair, and all
that it stood for, are still being felt in this country. They show
subliminally in the recent defeats suffered by South African teams and
in the dark undercurrents that ebb and flow beneath the surface.
One sees it in blacks and whites still not trusting each other; in the
political interference of team selections; in power brokers and favoured
incompetents masquerading as sports officials; in the disrespect,
arrogance and insolence. Most telling, one sees it in the inequality
that still exists at the grass roots. It is here that the true legacy of
apartheid sport is revealed and, with it, the inability or ambivalence
of those in power to correct it.
It is at the grass roots where the state of facilities, coaching,
funding and expertise is, dare one say it, as bad as, if not worse than,
in those distant days when D'Oliveira and his fellow black athletes were
consigned to the scrap heap.
Worse still, even some of the old elitist facilities - where apartheid
ensured white athletes would have the best grounding and grooming - have
been allowed to degenerate since 1994 into a state of decay.
And out of this today we still wish to uphold our proclamation that
South Africa is among the "true sporting nations".
South Africa still believes that everything it turns its hand to should
turn to gold. It has, after all, won two of the past four Rugby World
Cups, its cricket team has been regarded as perennial No 2 to Australia,
in golf, it boasts the current US Masters champion and, thank heavens,
the Paralympians fly the flag high.
South Africans seem to think we have some pre-ordained right to win, or
at least not go down without a bonny fight Then when we lose, our gaze
turns not so much to the navel, but to the soul.
Notwithstanding the Paralympians, we are largely in that space now. The
recent pummelling on all able-bodied fronts is slashing gaping wounds in
the national psyche. The worst part is no one seems to have any answers.
Groping for solutions, newspapers eagerly publish a long essay by the
general-secretary of the South African Communist Party in which he gives
his vision for South African sport. At least the man tries and, in
respect of the grass-roots dilemma, he does make some good points,
albeit framing them in typical communist claptrap that takes no account
of professional sport in the 21st century.
Our sports scorecard is not good: a solitary medal at the Olympic Games,
Rugby World Cup holders who are demonstrably not world champions, a
cricket team that suddenly unravelled in a form of the game where it has
prevailed, and a soccer team that is the laughing stock of Africa.
There are undercurrents and subplots. Perhaps there is something
prescient in this coinciding with the anniversary of the D'Oliveira
Affair, because the chickens of apartheid sport have come home to roost.
D'Oliveira was not an isolated issue. He was merely an example, albeit a
highly publicised one, of apartheid awarding privileged status to a
minority of whites and subservience to every black.
It was deeply ingrained in our attitudes and education. It could not be
erased at the stroke of a pen. England's best cricketer today is a South
African who fled because he believed his chances here too limited.
Officially, apartheid is dead, its draconian law no longer on the
statute books, but its damage on the sports front is far from undone.
Is this to suggest that apartheid is to blame when a South African team
loses a series in 2008? No, that would be spurious. But apartheid
created such a big vacuum of ideas and expertise, and so great a chasm
between the racial configurations, that there are problems in competing
at the highest level that most other countries do not know.
'Et tu, Bruté?' scene at the Palace has its history
When the spirited Dennis Brutus returned his Sports Hall of Fame award
on a point of principle, his gesture recalled old dissents, writes
December 16, 2007 Edition 1
Dennis Brutus caused rather less of a commotion than he had hoped for
when he publicly said no to a place in South Africa's Sports Hall of Fame.
In front of 1 000 guests at a televised dinner in Gauteng recently, he
announced he could not be party to "such deception".
The SABC showed him receiving the award, but, unfortunately, not handing
it back, and the whole thing was also poorly reported in the rest of the
It was not the first time Brutus had rejected an award on a point of
principle. He once did so for his poetry because Nigeria's Mbari Poetry
Prize was reserved for black poets and he didn't approve of racial
So who exactly is Dr Dennis Brutus? There is no short answer but, in
this context, he was the key activist in establishing the South African
Non-Racial Olympic Committee (Sanroc) that, among other things, brought
about white South Africa's expulsion from the Olympic movement in 1964.
