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THE GAMES WE PLAYED. 10. Rugby.  Game of oppressors and oppressed. [Part one].     [6min read]  

THE GAMES WE PLAYED. 10. Rugby.  Game of oppressors and oppressed. [Part one]. [6min read]  

Part one

 Here was the game of our oppressors, but it was also enjoyed by many of the oppressed. This included Steve Biko who at times snuck out for a game with his pals in defiance of his home detention before his arrest and death in prison in 1977. His website now lists the cause of his death as assassination. Yes, it was an assassination; murder by another name.

I was a late starter of this game. Michael Geduld, our 1963 all-rounder school cricket and rugby captain, convinced me, in my penultimate school year, that I had to join the school rugby team. I was seventy-five kilograms, six foot one, fearless, ran well and he needed me. We shared a school desk in a few of our classes, and he wore down my initial reluctance to play the game of our persecutors.

My positions ranged from winger to lock to the sides of the scrum where I felt most comfortable and soon settled in there to rampage at will, score tries and tackle, tackle and tackle some more. I just loved the whole process. As a loosie, I scored a try in most of my games and repaid Michael’s faith in me. In my last two years at school, life had another purpose besides my nerdish studies, music, and the opposite sex.

One needed distractions from the explosive school events of the mid-1960’s with our teachers banned, arrested, imprisoned and exiled. These all followed on from the 1960 Sharpeville massacre in which sixty-nine people, who protested against the pass laws, were shot to death in Sharpeville, Johannesburg. In March 1960 tens of thousands of mainly Africans marched into Cape Town along De Waal Drive from Langa and Nyanga in a PAC-organised march. In front of police headquarters at Caledon Square, thousands of brave people burned their permits. The restrictive passes were one of the most despised of all South African laws.

The government’s response was to declare a State of Emergency. Around the country, they arrested hundreds of thousands for burning their passes which were critical for them to remain in the cities. The country’s majority population group was exiled to sterile rural areas with a lack of socio-economic provisions such as housing, schools, hospitals, running water and employment.

My alma mater, Livingstone High School , 

on the left of the satellite –> view, has a sports field, on the  right which was too small for a soccer or rugby field.  Second Avenue, Claremont is on the left and in front is Imam Haroon Road.  [In 1969, the Imam was murdered in prison by the Security Branch after a hundred and twenty-three days of incommunicado detention under the Terrorism Act].

So, rugby was the sop to the [mainly White] masses. The spectator sport of the country’s majority has always been soccer. Rugby players were the gladiators of distraction in South Africa. I have to admit that I loved the game and that I despised the all-White Springboks. That team represented our unjust persecution. We supported all the touring opponents and we never, ever backed the Boks. One’s support even extended to the Wallabies! Now that tells you something about the country’s nationalism in those trying times.

The All Blacks were always the favourites because they were the one team that could beat South Africa. The Lions were next – again, they were in with a better chance of winning, especially the 1974 team. THEE most biased referees in the world were in South Africa. How we hated them. How could we cheer for an all-White national team while seated in a segregated stadium? I never went to a match.

How could I even play the game?  Some even criticised me for paying rugby.  I suspect I loved the hurly-burly of it all. I took my soccer barefoot skills with me and was the long-range barefoot kicker. I used the All Black, Don Clarke, straight-in-line kicking style. It was a pity that the round-the-corner kick only came years later because this would have saved me much pain in my big toe after practice.

It took me a while to appreciate that a barefooted loose forward and rugby did not mix. We played a mid-season game in Paarl with winter snow on the surrounding fifteen hundred metre high Hottentot’s Holland [HH] Mountains.

Here’s a summer shot of the field—>

                                                                       There are issues wrt the background HH Mountain’s name. Is it PC? Is it a reflection of three centuries of colonialism, of military and political subjugation? The derogatory “Hottentot” apparently comes from‘Hoetentoeten” – to the early Dutch colonialists this is what the language of the Khoikhoi/Khoekhoe sounded like. More recently, HH Mountains have been called the Helderberge [Clear Mountains.] Of course, I just had clear that up!

The home team was a hard-playing bunch full of good Paarl club rugby players. We were level at half-time before we succumbed to their pressure in the second half. During the after match shower, my team-mates pointed to my big toes. The numbed digits had not registered the loss of both big toenails in the muddy game that we had just played. Naturally, that was my last day of barefoot rugby.

Years later, in 2016, I chatted to Gladden , an old friend in later life.  We realised that we had both played against each other in that game. He was the opposing scrumhalf and he admitted that they had a player or two who had failed their matric exams for two years and they virtually returned to school only during the rugby season. Over a few beers, I forgave him.

[Part two follows in next post.]


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