What is today referred to as the “Ancient Olympic Games”, was a sports festival celebrated in honour of the Greek god Zeus in the town of Olympia. As far as could be established by modern archaeologist this festival lasted from some time before 776 B.C. to 393 A.D.During the 19th century the idea of reviving the Olympic Games was mooted by several people. It was, though, only when the French aristocrat Pierre de Coubertin arrived on the scene in the last decade of the 19th century that the movement gained real momentum. His concept was to stage an Olympic Games every four years in different cities all over the world.Through sport, he thought, the future leaders of the world could meet in peace and get to know and respect each other.His original idea was both elitist and sexist. Amongst his ideas were:

  • Only amateurs could participate - If you could not afford to do sport, the chances that you had the potential to become a world leader were slim.
  • Only men could participate - As there was no opportunity for women to become political leaders in the world, there was no sense in allowing them at an Olympic Games.
  • Membership to the International Olympic Committee should only be open to invitees

De Coubertin was no democrat. In his mind future International Olympic Committees should compose only of royalty and other extremely influential personalities. Once such a committee was established future membership should be by invitation only.  

One might criticise him today but, he was a son of his time. When he managed to arrange a meeting of his friends and potential future members of the International Olympic Committee in 1894 at Sorbonne he received their support.

The meeting decided that the first modern Olympic Games should be, because of the emotional and historic ties, held in 1896 in the Greek city, Athens.

The first modern Olympic Games in Athens, 1896

Organising the Games at such short notice looked like an impossible task. The biggest problem was money but sponsorship by the Greek millionaire Georgios Averoff saved the day.

At the end of the day 311 athletes (all men) competed at these Games.   As athletes entered for competition as individuals and without necessarily the sanction of the sport bodies of their respective countries, it is now impossible to establish how many countries were represented.   For instance the gymnast Charles Shampoff was a Swiss national who lived in Bulgaria at the time. Today both countries claim Shampoff as their representative!

What is known today as “South Africa” was in 1896 the two British colonies, the Cape Colony and Natal, and the two independent republics, Orange Free State and the Transvaal.  No athlete represented any of these entities in Athens.

The second modern Olympic Games in Paris, 1900

The second modern Olympic Games were awarded to Paris in honour of the founder of the movement, Pierre de Coubertin.

These Games were organised as a sub-division of an International Expo held in Paris during 1900. The Games began on 20 May 1900 and only finished five months later on 28 October 1900.  

Although Transvaal had an impressive exhibit at the expo, no athlete from the future South Africa participated at the Paris Games of 1900. Of the 1 318 athletes who participated, 12 were women.

South Africa’s first Olympians

The third modern Olympic Games, St Louis, USA

The third Olympic Games was hosted by the USA as a part of what was called a “World’s Fair”.   The various Olympic events were slotted in a pretty disorganised way between other attractions at the Fair.   The result was that the first Olympic event took place on 1 July 1904 and the last only on 23 November 1904.

The international participation was a disappointment. Athletes from only thirteen countries entered.   Of the 625 athletes, only eight were women.

Due to lack of foreign interest, the organisers invited everybody at the “World’s Fair” to participate.

One of the events at the Fair was an “Anglo-Boer War Historical Libretto”.   This revue re-enacted scenes from the Anglo-Boer War (1899 – 1902). The highlight was the surrender of the Boer general Piet Cronje to Lord Roberts at Paardeberg.  As one of the major attractions Cronje played himself in the revue.

Two of the workers at this show were Len Tau and John Mashiani.   These two had been with General Piet Cronje for a long time. As a matter of fact, they were with him when he surrendered at Paardeberg during the Anglo Boer War.

Figure. 1. Len Tau, second from left, as a Boer prisoner of war on St Helena

With General Cronje and almost 5 000 Boer soldiers they were taken Prisoner of War and deported to St Helena. (Figure. 1) At the end of the war Tau and Mashiani were re-united with Cronje and went with him when he left South Africa for the United States of America.

In St Louis they entered the Olympic marathon.   Here they were recorded as Lentauw and Yamasani. If seems as if none of them were able to write. If this was indeed the case, they might have given their names only verbally when they entered. The names Lentauw and Yamasani is a likely way an America official could have thought to have heard the names.  

They were also recorded as Zulus.   This obviously was a wild guess from an American official.   Because they were black and from Africa he assumed that they were from the Zulu nation.

