Mzoli and Joe stood firm in the ugly face of political adversity

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GLOBALLY there is probably no better recent example of the political influence on sport than South Africa.

Sports organisations such as the South African Council on Sport (SACOS), and later the National Sports Congress did much to dismantle apartheid up until 1991.

Joe Siyalana
Here is a photograph of Joe with some of his Western Province cross country team mates. From left: Joe “Jakes” Siyalana (Gugulethu), Cornelius Wessels (UWC), Henry de Grass (UWC), Mzoli Ngcawuzele (Gugulethu), Derrick van Diemen (South Peninsula) and Wilfred Daniels (Stellenbosch).

Internationally, Hitler had snubbed the black American Jesse Owens at the 1936 Berlin Games, proving that the Aryan race is not so Aryan after all.  Owens won four gold medals at the Olympics.

Without going into much detail, in 1980 the Americans boycotted the Moscow Games and, in retaliation, the Russians boycotted the LA Games in 1984. America had opposed the invasion of Afghanistan by Russia in 1979.

Affected by politics

Further examples of sport and politics mixing are the Hungarian uprisings and the Suez Canal Crisis which gave rise to a boycott of the 1956 Melbourne Games by countries such as the Netherlands, Spain, Switzerland, Egypt, Iraq and Lebanon.

Munich (1972) and the Montreal Games (1976) had also been affected by politics.

South Africa itself had been banned from international sport since 1960 (some codes of sport) and all codes of sport from 1970 to 1991 because of its policy of apartheid.

Mzoli Ngcawuzele
Mzoli Ngcawuzele, the 1984 Western Province captain, leads from Hennie Moses, Nico Vermeulen and Tobias Philander.

While internationally South Africa was ostracised for its apartheid policies, locally race-based athletics was feeling the effects of apartheid. In 1976 athletes Joe Siyalana and Mzoli Ngcawuzele fell victim to the permit system at an athletics championships meeting at the Green Point Stadium.

In 1975, a Cape Herald sponsored meeting was held on the tartan track of the Green Point Stadium after a permit had been sought by the city council. Siyalana and Ngcawuzele’s names did not feature in the programme nor in the results.

1976 riots 

The two athletes from Fezeka High School and the Gugulethu Amateur Athletics Club had refused to compete under the permit system at the 1976 meeting.

By June of 1976, South Africa was in the throes of political unrest.

Siyalana and Ngcawuzele had been arrested and imprisoned for 10 weeks as a result of the 1976 countrywide riots and political unrest.

Consequently, they missed the 1977 championships in Port Elizabeth.

Norman Middleton
Norman Middleton

Preparations in Western Province for the PE athletics championships had been done on the University of Cape Town’s athletics track in Pinelands, a white English suburb, located on the edge of the southern suburbs. Only a road, named after apartheid Prime Minister Jan Smuts, divides Pinelands from the first black township in South Africa, Langa.


The argument at the time for the use of the Pinelands track was that there was no other facility available for amateur athletics under Sacos.

“We got permission from UCT (the University of Cape Town) to use their track in Pinelands whereas with the Green Point Stadium meeting a permit from the city council was issued,” explains Ngcawuzele.

Siyalana and Ngcawuzele’s principled position in 1976 must be seen against the backdrop of the South African Council on Sport’s (Sacos) policy and strategy on the use of facilities and its policy of non-collaboration – the policy of non-alignment.

Hassan Howa
Hassan Howa

In 1973, Sacos refused to use facilities that required a permit, even blanket permits. The debacle at the De Beers stadium in Kimberley plunged Sacos into a crisis as the stadium was the only venue for sport at the time.

The double standards resolution policy only implemented in 1977 had been a discussion point at Sacos meetings prior to 1976 following its first President Norman Middleton’s position with the Coloured Representative Council and the use of facilities outside coloured areas. Using these facilities was seen as having ties with the apartheid state. Sacos members differed with him.

“We have always maintained that the CRC is a useless institution and that we will carry out the people’s mandate to wreck the council,” he said in 1976.

Mzoli Ngcawuzele
Mzoli Ngcawuzele was the best Western Province and South African 5000m and 10 000m athlete in the late 1970s and early 1980s.

He was also the leader of the Labour Party, but had resigned when the party chose to be part of the Tricameral Parliament in 1983.

Black bloc

The sole purpose of the DSR was to galvanise the Sacos membership and prevent splits. Middleton was backed by the majority black South African Football Federation, the very bloc Sacos had to draw in to maintain its legitimacy as an anti-apartheid movement.

 “I cannot force a non-racial sports policy within a segregated political system. To have a non-racial sports policy, means a definite change in the political systems of the country. You cannot have the system of apartheid on the statue book and expect sport to be non-racial,” said Middleton while he was the president of Sacos in 1975.

Middleton’s vision surpassed his party and Sacos. His aforementioned quote played a pivotal role in the history of South African sport.

Mzoli Ngcawuzele.
Mzoli Ngcawuzele, centre, with Danny Brown and Henry de Grass, left for winning a road race in Elsie’s River in 1981. Abe Fortuin and Brian Redelinghuys are on the right.

As Sacos members differed with him, he resigned as president of Sacos because the organisation did not support his position at the Coloured Representative Council and his support for blacks using the facilities other than those designated for coloured or black people.


Middleton was vindicated when by 1985 university and college students had used the facilities of coloured and black universities. The failure of Sacos to reach out to blacks was seen as a major failure, with the National Sports Congress fulfilling that role in 1988.

Hassan Howa succeeded Middleton in 1977, but he was inclined to talk to Ali Bacher of the South African Cricket Union and the like, instead of raising the profile of black cricket and the rest of the sporting codes as an authentic mass-based organisation.  Howa had also entered negotiations with Jack Cheetham and Boon Wallace from the white cricket union.

Mzoli Ngcawuzele
Clement du Plessis, Mzoli Ngcawuzele and Leon Pietersen at Mzoli’s Restaurant in Gugulethu.

Certainly, there were legal constraints in getting to the black townships in apartheid South Africa, but the same legal constraints did not prevent the Sacos boss Howa of engaging with his white cricket counterparts.

That Siyalana and Ngcawuzele turned down the opportunity to compete as athletes under the permit system at Green Point in 1976 speaks volumes for their character.  Moreover as athletes under Sacos, the sport wing of the liberation front!

After missing out on two championships, Siyalana made his national comeback in Paarl in 1978 where he came second in the 5000m to Christy Davids. In 1979, he won both the 5000m and 10 000m at the South African Amateur Athletic Board’s Track and Field meeting in Durban.

Principled stand

He died in a car crash in 1983 and a memorial road race had been organised in his honour in Gugulethu.

Ngcawuzele raked in many titles and records, including road and cross country titles. In the late 1970s and early 1980s Ngcawuzele made a huge impact on the 1500m, 5000m and 10 000m races.

Ngcawuzele is now the owner of Mzoli’s Restaurant in Gugulethu, attracting both local and foreign tourists. Mzoli’s has become a must-visit on the South African tourist-map.

But Siyalana and Ngcawuzele must both be remembered for their principled stand against the apartheid policies of the South African government.

*Over the years Mzoli Ngcawuzele was known as Edwin or Edward Ngcawuzele. “In my Identity Document book I am known as Mzoli Ngcawuzele,” he said.

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