‘Unity’ decisions haunt South African sport  


JOE Ebrahim, a retired judge and the former and last SACOS president, stood tall in the face of political adversity as his organisation was being overrun by a reckless National Sports Congress (NSC) who had been intent on playing international sport at all cost with the backing of Nelson Mandela and the ANC after his release in February 1990.

Athletes and players across the political divide throughout the South Africa were unprepared to tackle the rigours of international sport. 

Ebrahim said in 1990, “Thus far, the NSC has not formed a single sports club. The situation in the border region where organisations have linked up with the NSC is a good question in point. Those structures are SACOS structures; none was set up by the NSC.”

Bok emblem retained 

Multinational companies interfered with the running of sport and Mandela, publicly, single-handedly retained the Springbok emblem to the chagrin of the anti-apartheid sports movement who had kept sport alive in poor communities.

Mandela’s decision was a startling moment in South African sport. At the 1995 Rugby Rugby World Cup, 98% percent of the spectators were white with Mandela sporting a Springbok rugby jersey and cap as an appreciation of reconciliation and nation-building.

Mandela had meant well but the other end of the bargain wasn’t kept. 

The government sports departments should also shoulder much of the blame as their focus were elsewhere and not at the grassroots development of players.

Old arguments

The move and decision to compete in international sport, under the disparate and imbalanced sporting conditions at the time, have proven to be costly.

Many of the old arguments about development programmes, opportunities, quotas, and facilities continue to proliferate on social media and around beer-drinking braais and plush coffee shops today, with the divisive Springbok emblem, at all times, ripe for ridiculing, together with sections of the national anthem.

Phillip Tobias

Nkosi sikelel’ Afrika was sung at senior schools meetings long before the NSC tried to compel WPSSSU to have the student population sing it in the 1990s. The singing of Nkosi sikelel’ Afrika concluded long political speeches by Philipp Tobias, Gert Bam, Harry Hendricks, Richard Rive and Peter Meyer at WPSSSU athletic meetings in the 1980s, peppered with words such as sell out, cosmetic changes, multinational companies, oppressive regime, the tyranny of apartheid, commodities, non-collaboration, marginalisation, international moratorium, fraudulent reformists acts and, of course, no normal sport in an abnormal society.

Biggest achievement

The contribution of the South Council on Sport (Sacos), established in March 1973, and its forerunner organisations in isolating South Africa from international sport, was arguably its biggest achievement.

* Sacos’ forerunner organisations were the South African Non-Racial Sports Organisation (SASPO, 1970), the South African Non-Racial Olympic Committee (SANROC, 1965), and the South African Sports Association (SASA, 1958).

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