Amongst these people the surnames Lentauw and Yamasani are unknown.   It was only when an old newspaper clipping was discovered that sports historians discovered the truth. In this cutting Len Tau told a journalist that back home in South Africa he was called “a lion”.   The Tswana word for lion is tau.

Taking in account that Piet Cronje came from the North West Province and the indigenous people in this area are mostly from the Tswana nation, it all adds up.

Len Tau, who ran barefoot, finished ninth and Jan Masiani thirteenth in the marathon.   They were not only South Africa’s first Olympians, but also the first athletes from Africa to participate at an Olympic Games.

There is one more story to be told about Len Tau.   According to tradition he was chased off course by a stray dog. The story goes that he lost up to six minutes in the process.   Another version is that both he and Jan Mashiani were at one stage chased by a dog.

This story about the dog is probably only an Olympic myth, but it remains to good a story to just ignore.

What is true though, is that two black South Africans who remained true to their white friend, Piet Cronje, wrote a chapter in Olympic history when they ran in the marathon in St Louis.

South Africa’s first Olympic Gold Medal

The fourth modern Olympic Games, London, 1908

Figure 2. The start of the 100 meters final at the Olympic Games in 1908. The South African Reg Walker is the athlete on the right

At the International Olympic Committee meeting in July 1907 a motion that the four British colonies in Southern Africa, the Cape of Good Hope, Natal, the Orange River Colony and the Transvaal, should be allowed to participate at the Olympic Games in London under the umbrella name of “South Africa” was tabled. This motion was accepted.

It should be noted that the “Union of South Africa” was only formed three years later – on 31 May 1910.

On 3 January 1908 a national Olympic Committee for South Africa was established.   The first president was the mining magnate Henry Nourse.   In his youth Nourse was a brilliant versatile athlete.

Although time was short to organise enough funds to send a representative team to the Games in London, the South African Olympic Committee nominated a team of fifteen.   This team consisted of seven athletes, four cyclists, three tennis players and a fencer.

Despite the successes of Len Tau and Jan Mashiani at the 1904 Olympic Games no Black athlete was considered for the 1908 team.   The 1908 team for the first time represented South Africa in green with a springbok in yellow on the chest. This remained the colours for South African Olympians until 1960.

Reg Walker

From a South African perspective the sensation of these Games was the 19 year old Natalian Reg Walker. (Reg Walker) He was the number two South African sprinter in the team.   Eddie Duffy was the South African champion.

No less than 57 sprinters entered the 100 meters.   They were divided into 17 heats in which only the winners progressed to the semi-finals.   In the four semi-finals only the four winners progressed to the final.

Walker not only reached the final (Duffy was eliminated in the semi-finals), but won the final for South Africa’s first gold medal at an Olympic Games. (Figure. 2)

Sometime after he won his gold medal a story was told that he was not originally selected and was only included after his supporters in Natal guaranteed the cost of his participation to the South African Olympic Committee.   This is another Olympic myth.

South Africa’s other medal was a silver medal that Charles Hefferon won in the marathon after the man who crossed the finishing line first, Dierando Pietri, was disqualified.

Hefferon was born in England and came to South Africa during the Anglo-Boer War as a member of the South African Constabulary.   At the time of the Games he worked as prison warden in Bloemfontein.   After the Games he resettled in Canada where he died in 1933.

South Africa’s most successful Olympic Games

The fifth modern Olympic Games, Stockholm, 1912

At the Olympic Games in Stockholm 2 546 athletes from 28 countries participated. Only 55 of the participants were women.

The all-men South African team consisted of 21 members (7 athletes, a cyclist, a swimmer, a fencer, four tennis players and eight shooters).

Figure. 3. The South African tennis players, Harry Kitson (left) and Charles Winslow, at the 1912 Olympic Games

This team eventually proofed to be the most successful team ever from South Africa.

The tennis players Charles Winslow and Harry Kitson combined to win the doubles.   In the men’s final Winslow defeated Kitson. Between the two of them they won two gold and a silver medal. (Figure. 3)

Three days later, on 7 July 1912, Okey Lewis, won the cycling road race.   This race was a time trial over 320 km! Because he was not one of the favourites, Lewis was second on the starting line.

