Apartheid Follies

I was reading about the infamous South African Apartheid era the other day.  As is often the case, there was a sports-related issue that reminded me to read about it but the most interesting thing about the whole policy and something I had never heard before was the effect it had on citizenship, which was actually a big part of the justification for the whole thing.

Home Nations

South Africa had been an officially racist nation for a long time even before it started tinkering around with citizenship.  It should be noted that for much of the Apartheid era, SA was not alone in their official racism.  Famously, the southern United States had very similar policies until the 1960s.  Arabs were and still are officially 2nd class citizens within Israel.  India had a sophisticated caste system that doomed or blessed an individual FOR LIFE based on the class they were born into.

South Africa divided the races into White, Coloured, Black, and Indian.  Then they divided the Black population into various nationalities/ethnicities, some of which made sense while others didn’t.  These ethnicities were then stripped of their SA citizenship and assigned citizenship based on their ethnic homelands throughout the country.  Naturally, many of the Blacks had never even stepped foot in these homeland areas and had always lived in major cities.  However, these populations could now be considered foreigners within SA and the poorer educations, healthcare, buslines, etc. could be justified.

Predictably, these independent homelands were a joke and SA didn’t allow them to have any dealings with outside nations or the United Nations.  The homelands were located on undesirable lands with poor farming prospects and few cities.  Perhaps SA had taken some inspiration from our 19th century treatment of Native Americans.  However, unlike the Native Americans, the SAfricans didn’t really want the Black populations to move to the homelands; they wanted them to stay in the cities and be laborers and servants.  The only real motivation to move to one of the homelands was to escape the oppressive whites or to establish a business, as the “foreign” Blacks could not do so outside of their specified homelands.

The treatment of Indians and Coloureds was a bit different (PS – In SA, ‘coloured’ meant mixed race, more or less).  These groups didn’t have the same rights as whites but they had many more options available to them than the Black population.  In case you’re wondering what Indians were doing in SA, many of them moved there to work as prospectors, much like Chinese did in the United States.

On the Chinese note, there was also a small Chinese population in SA that was typically given rights similar to the Indian population.  However, Japanese, Korean, and Taiwanese that happened to be in SA were regarded as ‘honorary whites’ based on their governments’ willingness to acknowledge SA when so many other governments would not.  I have no idea how a cop carrying out racist policies was supposed to determine on appearance alone whether he was dealing with an ‘honorary white’ Taiwanese or a 2nd class Chinese citizen.

The Sports Connection

Most of the world famously refused to participate in sports with South Africa starting in the late 1960s.  Even countries and sports that were willing to compete with SA had an issue on their hands as mixed-race sports were not permitted within the country.  The most famous example of this dilemma came in the form of the New Zealand All Blacks, New Zealand’s national rugby team, which for many years has always been chock full of players of full or partial Maori islander origin.  The fact that rugby and cricket were willing to deal with SA while most sports were not was already deplorable but NZ even conceded and sent an all white team.  BOOO.  On later tours NZ refused to concede and Maoris were given ‘honorary white’ status within the nation.  LOL

The British & Irish Lions rugby team visited apartheid SA a few times.  The players justified their position by naively claiming that sport would supercede politics (although the issue is more moral than political).  Interestingly, the Lions visited SA with a genuine chip on their shoulder and with a strategy that has come to be known as the ’99’ call.  Basically, any time a SA player gave a Lion any shit, the 99 call was made, and each Lion attacked the nearest Springbok (the nickname of the SA rugby team).  The idea was that the ref couldn’t eject the whole team and would end up not ejecting anyone at all.  The call worked, the Lions won the series, and racist SA rugby players were physically punished.  The Lions also made a point of playing matches against clubs comprised of Black players and hosting them for dinners afterwards.  This should have been illegal and I’m not sure how they got away with it.

After Apartheid finally ended in 1991/1992, SA were awarded the rights to host the 1995 Rugby World Cup and the 1996 Africa Cup of Nations soccer tournament.  In storybook fashion, SA won BOTH of these events.  Nelson Mandela donned a Springbok jersey and celebrated with the team, a powerful symbol considering 5 years earlier Blacks could not wear the jersey.  Although these particular events are not especially famous within the United States, they are very, very famous within Africa, the British Commonwealth, and the rugby world.  Unfortunately, these great victories underscored the ongoing ethnic separation in sport within SA, which continues to this day: rugby players are White, soccer players are Black.  Only the national cricket team seems to have integrated, with several Whites, Blacks and Indians on the team.  In recent years, SA hosted the 2003 Cricket World Cup (but did not win), the rugby team won the 2007 Rugby World Cup (hosted by France), and will be hosting the 2010 World Cup (of soccer, which they will not win).

The Springboks: Find the Blacks.

Bafana Bafana: Find the Whites.

The Proteas: Still mostly white . . . but the guy with the beard is a Muzlim!

2 responses to “Apartheid Follies

  1. Pingback: The Sports IQ | Opinion: Stop allowing North Korea to compete

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