Talking Drums

The West African News Magazine

Fighting apartheid on the wings of sports

by Ebo Quansah

This writer argues that British sporting links with South Africa gives tacit support to the obnoxious South African government which is propped up by huge investments by the United States of America and the British government.
As black rejection of apartheid claims more lives in South Africa, the Supreme Council for Sports in Africa has given the first official hint of a mass boycott of the 1986 Commonwealth Games in Edinburgh as a means of forcing a reversal of the tacit encouragement Britain continues to offer the obnoxious South African regime.

"If you detest something, you don't play with it. In Africa, we don't play with anything that gives us pain... It doesn't matter whether it is Olympic, Commonwealth Games or what..." Mr Abraham Ordia, President of the SCSA told a BBC World Service interviewer.

This assertion by the man who directs sports policies in Africa on behalf of the Organisation of African Unity has already confounded a number of officials of the Edinburgh Games Organising Committee who had hoped that in spite of the British Lions rugby tour of South Africa, Black African nations would not boycott the Games.

While a few believe there would be enough quality representation to go ahead without African nations, the majority believe such a boycott which will for once include the Caribbean nations, would spell the end of the Commonwealth itself.

"If the threat goes ahead, that will not only be the end of the Games, but the Commonwealth," a top official lamented.

Unlike the African pull-out of the 1976 Olympic Games in Montreal that had only little impact, if the Africans and the West Indians go ahead with their threat, the Commonwealth Games would be debased in both participation and performance.

Out of the 49 nations forming the Commonwealth, nearly half are of African and West Indian origin. A boycott would put out crack sporting nations like Kenya, Uganda, Nigeria, Ghana, Zimbabwe, Jamaica and Trinidad and Tobago, whose healthy rivalry for supremacy with Canada, Australia and the four British nations of England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland, ensures a competition surpassed only by the Olympic Games.

The Commonwealth, with a total landmass of 10,684,847 square miles and a quarter of the world's total population, is the largest conglomeration of nations aside of the United Nations. It could therefore be a potent force in the fight against racism.

Secondly, until 1961 when South Africa left the club on the attainment of Republican status, the Pretoria regime was a member of this com- munity of nations that draws inspi- ration from the throne of England. If there should be any agitation for reform of its apartheid policies, it is the belief of black African nations that the Commonwealth should be seen to be touring South Africa. playing an active role.

The African threat brings into focus sports politics relationship which has been a subject of debate over the years.

It is hypocritical for the government of Britain to continue to argue that because rugby operates outside the umbrella of government control the Tory government could not restrict the Lions from giving official approval to apartheid by touring South Africa

When Africa boycotted the 1976 Montreal Olympic Games, many were the commentators who decried the move on the basis that sports and politics ought not to mix. While conceding the fact that political inter- ference has not helped the progress of this event that ensures a sound mind in a sound body, it ought not be forgotten that because of its mass appeal, sport is the most effective medium to force a political decision.

When the United States wanted to protest against the invasion and occupation of Afghanistan by Soviet Forces the almighty Uncle Sam found the most effective medium on the wings of sport.

After resolution upon resolution had failed to pinch the Kremlin the United States master-minded the boycott of the 1980 Olympic Games in Moscow and though the Games did go ahead, it was obvious that with the absence of the Americans and allied athletes, the Games were reduced to nothing more than an extension of the Spatakiard.

Similarly, the Soviet Union repaid the US by getting the Soviet countries to stay away from Angeles in 1984.

It is therefore hypocritical for government of Britain to cont advancing its argument that because Rugby operates outside the umbrella government control, the Tory Government could not restrain the Lions from giving official approval to apartheid

The aftermath of the Bradford and the Heysel Stadium disaster in Brussels have brought it home that only does the government have power to determine the course sports in Britain, it does, indeed determine the 'modus operandi' of sporting activities.

The one year voluntary withdrawal of English clubs from European competition and the various measures adopted to effect control in English soccer, virtually dictated by Mrs Margaret Thatcher in her capacity as the leader of Her Majesty's Government.

