Segregation in sports and playing fields
Volume 2 of four-part series explores the history of SA cricket from day one in 1795 to the present
WHILE the rest of the cricket world increasingly rubbed out old dividing lines after 1920, South Africa reinforced them.
Cricket came to resemble an ethno-religious chessboard with a “white” men’s South Africa ( SACA), a “white” women’s South Africa (SARWCA), a “coloured” Christian South Africa (SACCA), a “Malay” or “coloured” Muslim South Africa ( SACCB/ SAMCB), a “Bantu” ( or ‘black African’) South Africa (SABCB), an “Indian” South Africa ( SAICU), and – in a slight variation of these – an “inter-race” South Africa (SACBOC).
In this way, cricket came to reflect the madness of institutionalised apartness as logic and law were used to structure sport and society on the basis of torturously defined racial categories.
The emergence of the South African Bantu Cricket Board in 1932 (and its rugby and football counterparts) was an example of the growing segregation from the 1920s onwards. The Natives Urban Areas Act of 1923 set aside separate stateowned residential “locations” in the cities for Africans and empowered local authorities to order Africans to live in them.
As residential segregation in the cities became the norm, the geographic separation of sports people intensified. Mines started sponsoring African cricketers and presented the Native Recruiting Company Trophy for the Bantu Board’s new inter-provincial competition, to go alongside SACA’s Currie Cup, SACCB’s Barnato Memorial Trophy and the SAICCB’s Sir David Harris Trophy.
Particularly after 1915, when the Witwatersrand Native Cricket Union was formed, the mines and municipality together started taking an active interest in promoting cricket for mineworkers and the Johannesburg middle classes. They saw this as an insurance policy against radicalism and the uncontrolled social life of the rapidly growing workforce in the city.
A good cricket infrastructure, solid leagues and even a stratum of semi-professional players emerged, which was unusual for that time outside the establishment SACA, with its tradition of employing English county players as professional coaches during the British winters.
The mines did not only sponsor the local league for the Mangena Cup and the new inter-provincial competitions. Almost the entire top echelon of the SABCB and its Transvaal affiliate, as well as many leading players, were employed by the mines. Among them was Philip Vundla, a later leader of the African Mineworkers’ Union and the Transvaal ANC, who found employment at Crown Mines as a clerk in the 1920s because he was a good cricketer.
Moreover, Umteteli wa Bantu, the newspaper financed by the Chamber of Mines, acted as one of the major mouthpieces for the SABCB, together with the resilient 50-year- old Imvo Zabantsundu, based in King William’s Town.
Cricket reports from throughout the country were prominently placed in Umteteli next to the latest ructions in the ANC (where a conservative Dr Seme was being challenged by younger opponents) and safety advertisements aimed at “mine boys”.
Because of the investment by the mines and municipalities, the quality of cricket was high, and the leagues in Johannesburg by the 1930s were impressively large and well run. Fixture lists, printed in the newspapers, showed that there were no fewer than 24 league games involving 48 teams on Sunday, November 20, 1932. They involved mainly mine teams and were played mostly at the different mines such as Geduld, Modder Bee, Simmer and Jack, ERPM, Van Ryn Deep, Nigel, Wits Deep and State Mines.
Twelve teams played in the first league for the Mangena Cup, while there was also a second league with the Witwatersrand Cup at stake.
By 1937 there were “50 to 100 clubs playing today from Randfontein to Nigel”. In 1939, according to official sources, Johannesburg’s black population of 230 000 supported 60 cricket teams.
The first SABCB tournament took place at the complex of the brand-new Bantu Sports Club, opened in 1932. Situated on old mining land just south of the central business district, the BSC comprised nine acres of land, with soccer and cricket fields, tennis courts, a clubhouse and an embankment that could seat 5 000 spectators. The opening was celebrated by a cricket match between Africans and whites watched by 15 000 people. The same kind of crowds attended its soccer matches.
One of the few “unrestricted” African meeting places in the city, the Bantu Sports Club was much “more than a sports club”. “Picnics, socials, music shows, musical competitions, choirs, jazz evenings and dances were organised. On Sundays members [of which there were over one thousand] could listen and dance to ‘radiogram music’ on the Club verandah”. The BSC also ran a night school and its facilities were rented out for social functions.
The Bantu Sports Club and the more exclusive Bantu Men’s Social Centre in Eloff Street extension – both started with funds raised by local missionaries and liberals, working with the City Council and mining groups – were the main social facilities for the Johannesburg black leadership in the 1920s and 1930s.
In the biography of Walter and Albertina Sisulu, In Our Lifetime, there is a description of the couple’s “glittering” wedding celebration at the BMSC in the early 1940s. The Merry Blackbirds jazz band provided the entertainment and the guests included the ANC president, Dr A.B. Xuma, Nelson Mandela and Youth League founder Anton Lembede.
The Merry Blackbirds was one of the bands that inspired urban jazz and swing in South Africa and it regularly undertook national tours. Todd Matshikiza was one of the many artists who made their debuts in it after coming to the big city.
The full-time manager of the Bantu Sports Club from 1934 was the “theatrical” Dan Twala, a nephew of Richard Msimang, one of the lawyers who helped found the ANC. Twala became legendary in Johannesburg as a soccer official and community worker.
Thus, while the fountainhead of cricket and the concentration of players were in the Eastern Cape, the first SABCB officials came from the big centres of Johannesburg, Kimberley and Cape Town. This apparent contradiction became a fixed pattern in the next few decades. Even if it was still Eastern Cape old boys leading, the whole locus of African sport shifted to Johannesburg and the Transvaal province, which was by now firmly established as both the economic powerhouse of 20th- century South Africa and the incubator of a modern African nationalist politics.
Edited excerpts from A. Odendaal, K, Reddy and C Merrett, Divided Country, The History of South African Retold, Vol. 2, 1914-1950s (Published by BestRed, and imprint of HSRC Press)
SA BANTU TEAM 1951. Back row: B Malamba, M Sokopo, S Ntshekisa, J Mahanjana, F Roro (Capt), W Ximiya, G Sulupha, G Langa. Front row: L Mafongosi, C Msikinya, C Scott. The team played in the 1951 SACBOC Inter-Race national tournament at Natalspruit, Johannesburg.
Press cutting from ‘Divided Country’.