The South African Council on Sport (SACOS) recognises that the fight for non-racialism in sports still remains relevant in the country.

In celebration of its 50th anniversary, SACOS and Wits History Workshop held a two-day colloquium at the South West Engineering building and at the Great Hall at Wits. 

After having been around for decades, the two-day seminar from Friday, July 28 to July 29, focused on the relevance of the council in post-apartheid South Africa through various panel discussions. It also celebrated its history through book launches and exhibitions. 

SACOS was established in March 1973 during the peak of apartheid and was strongly dedicated to creating non-racialism in sports. It was widely recognised as the sporting arm of the liberation movement, mobilising communities nationwide under the powerful slogan “No Normal Sport in an Abnormal Society!” 

Unfortunately, with the advent of democracy, SACOS became marginalised. The changing political landscape of the country along with the increasing emphasis on elite and professional sports, diminished SACOS’s influence and relegated it to the sidelines in the new era.

Laurence Stewart, from the Wits History Workshop, told Wits Vuvuzela that even though things have changed since South Africa ushered in democracy; the council is still needed due to the challenges that are still pervasive in sport today. 

Stewart pointed out that there is a severe lack of sports within public schools, possibly even less than what was available 15 years ago. “SACOS is relevant now because of the poor state of all sports,” he emphasised. 

He also pointed out that the country has a priority problem when it comes to sports.  Stewart explained, “You have Siya Kolisi being the captain of the rugby team, but [he] had to be taken out of the community where he grew up, [and] taken to a private school in order to be who he is now. 

“You can’t get into the national team if you come from a poor community and live in that community, you have to be taken out,” he continued.  

He said that the entire system is based on “inequality and division” while highlighting that there has been a failure to “bridge that gap” by the government and civil society. 

“Sport is racialised, it’s divided and there’s a lot of inequality, and SACOS was a sports group which existed during apartheid, which stood up and created sports [amongst] poor communities,” he said.  

SACOS member, Carlton Weber, gave a presentation titled “A Dialectical-Historical Deconstruction of 50 years inside a community-based Sports Organisation: Remembering SACOS from within SACOS.” 

Providing a historical context for the formation of SACOS, Weber delved into the colonisation of the country and how it consequently led to the establishment of an “abnormal society”, that divided people.  

SACOS member, Carlton Weber, during his presentation on the rich history of SACOS.

Photo: Terri-Ann Brouwers

“SACOS, as an organisation, committed itself to re-establish, through sports, a very globally recognised human activity, to speak directly to these abnormalities and developed the principles that defined our essential humanity.” 

One of the event’s attendees, Roberta McBride, expressed her satisfaction with the fact that the speakers were addressing the issues faced in communities of colour. However, she also questioned how they were planning to solve the problem. 

Roberta McBride and Herschel Matthews share a hearty laugh as they fondly reminisce about the memories from their struggle for sports equality.

Photo: Terri-Ann Brouwers

“We [are] all sitting here, we all played under the banner of SACOS, what are we going to do, how are we going to take it to our schools, what responsibility am I taking to organise the youth from the areas that we come from, we don’t live there anymore, we’ve moved on, but somehow we have to organise.” said Mcbride.  

The colloquium was a poignant reminder that the struggle for equality in sports is still on going. 

FEATURED IMAGE: A dilapidated soccer ball that symbolises the dire state of sports in poverty-stricken areas in South Africa. Photo: Elwood/ Istock