WHEN the South African Council on Sport (Sacos) was launched in 1973, I became one of its staunchest, proudest supporters.
And so, it was not surprising, that when I became sports editor at the Cape Herald, and was able to influence its sports-political coverage, I chose to back Sacos.
It wasn’t an easy road to travel.
We were heavily criticized from within the media – and by so-called politicians and analysts of ‘liberal’ persuasion.
But I was fortunate in that I received whole-hearted support from the editor, Ted Doman, senior news writers such as Warren Ludski and Herman Arendse, and reporters such as Tyrone Seale, Gary van Dyk, Barry Hopwood, Russel Michaels and Brian Gaffney.
It broke my heart when the non-racial sports movement was split in May 1990, with the formation of the National Sports Congress (NSC), ostensibly the sports wing of the ANC.
In a discussion document, signed off in September 1990, the NSC punted itself as the ‘progressive alternative’ to Sacos.
It accused Sacos of having failed to move with the times.
‘When the struggles of the 1980s laid the foundations for mass action that went beyond mere protest, sport started lagging behind other sectors of the struggle in making the change from reactive to power, to transformational politics,’ the authors of the document wrote.
Sacos was unable to withstand the surge of euphoria – most times unquestioning – sparked by the Mass Democratic Movement.
Even though its role in the struggle was usurped, I will never forget some of the stories that revolved around the fight for non-racial sport and equality in society that the Cape Herald got its teeth into.
For instance, how many people today can remember Abe Williams?
Let me tell you about him….
Williams was a teacher, a rugby administrator, a tricameral parliament MP and, in the democratic era, a member of the New National Party.
He was also a cheat (he was expelled from UWC for copying), a thief and a fraudster (which earned him jail time at Pollsmoor).
I did not know about his disposition towards crime then – otherwise I would have got our crack team of Cape Herald reporters to watch him much more carefully than we ended up doing.
Nevertheless, I had two memorable run-ins with him….
The first followed a tip-off in about 1980, when someone called to suggest we look at some housing he was renting to poor people in the West Coast town of Saldanha.
One sunny day, Tyrone Seale and I took a leisurely drive to Saldanha for a look-see.
We arrived in the town, asked around and were given directions by some helpful townsfolk.
Our destination was on the outskirts of Saldanha.
We were shocked.
We found rows of houses that looked as if they could have been stables in better days.
But these were not better days, obviously.
People were living in them.
The walls of dwellings were broken and damp.
We saw half-doors and no-doors on some of the houses.
None of them had electricity.
And most of the windows had no windowpanes.
Looking in from outside, we could see no wooden flooring.
Residents told us that the houses were known as ‘Abe se Huise’.
We took photographs.
We talked as much as we could to the residents.
And then we headed back to Cape Town to prepare a front-page a front-page story with a generous helping of pictures for the front of the newspaper and for an inside page. Williams, of course, refused to comment.
Just to rub it in, we told our readers we would never dream of letting our animals live in such conditions.
And this was true.
Williams was furious when he read the story and blamed his tenants for the condition of the houses. But he did promise to do some repairs and renovations.
A year later, in 1981, Williams was in the news again. He was appointed assistant manager of the Springbok rugby team to tour New Zealand. Everyone in the ‘white’ media made a fuss of him being the first coloured person to be appointed to such a position.
There was an uproar over the tour in New Zealand and elsewhere.
Some people in New Zealand called for mixed trials for the Springbok team (as if this would have helped).
This theme was picked up by a few of the English language newspapers in South Africa.
But Danie Craven, the president of the South African Rugby Board, and the God of white rugby, was adamant: ‘I am not going to allow multiracial trials to take place. If we simply run off and stage multiracial trials against lawful policy then we become anarchists like the rest of them,’ he thundered.
Of course, the Cape Herald was totally against the tour.
The presence of the Springboks sparked broedertwis among New Zealanders. There were demonstrations, with rugby fields being strewn with shards of glass – and much later in the tour, the flamboyantly named Marx Jones flew a light aircraft several times over Eden Park in Auckland, to flour-bomb the third test between the All Blacks and the Springboks.
Tyrone and I decided to do our bit to keep the pressure on the racist rugby establishment.
‘Let’s pay another visit to ‘Abe se Huise’,’ I suggested.
This time it was a winter’s day drive to Saldanha – and as we suspected, the houses were in the same condition as when we last saw them. We followed the same procedure as before – a front-page story and lots of photographs.
Our SA Council on Sport (Sacos) connections got copies of the Cape Herald to New Zealand. The media there carried the story – and poor old Williams, in addition to having to read about his despicable slum-lordery, was ambushed by New Zealand TV
Abe and his ‘Huise’ made international news. We’re were as chuffed as hell for the part we played in it.
And I even appeared on an Australian radio station (the Aussies were really pissed off with New Zealand for allowing the tour to go ahead), where I was introduced as one of the ‘brave South Africans fighting against apartheid sport’.
Well, as I said several times after that: ‘The pay was never great, but sometimes there were some attractive perks in working for the Cape Herald’.
Even today, I still think back with pride for having contributed in a small way towards a newspaper that punched far above its weight….