If Mrs Thatcher wanted anybody to take her government seriously, she should have brought the same press as was put on the Football Association and the League on the Rugby Union to call off the Lions' tour of S Africa.

If New Zealand could pressurise the All Blacks to abandon their tour of apartheid republic, there should not be any reason why the Iron Lady of British politics could not have stopped the Lions' engagement.

No matter how the British would want to portray themselves, what has grown to be this Frankenstein monster was the product of the throne.

It was the presence of Britain in South Africa and Westminster's determination to capture the commanding height of South African economy that lead to apartheid.

South Africa is populated by four distinct races: the black majority forming 80 per cent of the entire people; coloured or mixed races; Indians; and whites, who are either British origin or Dutch settlers.

The theory of apartheid as spelt in the 1984 declaration is that "whites and non-white are so dissimilar that they can never live together in a community. If they were to try, the numerically stronger non-whites would trump the whites politically, culturally and economically. The only solution therefore is to partition the country areas where whites alone will have rights and privileges" Leo Marquard : The Story of South Africa Faber, London, 1970, p242.

According to John Addison in his book "Apartheid", the blacks of Bantu-speaking origin moved across the Limpopo River to settle in the region in the fourth century. First Dutch settlers arrived in 1652 followed by the first British settlers in 1795. Many more British settlers followed in 1820. The Indians who were brought in as contract labourers to work on sugar plantations in 1869 continued arriving until 1911.

In 1887, following the discovery of diamonds in 1867 and gold in 1886, the British annexed the Transvaal. Following the London and Pretoria conventions, limited independence was given to Transvaal to form the nucleus of what is the Republic of South Africa today. The Union of South Africa was established under the crown in 1910. A year after its establishment as a nation, South Africa passed the Mines and Works Act, which confined blacks to mine labourers.

In 1913, the Native Land Act, one of the most basic of all South African segregation laws, was passed, allocating 7.3 per cent of the entire land to over four million Africans out of a total population of six million. Under the Act, Africans were forbidden to purchase any land outside the reserves.

An African, according to John Addisson, would be allowed in a white area only for the purpose of working there.

At the outbreak of the First World War, South Africa fought on the side of Britain and for her reward, the racist regime was given a League of Nations mandate to administer South West Africa.

A statute of Westminster confirmed the sovereignty of South Africa in 1931 and from then, the Pretoria regime never looked back in her effort to suppress the Black majority.

A 1949 Prohibition of Mixed Marriages Act was followed by the Immorality Amendment Act, prohibit- ing sexual contact among non marrieds of different races in 1950. The Bantu Education Act was promulgated in 1953 followed in 1959 by the promo- tion of Bantu Self-Government Act.

In 1960 the African National Congress which had been formed in 1912 and the Pan Africanist Congress under Robert Sobukwe, organised resistance to apartheid. The South African government replied with open fire leading to the Sharpeville Massacre.

Following the riot, the Pretoria regime enacted a series of laws between 1961 and 1964 giving the government the right to detain suspects without trial for 90 days. In 1961, Nelson Mandela, leader of the ANC was arrested and detained at the notorious Robben Island.

Nelson Mandela denounced apartheid in these terms: "The Bantustans are not intended to voice the aspi- rations of the African people; they are instruments for their subjection. Under the pretext of giving them self-government, the African peoples are being split up into tribal units in order to retard their growth and development into full nationhood." (Nelson Mandela, No Easy Walk to Freedom, Heinemann, 1965)

The arrest of Mandela and the organised assassinations of Steve Biko, Mr and Mrs Mxenge and a lot more have not and cannot stem the tide of popular unrest now gathering momentum. Once the Africans have sorted themselves out and finished with the Indians, the next target obviously will be the whites.

Like the racist regime in Rhodesia that was brought to its knees by determined and politically conscious Africans, Pretoria sits on a volcano. When it erupts, its repercussion will be felt at No. 10 Downing Street.

In the interim, the Supreme Council for Sports in Africa has the support of Africa to ruin the Commonwealth Games if only to let those whose economic interests accentuate the situation

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