SOUTH Africa’s 24 years of democracy has brought forth many positive developments as the country strives to build a society based on universal human rights and the dignity of the individual.
South Africa was ravaged by racism, subjugation of its people and prejudice, yet its transition to democracy was fairly smooth. Despite this, there are still pockets of great unhappiness within South Africa’s previously disadvantaged communities, where the residue of its past oppression still lingers.
The democratic government has, through its Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC), under the chairmanship of Archbishop Desmond Tutu, tried to lay bare the past injustices which were perpetrated against the majority population.
This initiative, however, did not go far enough and, unfortunately, only focused on the political oppression that was perpetrated under the apartheid regime. There were other areas of oppression where much hurt and oppression were similarly perpetrated: sport, arts and culture, and language.
It is in the domain of sport, and rugby in particular, where a number of prominent voices within Saru Sacos Legends decided on a similar exercise to ensure that the stories of this injustice are documented.
This process will greatly assist in the healing process that is still plaguing and prevailing within our sporting fraternity and bedevilling race relations within South African communities.
This is nowhere more evident than in the continuous support opposing national sports teams receive from South Africans. While it can be construed as a storm in a teacup, it does leave a bitter taste when it is viewed against the backdrop of international sporting events.
Many who adopt this practice of supporting opposing teams defend their actions by explaining them as rallying cries against those in authority – political and sports – who turn a blind eye and deaf ear to the continuous discriminatory practices by the selfsame sections of society; deliberate and subtle, on different platforms, to perpetuate their past indiscretions, albeit in a more refined way.
There are many within certain sections of society who have been complicit in assisting the apartheid regime by playing racist sports and so retarded the fight for justice and equality.
Many now sit comfortably in political office while they were in support of the past illegitimate system of oppression. The same can be said for some in the sporting fraternity.
For this reason, many from the former non-racial sports fold feel dejected when they see that some of those individuals and ‘political parties’ of yesteryear’s racist setup are so comfortably ensconced in the democratic dispensation.
We have attended the funerals of so many former greats over the past few years, men and women who were ostracised, victimised and cajoled to play racist sports but forsook the lucrative offers and overtures of promotions in their jobs and financial gain in the struggle for the principles of justice and equality.
A few weeks ago, we laid to rest one of South African cricket’s prominent sons, Sulaiman ‘Dik’ Abed, of the well-known sporting Abed family – Salie ‘Lobo’, Gasant ‘Tiny’ and Goolam (rugby) being the others.
They all excelled and made national and international headlines but could not represent the country of their birth.
No mention was even made of Sulaiman ‘Dik’ Abed’s passing by our cricket establishment during the international cricket test against India at the Wanderers during the same week of his passing.
We also recently bade farewell to one of non-racial rugby’s greatest rugby players, Salie Fredericks, a man who is regarded by many as possibly the finest lock never to have had the opportunity to represent his country.
He is but one of many who should be revered but are not given due credit in South Africa’s rugby museum in Cape Town’s tourist hub, the V&A Waterfront, a stone’s throw away from where he was born and played his rugby.
Fredericks, like so many others, should be memorialised for their contributions to the broader struggle against the normalisation of sport in apartheid South Africa and for succeeding in isolating apartheid sports. People such as Hassan Howa, Abdullah ‘Dulah’ Abbas, Frank van der Horst, Sam Ramsamy, Kris Makerdujh, Mogamat Noor (Noortjie) Khan, Ben Groepes and Lionel Smith, amongst others.
It is with great sadness that we see such highly respected and principled individuals leaving in anonymity and, sometimes, just a footnote or fleeting mention made of their passing.
Nowhere do we see any due recognition given to such individuals who took the lead, not even in modern-day South Africa. Their tireless efforts and great contributions are pushed onto the backburner of the history of the new South Africa.
What is even more disconcerting and demotivating is the silence from those who hail from our former non-racial stable and who are now ensconced in high office in politics and sport.
They rather adopt an apologetic approach in this regard, and one senses evidence of a reticence on their part to rock the establishment boat. Could it be that they have become too comfortable with the perks brought by high office in sports and politics, forgetting where their roots are?
When bringing our concerns to their attention, requesting assistance only results in being given the run around, obfuscation and delaying tactics.
It will be of no use that they raise their voices and make the right noises only when their shelf life expires and they depart office.
It would have been more appropriate to have had stadia or streets named after our renowned individuals. This has not even come to pass in our beautiful city of Cape Town under subsequent political orders of the DA and even ANC.
Everywhere we still see the apparent racial divide, even in renaming initiatives where those individuals who hail from the previously disadvantaged communities are still confined to ‘their’ areas or in some obscure industrial area. The main areas of renaming initiatives in the CBD are solely for the preserve of those who are construed by the politicians and sports bureaucracy as prominent leadership, even if they were part of a discriminatory system.
There should be no qualms about the renaming initiatives after Nelson Mandela, Robert Sobukwe and Jakes Gerwel but why can’t some of our local people – like those listed above – be afforded the same privilege as Helen Suzman, who might have spoken up but was still part of an unjust parliament. Would it not be better to have afforded this courtesy to a more illustrious local fighter for justice and equality? It is not right that so much done by so many can be given so little afterthought. Renaming Green Point Track after Salie Fredericks would be a good start.
Our call should similarly not be construed as trying to relive the past or trying to exact retributive justice, going after those who have been complicit and extracting justice against them by burning them at the stake. It should rather be seen as a process of ensuring restorative justice and assisting in enhancing the healing process.
There are so many festering wounds within our society and, if not addressed, could lead to ruptures of unimaginable proportions.
It would be wishful thinking if we believe people will just forget and go on with their lives when the hurt and humiliation racism and its sport setup caused to the majority population – aided and abetted by those within our midst – is still felt in so many quarters.
Sedick Crombie is Media and Publicity Secretary for Saru Sacos Legends.