He is also a poet, a professor and a Trotskyist.
BJ Vorster, then minister of justice, wrote him a letter banning him
under the Suppression of Communism Act.
When Brutus requested guidance on what he could or could not do under
his banning order, the secretary of justice returned one sentence: "The
minister of justice does not dispense free legal advice, yours truly."
Brutus chortles when he recalls it. He is now 83 but still full of
spunk. At Emperors Palace, he was feted with 30-odd others who were
about to be inducted into the Hall of Fame. He then held up his award
and declared: "I cannot be party to an event where unapologetic racists
are also honoured, or to join a Hall of Fame alongside those who
flourished under racist sport.
"Their inclusion is a deception because of their unfair advantage, as so
many talented black athletes were excluded from sport opportunities.
This hall ignores the fact that some sportspersons and administrators
defended, supported and legitimised apartheid," he added.
He then singled out Ali Bacher, a fellow Hall of Fame inductee, who, he
said, had violated sports sanctions supported by the United Nations and
the civilised world in organising rebel cricket tours in the 1980s.
At the end of his unscheduled speech, he handed back his prize and
apologised to his table guests if he had caused them embarrassment. What
rather ruined his night, however, was "being censored out of existence"
by the SABC. He has lodged an official complaint for this
What made his night, he says, was when the sons of two deceased comrades
- the tennis administrator MN Pather and the soccer official George
Singh - accepted awards on their fathers' behalf and then "came
pointedly over to me to shake my hand".
Bacher, meanwhile, was not totally surprised at Brutus's outburst.
He knew the history of differences within the liberation struggle that
had caused Brutus to be marginalised by the ANC leadership in the 1980s.
He knew the man's problems had begun when he embraced the South African
Council on Sport (Sacos) that was a radical offshoot of Sanroc, the
organisation he had launched in 1963 and steered very effectively during
his early exile after a spell on Robben Island.
Sacos was a group of hardliners whose rigid views clashed with the ANC's
policy of selective engagement of influential whites during the late 1980s.
The ANC leadership thus threw its weight behind Sanroc and later formed
the National Sports Congress (NSC) that became its united sports desk
Brutus had long since left London to take up a full-time professorship
at an American university.
He had handed over the reins of Sanroc in 1976 to Sam Ramsamy, his
protégé, who would later become democratic South Africa's first Olympic
In his autobiography, published in 2004, Ramsamy credits Brutus for his
inspiration and guidance as a father figure in the fight against racist
sport. He writes that relations between them later became strained and
that Brutus effectively turned his back on him in line with the
Brutus, however, paints a picture that suggests he was Caesar to
Ramsamy's Brutus in a re-enactment of that famous scene on the senate
steps on the Ides of March.
He tells how he, alone, had rallied a successful anti-apartheid
demonstration in Los Angeles in 1984 when he was informed that the
International Olympic Committee's executive was about to smuggle South
Africa into the games through the back door. He forced the IOC to
declare on live television that this would not happen.
He says he later received a letter from Ramsamy notifying him that the
Sanroc executive had voted to expel him. "I asked to see the minutes of
their meeting, and I'm still waiting," he says wistfully.
In any event, it probably did not improve Brutus's mood when, in time,
he saw Ramsamy embracing Bacher in the dawn of democracy.
Those in attendance at Emperors Palace say that Bacher's award got the
biggest ovation of the night from an audience that was predominantly
black. Brutus's dismissive response that most of this support came from
"corporate types anyway" was one that would have pleased Leon Trotsky
What might have puzzled Trotsky, however, is this perverse fact: when
Brutus was expelled from Sanroc, one of the reasons put forward was that
he had had been talking to Ali Bacher in the early 1980s - before the
ANC deemed this appropriate.
Brutus laughs now at this bitter irony, without actually answering my
question, but he did, indeed, meet Bacher and Joe Pamensky, the then
South African Cricket Union president, in London, and that the two
cricket officials found him to be "a most conciliatory man".