He quickly passed the only rider in front him on the road.   For the rest of the race Lewis was on his own. He had no idea of his position in relation to the other riders. It was only once all the riders completed their race that it was confirmed that the time of Lewis was indeed the fastest.   (Figure. 4)

Figure. 4. Okey Lewis with some of his team mates after he won the cycling road race

The marathon was probably the most sensational highlight in the history of South Africa’s participation at the Olympic Games. South Africa was represented by two athletes, Ken McArthur (Figure. 5) and Chris Gitsham (Figure. 6)

After a titanic struggle of virtually the whole course, McArthur won the race and Gitsham came in second. Mc Arthur was born in Northern Ireland and came to South Africa after the Anglo-Boer War to serve in the South African constabulary. Here he married an Afrikaans woman and for the rest of his life he stayed at Potchefstroom.

Figure. 5. Ken McArthur

Because McArthur only wrote his name as “K.K.McArthur” on his entry form, sports reporters who knew he was called “Ken” assumed his name must be “Kenneth”.  

A “Kenneth McArthur” sports stadium at Potchefstroom was even named after him.  It was only when his grave, and subsequently his death certificate, were discovered that the truth surfaced. His names were Kennedy Kane McArthur.

Figure. 6. Chris Gitsham

Another of the many myths surrounding South Africa’s participation at the Olympic Games over the years was that McArthur and Gibson agreed to run together before the race. According to this story they decided only to race each other once they entered the stadium.

Two kilometres before the end of the race Mother Nature called on Chris Gitsham.   Quite relaxed he entered the bushes expecting his team mate to wait for him. When he was back on the road he could only see McArthur disappearing over the last hill before the entrance to the stadium.

This story was never confirmed by either of the athletes involved.

The Great Bevil Rudd

The seventh Modern Olympic Games, Antwerp, 1920

The honour to host the sixth modern Olympic Games was in 1916 awarded to Berlin, the capital of Germany. But at that time, unfortunately, the nations of Europe were at war with each other.

It all started when the crown prince of Austria, Duke Franz Ferdinand, and his wife were assassinated in Sarajevo in Serbia on 28 July 1914. This was the spark that ignited what was to become known as “The Great War”.

Within a month Austria declared war on Serbia. Russia joined the war on the side of Serbia. Germany joined the war on the side of Austria. Within days Europe was on fire.

This war devastating lasted until 11 November 1918.

The International Olympic Committee at first tried to save the 1916 Games. A tradition at the Ancient Olympic Games at Olympia was that all wars should cease during the time of the Olympics, and that once the Games were over, the warring parties would resume their battles.

One of Pierre de Coubertin’s ideals was that the Modern Olympic Games should contribute to peace in the world. During the war in Europe the International Olympic Committee tried to intervene. They approached the different nations to find out whether they would agree to a cease fire during the Berlin Olympics.

As the nations at that stage did not trust each other, none was prepared to be part of such an agreement.

When the Europe fought itself to a standstill in 1918 the International Olympic Committee immediately looked for a candidate to host the next Olympic Games in 1920. The Belgium city of Antwerp was already invited in 1914 to host the seventh Modern Olympic Games.

When the Belgium Olympic Committee indicated that they were prepared to host the Games, the IOC did not hesitate to accept the offer.

At the Games 2 692 sportsmen and women form 29 nations participated. Of these 64 were women.

South Africa was represented by the country’s largest team ever. In the team of 48 a woman was for the first time included. She was the swimmer Blanche Nash. Unfortunately she was eliminated early in all her events.

The outstanding member in the South African team was Bevil Rudd. Bevil was a student and Rhodes Scholar at Oxford when the war broke out. He immediately joined the Argyll & Sutherland Highlanders. In 1916 he was redeployed to the tank corps.

The tank at this stage began to replace the horse in war. Rudd was commissioned and in 1918 he was decorated with the Military Cross (M.C.) for outstanding leadership and bravery in the field of battle.

When the war was over he went back to Oxford. His feats as an athlete were phenomenal and by 1920 he was approach by the Olympic Committees of Great Britain and South Africa to represent them at the Games in Antwerp.

Figure. 7. Bevil Rudd

He took up the offer from South Africa. (fig 7) At the Games he first won the 400 meters. He then went on to win a bronze medal in the 800 meters and a silver medal in the 4 x 400 meters relay. Thus he became the first, and up to now, the only South African athlete to win a full set of medals at a single Olympic Games.

The tennis player, Louis Raymond, and the bantamweight boxer, Clarence Walker also won Gold Medals for South Africa.

The unluckiest South African Olympian was the cyclist Henry Kaltenburn. He entered the road race in Antwerp. As was the case in Stockholm eight years earlier, when the South African Okey Lewis won, this race was again an individual time trial. This time it was decided over 175 kilometres.

