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The Isolation Years, 1960 - 1992

The South African Government first formulated a policy on sport in 1956. In short this policy statement declared that whites and blacks would not be allowed to play sport together and the privilege to represent South Africa would be that of whites only.

This was not the first time that South Africa had to deal with the question of so-called black people and sport. In the 1930’s South Africa contemplated to apply to host the Empire Games (today called the Commonwealth Games). When it was pointed out that hosting the event would mean the country will also have to host athletes and officials from India without discrimination. The idea was abandoned and thereby (from a South African point of view) the “problem” was also solved.

After the official “sports policy” of the South African Government was announced in 1956 black sportsmen in South Africa had two options. One was to accept the policy lying down, or to organise themselves into a national body for the first time.

They took the second option. In January 1959 the South African Sports Association (SASA) was formed in Durban. This body’s main objective was to work for “the full and direct international recognition of all South African sportsmen and for the right of ‘non-whites’ to represent South Africa if and when qualified to do so. ”

One of SASA’s first formal actions was to charge the South African National Olympic Committee for acts of racism and to request the International Olympic Committee to put the item on their agenda for 1960 meeting of the IOC in Rome.

When SASA’s secretary-general, Denis Brutus, applied for a passport to attend and state SASA’s caseit was refused.

On 24 April 1962 the South African National Olympic Committee issued a rather nonsensical statement. “This committee stands by the Olympic principle of non-racism in sport . . . but is not waging a war against the South African Government. ”

Fig.12. Click on image to enlarge

For objective observers it became clear that unless South Africa changed its racist policies, the country would soon be expelled from all international sports bodies. (fig 12). The South African Olympic Committee had fallen between two chairs.

On 24 May 1962 Dennis Brutus, secretary-general of SASA, wrote to Otto Mayer the then Chancellor of the International Olympic Committee, requesting that the South African National Olympic Committee be expelled from the International Olympic Committee. On a “charge sheet” that accompanied this letter it was stated:

  • That the President of the South African National Olympic Committee made it clear that his committee would not oppose racial discrimination as dictated by the government;
  • That there had been increasing measure of government interference in sport in South Africa; and
  • That nine sportsmen were to appear in court because they had organised a non-racial football match.

After their session in Moscow in 1962 the IOC wrote to the South African Olympic Committee:

  • . . . if the policy of racial discrimination practise by your Government in this respect does not change before our session in Nairobi takes place in October 1963, the International Olympic Committee ill be obliged to suspend your committee.

While SANOC was charged at the International Olympic Committee, in South Africa last minute attempts were made to get the South African Sports Association and the South African National Olympic Committee at a round table conference.

On 16 July 1962 Mr G K Rangasamy, President of the South African Sports Association, wrote a letter to the South African National Olympic Committee. In it the South African National Olympic Committee was invited to a meeting.

On 15 August 1962 Lilian Francey, the Secretary of the South African Olympic Committee replied:

  • In order to assist us in this matter, please furnish us with a list of sporting bodies affiliated to you association, so that we may establish the bona fide and status of your association.

This reply seems strange, unless South African Olympic Committee was just trying to avoid the unavoidable.

On 22 August 1962 the required information was supplied by Mr G K Rangasamy in a letter the South African Olympic Committee then claimed it never received. Another copy was mailed. Mr G K Ramgasamy was not impressed. He wrote:

  • I am inclined to state bluntly that your enquiries are more an attempt to stall . . . ”

On 7 October 1962 the South African Sports Association decided in principle to disband and establish the South African Non-racial Olympic Committee. Dennis Brutus was appointed president of the pilot committee, with the Rev B Sigamoney as chairman and Mr R Hlongwane as secretary.

On 9 October 1962 Brutus wrote to the South African Olympic Committee

  • It is proposed to have the formal inauguration of the South African Non-Racial Olympic Committee (SANROC) in January next year; if a satisfactory solution can be found it is probable that it would not be necessary  to proceed with the development of SANROC. It would, therefore be most fruitful if talks could be arranged before January 1963.

On 25 November 1962 Brutus wrote again to the South African National Committee:

  • . . . it is hard not to see the evasiveness of you body as an attempt to impede our work for the removal of racial discrimination and the achievement of true sportsmanship for all South Africans in the Olympic Movement.

The South African National Olympic Committee waited until 24 December 1962 before an answer was given to SANROC. They then wrote:

  • It would serve no purpose for us to participate in a national convention called by any unofficial organisation . . . ”

On 3 January 1963 Dennis Brutus informed General H B Klopper that the inauguration of the South African Non-Racial Olympic Committee will be considered on a meeting on 13 January 1963. The meeting was to be held in the Patidar Hall in Fordsburg. In the letter he wrote:

  • I would like to extend a cordial invitation to you to attend . . . we would like you to be a guest speaker and to address the meeting.

Klopper answered simply that the only meetings he attended on a Sunday was Church meetings.

Fig.14. Click on image to enlarge

On 4 February 1963 the South African Government slammed the door close on any hope of a compromise for the future participation of South Africa in international sport when the minister of the Interior, Jan de Klerk, issued a press statement (fig 14).

At the end of this press release De Klerk, father of F W de Klerk, warned that is sports bodies did not comply with government policy, legislation would be introduced to compel them to do so.

In May 1963 the South African Government in another, senseless and almost insane act, served an order on Dennis Brutus, president of SANROC. He was in future not allowed to attend any meetings where more than three people were present.

On 14 May 1963 the South African National Olympic Committee invited SANROC to a meeting. The meeting took place two weeks later on 29 May 1963. Among the SANROC delegates were Denis Brutus.

Shortly after the meeting began the Security Police barged into the room and arrested Brutus. Brutus eventually escaped through Swaziland to London. When the South African Government banned SANROC in 1965, Brutus assisted in setting up SANROC in London.

In the meantime the International Olympic Committee decided at their meeting in 1963:

  • . . .the South African National Olympic Committee must get from its Government by 31st December 1963 a change in policy regarding racial discrimination in sports and competitions in its country, failing which the South African Olympic will be debarred from entering its team in the Olympic Games.
Fig.13. Click on image to enlarge

Early in 1964 South Africa arranged separate trials for whites and blacks and on performance nominated a team for the Olympic Games in Tokyo later the same year. The team included for the first time seven black members.

The Government was prepared to issue passports to all the nominated members provided that they don’t fly in the same play nor stay in the same quarters at the Olympic Games. (fig 13)

These acts did predictably satisfy the international world and the invitation to South Africa to participate at the Olympic Games in Tokyo was withdrawn.

In 1967 the South African formulated a new sports policy. This policy determined that all South Africans outside the borders of the country could compete with and against each other. Inside the country the racial bar, though, would remain.

But this time though the international community was irritated enough by the attempts of the South African government to window-dress. The demand was now short and simple “No normal sport in an abnormal society. ”

Fig.11. Click on image to enlarge

In May 1967 a commission from the IOC under the leadership of the Lord Killanin visited South Africa. This commission brought a report that gave qualified support for the IOC to issue an invitation to South Africa to the Olympic Games in 1968 (Figure 11).

Such an invitation was issued, but when the Mexican government warned the IOC that they could not guaranteed the safety of a South African team, the invitation was never issued.

In 1970 at the IOC meeting in Amsterdam the recognition of the South African National Olympic Committee was withdrawn. With this action South Africa’s association with the International Olympic movement came to an end.