During the build up to the World Cup, it’s easy to get caught up in team news, injuries, stadium updates, airline collusion (erm, allegedly), and other mundane tidbits. But the upcoming World Cup in South Africa also provides us with the opportunity to reflect on South Africa’s path to 2010. Benni McCarthy and Steven Pienaar are standing on countless sets of impressive shoulders.
In the last part of our South Africa Series, I broke down the unique South African sporting landscape during apartheid. I know I said we’d get to South African soccer’s road from obscurity to full-exposure, but we should take a quick pit stop first.
To get a clear understanding of the challenges disenfranchised athletes faced under apartheid and what was required to change the system, it helps to learn a bit about the different phases of the broader anti-apartheid movement. For those of you who appreciate tactics, in many ways, the struggle against apartheid sport mirrors the broader anti-apartheid struggle.
Initially, anti-apartheid activists reacted to the South African government’s policies by protesting. However, by the early 1950s, protests were proving to be ineffective. The failure of protests led to the next phase of resistance, defiance, which entailed concerted action focused on breaking unjust laws.
On June 26, 1952, the African National Congress (ANC) and the South African Indian Congress launched the Defiance Campaign, which was considered the best way to engage the greatest number of people in the struggle. A typical example of defiance took place on June 26, 1952, the first official day of the campaign, when a group of defiers, led by Nana Sita, president of the Transvaal Indian Congress, entered an African township near Boksburg without permits. Yusef Calchalia, one of the campaign’s leaders, and Nelson Mandela delivered a message to the Boksburg magistrate stating that an act of defiance was about to occur. The police were waiting for the defiers and immediately arrested them on arrival. Over the next five months, approximately 8,500 people participated in the Defiance Campaign.
The Defiance Campaign followed Gandhian principles of passive resistance known as satyagraha. Satyagraha, which translates as “force born of truth and love,” is a concept of political struggle formulated and popularized by M.K. Gandhi in South Africa during the early 20th century. Satyagraha’s fundamental principle is that oppressors could be won over through morality and reasoning. Gandhi believed that rational discussion was the only medium through which truth could be understood by all. Vitthalbhai Patel, former speaker of the Indian Central Legislative Assembly, explained satyagraha’s underlying philosophy in the following statement:
I am going to make you beat me so outrageously that after a while you will begin to feel so ashamed of yourself. Even your own family will be horrified at you. And after you have stood this scandal long enough, you will come to me and say, “Look here, this sort of business cannot go on any longer. Now why cannot we two get together and settle something?” And then we will begin to talk — cold turkey. Otherwise you will have to go on beating me till I go crazy.
But Patel’s scenario raises an interesting question: What if the oppressor is perfectly content beating you till you go crazy?
A fundamental assumption of passive resistance is that there is a universal morality. In other words, morality transcends all differences, whether cultural or religious. However, if this is not true, and different standards of morality can be applied to and justified by various peoples, then passive resistance loses much of its effectiveness.
Unfortunately, black South African sport existed in a society with different standards of morality. Many white South Africans during apartheid believed that discrimination and separation was mandated by the word of God and therefore moral and justified. These sentiments go beyond economic justifications. They are rooted in a moral code that reinforces a belief system that allocates human value differently depending on race. This realization is ultimately what led members of the ANC to reconsider the effectiveness of passive resistance.
Mandela recalled that, at the time, “We were extremely proud of the fact that during the six months of the campaign, there was not a single act of violence on our side.” Yet, the defiers made no progress in getting the government to repeal any of the unjust laws. If anything, the campaign had the reverse effect. The government saw the Defiance Campaign as a security threat and perceived civil disobedience not as a form of protest, but as criminal activity. Consequently, in 1953, Parliament passed the Public Safety Act, which allowed the government to declare martial law and detain people without trial, and the Criminal Law Amendment Act, which allowed for corporal punishment of defiers. These pieces of legislation directly curtailed the campaign because defiance now had stricter consequences.
The limitations on internal forms of protest and defiance were becoming increasingly clear. New methods of challenging apartheid needed to be developed. As apartheid continued, black athletes faced similar challenges. Rational arguments for integrated sport were also futile because those in power believed in the underlying principles of segregated sport so strongly that they organized a nation around these principles. Given this conundrum, both anti-apartheid activists and sporting activists had to figure out ways to make their case more effectively.
In 2010, most of us know that something happened that allowed integrated sport in South Africa to thrive: the apartheid state no longer exists. But what tactics were employed to move the struggle to the next level?
We’ll get into the next level tactics in the next episode. But keep the tactics of the broader anti-apartheid struggle in mind as we move forward. These tactics explain the actions of anti-apartheid sports activists as they fight for the recognition of black South African sport. In the next part, I’ll go a bit more into the steps that ultimately led to a more robust and effective campaign against apartheid sport, which plays a significant role in the eventual downfall of the South African apartheid state.
Tune in next time for more slow cooking.