When the entire field was clocked, Kaltenburn’s time was almost 1 minute 28 seconds faster than the second placed cyclist. While celebrating his Gold Medal an official informed the South Africans that an objection was received from the Swede Harry Stenqvist.

The route for the race crossed a railway line six times. Stenqvist now claimed that at one of the crossings he had to wait four minutes for a train to pass. After the incident was investigated, the officials deducted four minutes of the Swede’s time.

With this time deducted he was now faster than that of Kalternburn. The South African had to settle for the silver medal.

The President of the South African Olympic Committee, Mr Henry Nourse, was at the meeting of the International Committee in Antwerp invited to join their ranks. He remained a member until his death in 1942.

The eighth Modern Olympic Games, Paris, 1924

Today events at the 1924 Olympic Games are best remembered as it was depicted in the film “Chariots of Fire. ” The film was produced in 1981.

At the Games 3 092 athletes from 44 nations participated. This was the best attended Games up to this time.

South Africa was represented by 30 athletes. After the disappointing performance by Blanche Nash at the previous the selectors this time decided not to include any woman in the team.

The outstanding sportsman at the Games was the phenomenal Finnish long distance runner, Paavo Nurmi. Having won three Gold Medals at the 1920 Games he added a further five Gold Medals to his collection during the 1924 Games.

For South Africa the Games was somewhat of a disappointment. Willie Smith, the bantamweight boxer, won South Africa’s only Gold Medal.

This Games was also the last Games where rugby and tennis were part of the sports festival. Tennis made a re-entry into the Games in 1988, but rugby (the 15-man code) has been out in the cold ever since.

Women enter the scene

The ninth Modern Olympic Games, Amsterdam 1928

Before the Games in Amsterdam Pierre de Coubertin retired as president of the IOC. His retirement opened the door for women to for the first to participate in track and field events.

South Africa entered a team consisting of 10 athletes, 1 cyclist, 5 swimmers, 6 boxers, 1 wrestler, one rower and one yachtsman. For South Africa this Games was a historical one. All five swimmers were women and the versatile Marjorie Clarke was the first woman to represent South Africa in track and field.

The best performance by a South African at the Games was the Gold Medal won by Sid Atkinson in the 110 metres hurdles.

The attention, though, was focussed on the women. The inclusion of Blanche Nash in the 1920 was regarded as tokenism. This time the women in the team had to perform to proof that they were worthy Olympians.

And it was the swimmers who made South Africa proud. The relay team of Rhoda Rennie, Freddie van der Goes, Mary Bedford and Kathleen Russel won the bronze medal.

Marjorie Clarke was only 19 years old at the Games. She finished a creditable fifth in the high jump. Her moment of glory was at this stage four years in the future.

The Jennifer Maakal Story

The tenth Olympic Games, Los Angeles, 1932

By 1932 the world was in the middle of an economic crisis. This was in later years referred to as the “ great depression. ” It was therefore no big surprise that that less than half the number of athletes participated in Los Angeles than the number in Amsterdam four years earlier. (fig 8)

Figure. 8. The South African team on their way to the Olympic Games in Los Angeles.

South Africa also only sent a small team of ten athletes. In the team there were two women, the swimmer Jenny Maakal and the athlete Marjorie Clarke.

On the way to Los Angeles Jenny Maakal told her team mates that she was sorry that she was to participate. She explained to them that her family did not have money to sponsor her trip. Her mother took a bond on their house to raise money for her trip.

She said that while she was very excited at the time, she now realised that it was irresponsible for her to be on her way to Los Angeles. She was sure that her mother would lose her house because of her.

Figure. 9. Dave Carstens

At the Games the boxers Lawrie Stevens (fig 10) and Dave Carstens (fig 9) won Gold Medals. They then went back to Jenny and told her that both of them had lucrative contracts to become professional boxers. They were, though; prepared to postpone their professional careers to participate in a special fund raising tournament for her benefit.

They kept their word and when they were back in South Africa they did just that. This tournament raised enough money so that Jenny Makaal could repay her mother every penny she owed the bank.

Figure. 10. Laurie Stevens

In the meantime Jenny was entered for the 100 meters and 400 meters freestyle at the Games. In both items she reached the final and in the 400 meters she finished third for a bronze medal.

In the track and field events Marjorie Clarke participated in the 80 meter hurdles and the high jump. In both events she was up against probably the greatest woman athlete of the 20th century. Her performances were creditable. In the 80 meter hurdles she finished third for a bronze medal and in the high jump fifth.

Jenny Maakal and Marjorie Clarke did not only themselves, but also the women of South Africa proud.

