The Rules of the Game: Struggles in Black Recreation and Social Welfare Policy in South Africa

By Alan Gregor Cobley | Go to book overview

1
African Sport and the Struggle for Urban Space

INTRODUCTION: SPORTING TRADITIONS IN SOUTH AFRICA

In African societies games and contests which honed physical skills and celebrated physical attainments were a traditional part of life. This tradition was overlaid, and ultimately virtually supplanted, in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries by new forms of sport such as cricket, rugby, soccer, tennis, and athletics, which were introduced as part of the culture of European colonialism and imperialism. 1 The importation of these sports into South Africa by the British during the nineteenth century met a range of needs. As Richard Holt argues, British sport "played a major role in the transmission of imperial and national ideas," and it was used "to express and enhance the solidarity of colonial society." For both the colonial and colonized elites, sport was deemed "character-building," and, so far as the latter were concerned, it could "build cultural bridges" by promoting their assimilation of British values and the British way of life. 2

The importance of sport as part of a "civilizing mission" was not lost on the missionaries, who introduced cricket, soccer, and other games to the christianized African elite being produced in their Native Institutions. Schools such as Zonnenbloem, Lovedale, Healdtown, and St Matthews were the seedbed for sport among the African petty bourgeoisie which began to emerge in the new industrial mining towns of Kimberley and Johannesburg at the end of the nineteenth and the early twentieth century.

A sense of the importance of sport as a site of struggle between black and white in South Africa by the end of the nineteenth century can be seen in the history of cricket. Cricket arrived at the beginning of the nineteenth century, imported to the Cape initially by British troops. The first recorded match was held at Capetown in 1808. The influence of the British garrison at the Cape in the early part of the century was supplemented by the arrival of large numbers

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