Academic journal article African Research & Documentation

South African Sports History and the Archive

Academic journal article African Research & Documentation

South African Sports History and the Archive

Article excerpt


The history of sport in South Africa is about more than mere games. Within the preface to his study of The Games Ethic and Imperialism, J.A. Mangan expressed the wish that he:

Would not like [the] study of cultural diffusion to be naively and erroneously catalogued under "Games". It is concerned with much more: with ethnocentricity, hegemony and patronage, with ideals and idealism, with educational values and aspirations, with cultural assimilation and adaptation and, most fascinating of all, with the dissemination throughout the Empire of a hugely influential moralistic ideology.1

Arguably, nowhere more than in South Africa have such processes been played out through sport. This makes the country an ideal case study for sports historians. Based on experiences from my Masters and PhD studies, this paper will provide a contemporary perspective of studying South African sports history as well as form part of the discussion at the June 2011 SCOLMA conference, 'Sport in Africa: History, Politics and the Archive'.

The 'cultural diffusion' of which Mangan talks of course relates to the ideology of British imperialism that arrived in South Africa during the nineteenth century. The origins of South Africa's most popular sports (soccer, rugby and cricket) can be traced to the period of British domination in South Africa - the late 1800s, of Victoria, of Empire - that laid the foundations upon which the sport and society structures of today are being contested. My PhD explored South African cricket and society during this important period.

In the early 1980s, Eric Hobsbawm argued that sport was one of the most important new social practices of late nineteenth - early twentieth century Europe, and as such played a significant role in the creation of politically and social cohesive "invented traditions".2 Since then Stoddart has observed how, "the evidence is now quite clear on just how central a social institution sport was in the development of British colonial rule."3 Based upon this, this paper will also briefly detail the relevant sport and imperial historiography relating to South African sport and the British Empire. It will also review the methods used to collect the data during my PhD and how the information was accessed from a variety of sources both in South Africa and the United Kingdom.

Biographical Study

Kitson Clark considers the most important reason to conduct historical research is the hope of making "a valuable addition to knowledge on a subject which you believe to be ... important."4 Indeed, whilst much has been written about empire, imperialism, and the Anglo-Boer War in South Africa's history, there is still much to be investigated regarding social and political events as well as the key individuals who shaped this era. James Logan was a man of his time whose contribution not only to cricket, but also to the wider processes of colonial society, has been largely missed by twentieth century historians. My PhD has attempted to address this void using a range of sources from archives in both Britain and South Africa.

For purposes of methodological appraisal however, it is important to first define history - not only in order to show its value as a study and the various uses to which it may be applied, but in order to direct the course of research. As Vincent points out, "The choice of a theme of inquiry and the amount of attention which it deserves should be determined by the relation of the subject to the larger development of the nation or of society. However small the topic, the treatment should have in view its contribution to the larger history of which it is part."5 My PhD endeavours to do this with its treatment of James Logan - to show not only his contribution to the development of South African cricket but also how he was representative of the colonial executive that was so influential in late nineteenth century South Africa. In doing so, the thesis represents an original contribution to existing South African sport and imperial historiography. …

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