The Nazi Olympics

The 11th Olympic Games, Berlin, 1936

The 1936 Olympic Games was the most controversial of the Modern Olympic Games. This is the only way to describe the Games of 1936 in Berlin. In Germany the dictator Adolf Hitler was at the height of his power.

At one stage there was a strong movement that the games should be moved away from Berlin. Nevertheless this was the Games that will always be remembered for the prodigious performances of Jesse Owens.

He won four gold medals - in the 100 meters, the 200 meters, the long jump and the 4 x 100 meters relay.

There is an Olympic myth about his performances. The story is told that Adolf Hitler refused to shake his hand when Owens won the 100 meters. According to this myth Hitler refused to shake his hand because Owens was black.

The truth is that Hitler invited the winners on the first day of the athletics to his lodge. The International Olympic Committee requested that he should stop this. The problem was that at the Germans were extremely punctual in their presentation. By inviting the winners to his lodge the programme ran behind time.

The Games was brilliantly organised and several new inventions were introduced. At the Games a torch relay from Olympia in Greece, to Berlin was organised to promote the Games. This was the first Olympic torch run. It has since become part and parcel of every subsequent Games.

For South Africa the Games was a disaster. The country won only one medal - a silver medal in boxing. For the first time since 1924 there was also no woman in the South African team.

For all the wrong reasons the best known member of the South African team was the boxer Robey Leibrandt. At the end of the Games Leibrandt joined the German army as a paratrooper.

During World War II he returned to South Africa to assassinate the South African Prime Minister, General J C Smuts, and to overthrow the government.

War again

When Germany invaded Poland on 1 September 1939 the world was at war again.

Even before this, the Games for 1940 ran into obstacles. Tokyo was invited to host the 12th Olympic Games. When it became obvious in 1938 that war between Japan and China was imminent, the Games was moved to Helsinki.

Even after the Second World War began, the International Olympic Committee still hoped the Helsinki could still play host. It was only after Russia invaded Finland that it became obvious that there would be know Games in 1940.

In 1944 the International Olympic Committee celebrated its 50th anniversary in Lausanne, Switzerland. This was supposed to be the year of the 13th Modern Olympic Games, but with the world at war there was no hope for such an event. These Games were supposed to have been hosted by London.

In a Polish prisoner of war camp the inmates decided to organise a token mini Olympics in 1944.

A Dutch Woman the star

The 14th Olympic Games, London, 1948

As Jesse Owens was the star of the 1936 Olympic Games, it was the Dutch woman Fanny Blankers-Koen who was the star of the 1948 Games.

By the times the Games began she was already 30 years old and the mother of two children. It later transpired she was pregnant with her third time when she participated at the Games.

Here she won the Gold Medal in the 100 meters, the 200 meters, the 80 meter hurdles and the 4 x 100 meter relay. At the end of the 20th century she was voted the women athlete of the century.

In London 4 099 athletes from 59 countries participated. This was the most athletes, as well as the most countries ever to have participated in an Olympic Games.

Only one woman was included in the South African team of 34 athletes. She was the sprinter Daphne Robb.

As was the case in 1932, the stars in the South African team were once again the boxers. Gerald Dreyer and George Hunter both won Gold Medals. Hunter was also adjudged to be the most scientific boxer at the Games.

South African Women stars

The 15th Modern Olympic Games, Helsinki, Finland

The Games at Helsinki saw the return to the Olympic arena of Russia. This country’s previous participation was in 1912. Germany and Japan was also for the first time since the war invited to re-enter the Olympic arena.

The biggest contingent to ever to represent South Africa at an Olympic Games at that time was selected for the Games in Finland. South Africa selected a team of no less that 65, including only five women.

It was the women, nevertheless, that brought glory back home to South Africa.

Esther Brand won the high jump three months before her thirtieth birthday. This Gold Medal was the first ever won by a South African woman at an Olympic Games.

In the swimming pool the 16 year old schoolgirl from East London, Joan Harrison, won the Gold Medal in the 100 meters backstroke. It would be another 44 years before South Africa won another Gold Medal in the pool.

After been almost ignored for many years, these two Gold Medals were an Olympic triumph for all South African women.

The years before isolation

The 16th Modern Olympic Games, Melbourne, Australia

In 1956 a modern Olympic Games was for the first time hosted in the Southern Hemisphere. It was also for the first time obvious that the Olympic Games would in the future be used by countries to promote their political agendas.

