by Aug 30, 2023Amandla 88, History

SACOS was recognised as the “sports wing” of the liberatory movement.

THE WORLD IS IN CRISIS. South African townships and marginalised communities mirror the strife that plagues many poor and working-class communities across the globe. France is in flames: immigrant communities, that French society has failed to integrate, protest police brutality and the death of a 17-year-old immigrant. The scenes are from a war zone, with skyscrapers, Renaissance libraries and official residences and buildings blazing. It’s reminiscent of the Blitzkrieg bombing of the Second World War.

The 2023 Rugby World Cup kicks off in France in three months’ time (September 2023). France, which is home to the Tour De France and the drama of the French Open tennis championship, is no stranger to extravagant sporting spectacles. It forms part of the UEFA football family, thrilling millions of fans the world over. The rich sporting heritage of the French, as well as the rich, albeit tainted, cultural heritage, has failed to foster a new French society.  The links that pull communities together are non-existent. Sport, arts and culture in France, it would seem, are as elusive and exclusive as they are in South Africa.

Playing for money not community

South Africa has enjoyed success on the rugby fields of the world through the powerful Springbok team. It often boasts of “healing and uniting the nation through sport”. This is untrue, and it is also a deliberate ruse to direct the gaze away from the many failures of the post-apartheid regime.

It could be argued that the greatest failure of the ‘liberators’ was their decision to side with the apartheid sporting (and business) classes. They shunned the township sporting classes, magnificently led by the South African Council On Sport (Sacos). Crippled by the legislated tyranny of the apartheid bureaucracy, Sacos fought a bitter war to forge pathways across ‘racial’ barriers, in order to foster and forge a truly non-racial South African identity.

These efforts of Sacos have never been fully acknowledged in the post-apartheid democracy. Rather, the celebrations revolve around the sporting achievements of the exclusive sporting federations that invested nothing in the process/es of uniting a fractured nation. These elite and exclusive bodies are the sporting ambassadors of the nation and are celebrated the world over even in France where many élite South African rugby players ply their trade.

They have nothing to teach the French about nation-building because they themselves are socially and culturally constricted. They play for money, not for the community. They were not bred and schooled through the Sacos system. Instead, they were processed through the same system that delivered Springboks during the apartheid era.

As flames engulf France a few months away from the start of the 2023 Rugby World Cup, one can clearly see through the sham of élite, commercial sport. It bears consideration therefore, in the year of the 50th anniversary of the establishment of Sacos, to reflect on its relatively unknown history, and its efforts in trying to bring communities together.

Origins of Sacos

The origins of the non-racial sports movement (NRSM) can be traced to the formation of organisations like the Committee for International Recognition in 1955, the South African Sports Association (Sasa) in 1958, and its successor, the Non-Racial Olympic Committee (Sanroc), founded in 1963.

These three bodies were succeeded by the Ad Hoc Committee of National Non-Racial Sports Organisations (CNNRSO) which was formed in 1970.

The groundwork laid by Sasa, Sanroc and CNNRSO was taken forward to a higher level by the South African Council on Sport, which was founded on 17 March 1973 at a conference organised by the CNNRSO in Durban. It was at this meeting that the constitution of Sacos was adopted. A total of nine national sports bodies were represented at the conference.

In 1973 Sacos stated its mission as being: “To strive for non-racial sports structures from school level upwards and to generate opposition to, and to expose, discrimination in sport, in sport sponsorship and facilities in South Africa.”

Sport and politics

Soon after its founding, Sacos had to contend with the machinations of the apartheid government which had started implementing its multinational political and sports policies. Sacos did not only concern itself with discussing sports policies. It also became involved in political struggle as part of the broad liberatory movement. Hence Sacos was recognized as the “sports wing” of the laboratory movement.

In response to the government’s introduction of its so-called “Normal Sport” policy, Sacos adopted policies and resolutions in opposition to it. So it was that the “Double Standards Resolution (DSR)” which was adopted in 1977 was formulated.

The DSR prohibited members of Sacos from participating in, or being associated with, sports bodies that were part of multinational sports, or with any race-based political structures created by the government.

Another dimension to the DSR was added when the slogan “No normal sport in an abnormal society” was adopted. The phrase became a widely accepted dictum outside its own ranks. It resonated with all oppressed and exploited people as it accurately reflected the reality of life in South Africa at the time.

The slogan reflected the fact that Sacos saw sport and politics as being closely interlinked, for the oppressed. Hence, its policies were directed against apartheid sport as well as the whole system of apartheid.

Sacos adopted a number of resolutions that were designed to conscientise members against acceptance of the cosmetic changes the Apartheid state introduced. Some examples are resolutions on:

  • Children at private white schools
  • Permitted venues
  • Segregated University Campuses
  • Rejection of the negotiated political settlement

Other initiatives included

  • Sacos successfully campaigned for the United Nations Commission Against Apartheid in Sports (UNCAAS) to impose a moratorium on international competition with South Africa in 1977. However, this moratorium was lifted as part of the negotiated settlement in 1990.
  • During 1985, Sacos held meetings with all the major political organisations within the broad liberatory movement. All of them endorsed its status as the sports wing of the liberatory movement and its policy of political non-alignment.

The end of Sacos

The decline and eventual demise of Sacos began during 1988, in tandem with the negotiated political settlement between the ANC and the apartheid state. The reason was the split created in the non-racial sports movement by the creation of a rival to Sacos, in the form of the National Sports Congress (NSC) which came into being in 1989.

The Non-Racial Sports History Project (NRSHP) was instrumental in constituting the ‘Remembering SACOS@50 committee’ in 2022, which in turn assisted in organising an important event in 2023 to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the founding of Sacos.

In short, a concerted campaign to discredit and marginalise Sacos was launched during 1988 and intensified during 1989. The ultimate aim was to sideline it and to downplay its role as the “sports wing of the liberatory movement” and of being “the authentic representative of non-racial sport”. At the same time, non-racial and establishment sports codes were to be cajoled into forming united sports bodies.

The period from 1989 to 1995 saw a progressive decline in the membership. In 1989, Sacos had 33 affiliates (made up of 26 national codes and 7 regional councils of sport). By 1995, the number of affiliates had been reduced to only 12. Almost at the same time, the decline in sporting activities amongst communities where non-racial sports had previously flourished became apparent.

Simply stated, Sacos became side-lined because of its opposition to the negotiated settlement and for digging in its heels over the terms for lifting the sports moratorium and the formation of united sports codes. In addition, the DSR and the policy on political non-alignment were seen as impediments. 

The last Branch General Meeting of Sacos took place in 1995. The six officials elected then continued to function as such. They convened the last formal meeting of Sacos in 1997, at which only two national codes were represented. Despite its de facto demise, the six officials undertook not to dissolve the organisation but to keep its name alive with the hope of bringing into being a restructured form of the organisation. A number of initiatives were undertaken in this regard without success. Only two of those officials are still alive today.

The Non-Racial Sports History Project (NRSHP), which was formed by Sacos supporters in Gauteng in 2016, has undertaken the task of documenting the history of non-racial sports under the banner of Sacos. It was instrumental in constituting the ‘Remembering Sacos@50 committee’ in 2022, which in turn assisted in organising an important event in 2023 to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the founding of Sacos. This Sacos@50 Colloquium was held at WITS from 28 29 July 2023. 

Dr Basil Brown is the last General Secretary of Sacos.

Mark Fredericks is a Sacos stalwart, media commentator and staff member at the Walter Sisulu University.

For information related to the Remembering Sacos@50 Committee please contact Michael Khan on or 082 894 1591.

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