Still burning, he waited patiently for years to deliver his riposte. It
came the other night at Emperors Palace. "If people think it was
dishonest of me to use that function [to make his point], I say it was
the perfect opportunity … because it gave me a public platform."
I asked him why, after all these years and the unification of South
African sport, he could not put the past behind him and perhaps forgive,
if not necessarily forget.
Bacher, himself, has been embraced by the ANC for his role in unifying
cricket and Ramsamy has been acclaimed as a key figure in the same fight
that Brutus fought, albeit a little differently.
"How effective was the process of reconciliation?" he replies
rhetorically, "and how is it valid today? You can't establish a Hall of
Fame to sweep things under the carpet; that's just dishonest.
"For example, Jake White concedes now that Cheeky Watson had the right
to reject all-white rugby (in the 1980s) but White doesn't admit that
he, himself, was just fine with all-white rugby. Reconciliation is one
thing, but it is the omissions that should concern us."
He talks of the "pseudo transition" in our society but insists -
probably to the relief of both of us - that he doesn't wish to talk
Dennis Brutus is unquestionably a struggle hero who deserves
recognition, but, at the risk of being disrespectful, perhaps he should
know that not everyone can be a permanent revolutionary.
Sports racism still needs naming and shaming
by Dennis Brutus
Rodney Hartman wrote a prominent – and rather scathing - article last
week about my rejection of the recent Sports Hall of Fame induction. Ten
days earlier he filed an article claiming I was inducted (perhaps having
not attended the event he covered?), and so I appreciate the chance to
set that straight.
But Hartman's article unwittingly strengthens my complaint that the Old
Boys who run key sports – like cricket - have not come to grips with
Also for the record, let me first correct two minor problems with his
article. The expulsion of apartheid SA from the International Olympic
Committee was in 1970, not 1964 as he claims (that was just the
suspension). And on another inaccuracy, he bluntly labels me a
Trotskyist, a term I reject since I follow ideas, not individuals.
One of the main statements I made at Caesar's Palace concerned the Hall
of Fame's shocking celebration of cricket's racist rebel tours, which
Ali Bacher was commended for in his induction statement. The precise
wording: “Bacher's greatest legacy is that of a cricket administrator
par excellence. It began when he organised international rebel tours in
the early 1980s.”
The flippant tone Hartman adopts in reporting this travesty is
reminiscent of nervous laughter one hears when someone is being called
for racism. In his case, is this tone cover for the embarrassment of
having failed to take any prior stand against rebel tours?
Judging by his Daily Dispatch reports back in 1982, Hartman was a tour
promoter. In an article entitled 'Cloak and Dagger operation brings
first “Rebel” tour to St George’s Park' – which, embodying pure white
arrogance, still graces that Port Elizabeth ground's website! - Hartman
was thrilled by the violation of UN sports sanctions.
A similar tone characterises Hartman's 450 hagiography of Bacher, which
he neglects to inform his readers about while favourably citing Bacher
So here we have a case of a patronising reporter who fails to cover an
event professionally, with profound political and personal conflicts of
interest, dismissing a key strategic pillar in the anti-apartheid
struggle, telling readers that I “caused rather less of a commotion than
hoped for” because “the whole thing was also poorly reported in the rest
of the media”. This is breathtaking arrogance.
Hartman has no right to misrepresent me by suggesting my intention was
to merely cause a fuss. I used the opportunity of the Hall of Fame
ceremony to make a statement of principle in a public place on a matter
that is not merely historical, but as we witnessed in last month's rugby
debate, entails an ongoing – often losing - struggle for racial justice.
Opposition to racism is the kind of principle Hartman failed to advance
when it would have mattered most. Still, sadly, he retains sufficient
hubris to ridicule those of us who would remind that rebel tours and
other manifestations of racism then and now should not be honored, but
instead delegated to a Hall of Shame. If such a place is built for
apartheid-era and certain “post”-apartheid journalism, cricket writer
Rodney Hartman has my vote.
Honorary Professor, University of KwaZulu-Natal Centre for Civil Society
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