The Netherlands, Spain and Switzerland boycotted the Games in protest against Russia’s brutal suppression of a potential rebellion in Hungary. Iraq, Egypt and Iran pulled out because of the so-called Suez crises.

The president of the IOC, the American Average Brundage, tried to stop the political tied. “We are dead against any country using the Games for political purposes, whether right or wrong. The Olympics are competitions between individuals and not nations,” he declared rather naively.

In Africa a “wind of change” was starting to blow. Africa wanted the European colonial powers to leave the continent. “Uhuru” (freedom) was the shout echoing over the continent. This “wind” was about to develop into a storm.

For the South African athletes the Games was a major disaster. A country used to bringing back Gold Medals from an Olympic Games, this time won four bronze medals.

The track and field manager and coach, Mr S P Barkhuizen, claimed in his report at the end of the Games that a total lack of discipline and dedication on the part of the athletes resulted in their failure in competition.

The 17th Olympic Games, Rome, Italy

Over the years South Africa developed a tradition to select their sport teams from the white minority of the population only. Up to this stage there were no laws demanding this. It was just the way it was done.

Sport was “the white man’s domain”.

Among white South Africans there were first disbelieve and then anger that the international world would not accept this situation.

At the 55th IOC meeting in Munich in 1959 questions were for the fist time officially asked about the South African National Olympic Committee’s ability to send a team to an Olympic Games select on merit only. A motion was tabled to expel South Africa from the Olympic movement.

The Johannesburg lawyer and member of the IOC, Reg Honey, assured members that the South African Government would issue a passport to any South African selected to represent the country at an Olympic Games.

The traditional “white only” South African Olympic teams became an embarrassment to the country’s friends in the international world.

On the world scene a “Cold War” was fast developing between the West with the USA as its leader and the East with Russia (the USSR) as its leader. South Africa aligned itself behind the leaders of the Western World.

There was never any doubt, outside South Africa, that a practise of racial discrimination in sport was not justifiable and immoral. The Western World, though, hesitated to turn its back on South Africa.

South Africa was looked upon as the country to defend the sea route around the tip of Africa. The country also produced minerals valuable to Western economy and defence systems.

The original reaction from the Western World when South Africa’s racial policies were put on the international agenda by Russia was to defend South Africa as “it was a sovereign country and while its racial policies were immoral, it remained an internal affair”.

Against this background 57 white South Africans were selected to represent the country at the Olympic Games in Rome in 1960. If the 1956 team were accused for a lack of “discipline and dedication” this team went on better.

Less than a fortnight before the opening of the Games a group of South African athletes went partying into the early hours of the morning. On the way back to their hotel the car in which they were driving was involved in an accident. One of South Africa’s medal hopes, Gert Potgieter, the captain of the athletics team, was injured in this accident. When the Games opened he was still in hospital.

The manager of the South African athletes was immediately dismissed. But it was all a case of too little too late. The South African team performed dismally and only brought home two bronze medals.

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. ”

Figure. 12. A cartoon predicting South Africa's expulsion from the International Olympic Movement

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.

Figure. 14.The 1963 press release on the South African Government's policy

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.

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 plane 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. ”

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.

South Africa returns to the Modern Olympic Movement, 1992

In 1990 Mr Nelson Mandela was released from jail. It was clear South Africa was now underway to become a democratic state. After a visit by an IOC commission the country was on 25 July 1991 invited to participate at the Games in Barcelona in 1992.

During South Africa’s absence the standard of international sport rose to heights unknown before. In the period between 1992 and 2012 South Africa only won Seven Gold Medals.

In 1996 Penny Heyns won two Gold Medals in the swimming pool and Josia Thugwane won the prestigious marathon. In 2004 Lyndon Ferns, Ryk Neethling, Roland Schoeman and Dorian Townsend won the 4 x 100 meter freestyle relay. In the 2008 Beijing olympics South Africa only managed to return with a single Silver Medal, achieved by Khotso Mokoena, in Long Jump. In the London Games in 2012, South Africa achieved 6 medals, Swimmers Chad Le Close and Camerone Van De Burgh won Gold Medals in Mens 200m Butterfly and 100m Breast Stroke respectively. As well as the Men's Lightweight Four in rowing, consisting of Sizwe Ndlovou, Matthew Brittain, John Smith and James Thompson. Chad Le Close also won a Silver Medal in the 100m Butterfly Stroke, and Caster Semenya won silver in the womens 800m. While Bridgette Whitely won a bronze medal in canoeing Womens K1-1500m.

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