District Six Museum’s ‘Fields of Dreams’ Project – October 2008
Speaker: Garth Strachan
Premier Lynne Brown,
Officials of the Western Cape Government,
Ladies and gentlemen,
IN THIS very museum, I once read a message of pain … and longing … and love.
It was written with a red khoki pen on a giant sheet of calico, by a former resident of District Six – and it said, simply: “30 Rose Street … fondest love for my home country – Gafsa de la Cruz, London.
I was deeply moved by this message – and if there was any way I could have contacted Ms de la Cruz, I would have said to her: “Things are different now. Please, you must come home for good.”
Things are indeed different now – but for many people in this beautiful yet complex city of ours, there are large parts of the past that continue to bring pain.
Forced removals … families split along racial lines … and nagging feelings of regret over opportunities denied both in the workplace and on the sportsfields are just some examples that spring to mind.
“Closure” is a word that crops up often when the experiences of communities and individuals who lived through the dark times of the apartheid years are discussed.
I know that for many people there will probably never be real “closure”. But perhaps, just perhaps, acknowledgment of the roles they played in keeping families together and building communities – in whatever way – for many of us, will help to ease some of that pain.
I believe that many stories that should have been told have not yet been told.
And that is why my Department, together with the District Six Museum, has started a process to jog memories … to record the experiences of ordinary men and women who lived through extraordinary times … and to find innovative ways to bring these experiences to the attention of later generations.
This is how the “Fields of Play” concept came into being….
Friends, “Fields of Play” tells the story in written word, in pictures and via filmed interviews about football in the Western Cape during apartheid … about the people who played it … and about the sacrifices they made for it.
It tells the story about how groups of footballers and administrators took on – sometimes unconsciously – the might of one of the most brutal social engineering systems ever devised. It tells the story of cruel setbacks and tiny victories – and a refusal to be cowed by overwhelming odds. And it tells the story of the people who told their story.
Friends, some of those who played, coached, managed and recorded during those hectic times are with us this afternoon.
And to them, I want to say: “I really appreciate that you’ve taken the time to come. I thank you most profusely for agreeing to share your experiences with not only the people of Cape Town and the Western Cape, but with everyone in South Africa.
It is perhaps apt that this year, the Western Cape is celebrating the 50th anniversary of the founding of probably the greatest ever professional team to emerge from Cape Town.
I am speaking, of course, about Cape Ramblers (although Don Richards, the manager of the first Cape Town Spurs side might want to disagree with me).
But if greatness in a football team is measured by the looks of awe on the faces of the older generation of fans when discussing professional football in 1958, then Cape Ramblers must have been very special indeed.
In fact, I would like to do a little exercise. And I would like some of the older people to help me out here.
How many Cape Rambler players can you name? I’m going to give you Wally Boonzaaier, Vince Belgiums, Coenie Stuurman, Ivan Dagnin, Challa Links, Graham Cousins, Norman and Eddie Schaffers, and Buxie Blumer….
Friends, it was the great Brazilian, Pele, who famously described football as the “beautiful game”. He was right, of course, but what stands out for me about football in the Western Cape (and in this instance I am referring specifically to amateur football) is how the game was adopted – and you could almost say “claimed” – by families.
And the consequence of this was the emergence of something which I am convinced was a uniquely Cape Town phenomenon: the family football club.
There were quite a few in the City.
For example, the Pastor and Meyer families were once stalwarts of the Stephanians Football Club. And here’s another interesting fact about the sportsmen and women of that era: a lack of decent facilities didn’t stop people from trying their hand at more than one sport – and some of them were pretty good.
I mention this because the Meyers of Stephanians – and Pedro Meyer springs to mind immediately – were also top class table tennis players.
Another “family” club was Woodsides of Salt River, whose top players – and they really were top players – were the Carelse brothers (Derek, Dougie and Reggie) and their brother-in-law, Ivan Dagnin.
And there were other clubs founded and run by fathers, sons, uncles and cousins.
Friends, I would now like to take a few minutes to tell you about our Fields of Play Exhibition.
Our statement of intent points out that “the exhibition explores the dynamic intersection of memory, football and forced removals in the history of Cape Town. More than merely a scene of pastime and leisure, football offers us some insights into the complex social history that defined Cape Town as a modern South African city.
I think I’ve given some pointers about how apartheid affected the ability of footballers to play the game.
Many of those footballers – and some of you here today are veterans of that period – contributed to the understanding of issues such as forced removals.
And again, I want to thank you.
It is generally accepted that football emerged as a popular pastime on the Green Point Common during the 1800s.
This exhibition looks at that relatively unscathed period – until the 1950s, when Forced Removals, quite frankly, caused chaos in the ranks of those who didn’t have the fight.
But oppressed people everywhere are known for their resilience – and the next chapters of those who loved the “beautiful game” were crafted with great determination in areas that had been set aside for one or other race group.
But wasn’t this exactly what the apartheid government wanted?
Perhaps. But things did not work out quite the way the state wanted them to work out. Sportsmen and women – including football players – often used the space allowed them to organize and agitate against the hateful system of racial oppression.
Of course, the nature of this resistance was uneven; it had to be, given the meagre resources they had at their disposal.
But overall, the footballers, the rugby players, the cricketers and, in fact, the participants in just about every code of sport punched far above their weight.
Indeed, as opposition to apartheid sport and racism in society grew, and as organizations such as the South African Council on Sport came into being, white sporting federations were kicked out of international bodies and were denied international contact with traditionally white opponents.
Many of you sitting here today hastened the collapse of apartheid – and once again, the government I represent would like to express its gratitude to you.
Friends before I give you details of the layout of this exhibition, I would like to say thank you to another group of people.
The relationship between government and the media is, at the best of times, a tense one. But I would be failing in my duty if I did not acknowledge the role played by journalists who tried their best to tell the story of your struggles and the struggles of non-racial sport. Some, like Lennie Kleintjies and Dickie Martin, are no longer with us. But others, such as Ted Doman, Poenie du Preez and Brian Gaffney played invaluable roles in bringing your struggles to the attention of the world.
So thank you once again.
Do you need a powerful, memorable speech written? Then contact Dougie Oakes Communications today.