Lepers of the World

ApartheidDennis Brutus was a South African activist best known for his campaign to have apartheid South Africa banned from the Olympic Games. He used sports as a weapon against apartheid.

The South African sports team wouldn’t let blacks join, but the Olympics stated that if you are involved in discrimination you are expelled from the games – and that’s what Brutus tried to do. He became an organizer, but was shortly put under arrest for going against the whites. The police told him that they hoped he would try to escape so that they could kill him. During his freedom dash after being put under arrest, Brutus was shot. The first responders to the scene denied him any assistance since he was not of the white race. The corruption was severely evident in South Africa and the Nationalist party was sitting back and watching hell slowly unfold.

Brutus’s initial response to the discrimination was to exclude South Africa from the games. He wrote to Abdul Minty, a South African exile in London, and asked him to hand the letter to Avery Brundage, the president of the Olympic committee. For Brundage, politics has no place in sports. He would not respond back to Minty. It took until Abdul Minty tracked Brundage down in his bed room to hand him the hand written letter that Dennis Brutus wrote. Even afterwards, they still refused to expel South Africa for discrimination in the 1960’s.

Soweto riotsMuch of Africa became independent in 1964. In the field of sports, athletes excelled, though other countries decided to boycott the sports. It was an open activity, a multilateral activity – and Africans were very strong.

If the other countries wouldn’t play with South Africa, South Africa wouldn’t play with them either. They were only allowed to attend Tokyo Olympics if in the future, the selection was done on their end. The division between South Africa and the rest of the world was becoming more and more obvious the closer you looked. Demonstrations were acted out left and right, especially after South Africa was reinstated into the Olympics. This was a short period of time before they were expelled again. In the 1970s, South Africa was expelled from the Olympics by almost all sports except for rugby.

urlThe South African rugby team was to play against New Zealand, Australia, and Britain in the Springbok Tour. Springbok was the name of the South African rugby team and they were not interested in the politics- they showed up to play. Unfortunately, the tour became a battleground of an anti-apartheid war.

Demonstrations were held outside and inside the rugby fields, outside of hotels, and through the streets before and after the games. One British girl gummed up the doors so they couldn’t get out of the rooms, another man identified himself as the bus driver and drove 14 members of the Springbok team to another town and left them in a field. Another man maliciously broke glass on the field and spread it among the grass so that players would fall and cut themselves. These actions caused Springboks to hate the sport, as they were being know as the “lepers of the world.” In case it wasn’t clear, they never went back to Britain.

The stopping of the 1970 tour did not win the argument. They were still going to international sports games around the world.Springboks were on their way to Australia and a national controversy exploded. They treated South Africans like fugitives in Australia – where their motel was surrounded by aboriginal activists and chaos broke out. Australia was one of the racist countries in the western world, which was so contradictory to their “anti-apartheid” performance. The sports tour became less of a rugby tournament and more of a police circus. 1971 was the last time they played against Australia in the tours.

Next up was New Zealand, who treated rugby as their bible. This was the true test. Two countries that led the world, tight for the rugby crayon.

However, it wasn’t in the 60’s or 70’s that racism and discrimination was born in the world of sports. It was in 1921 when racism was happening over rugby in New Zealand. South Africans were stunned to see how members of their own race were cheering against them. It wasn’t like the Springboks were an all black team which is what surprised me. These countries were still very much against any South Africans, even the all white Springbok rugby team.

“If springboks come, we will close the country down.” -New Zealand.

On June 1976, a crucial moment in history occurred – the Soweto Uprising. It wasn’t until this moment in time where New Zealand wanted to host the tour in South Africa. Black Africans took this as a slap to the face, and wanted nothing to do with New Zealand which confused them. They believed it would be a great rugby event, but in reality it was a war. Making a tour in South Africa after the brutal murder of hundreds of children was taken as an insult and rightfully should have. Many South Africans commented on how disappointed they were, and how it was “one big, lost race.”


New Zealand caused many troubles at the Olympic games but prided itself on racial equality. Instead, they became an international pariah, an arrogant little country.

In 1981, Operation Everest began, which was a New Zealand fan protest against South Africans to send them home once more. The protestors pulled the top of the fence down and stormed onto the middle of the field. All hell broke loose- people were getting gassed, dragging crosses along the field, and reeking havoc on any thing or any one. They wanted to stop the tour.

The games were finally cancelled and members of Operation Everest were left happy in their successful protest. Once people saw what horrific actions were taking place to South Africans through the BBC television network worldwide, it was a cleansing moment for people around the world. They saw the devilish look people had in their eyes against an innocent team of rugby players, and could see how destructive they were becoming. The protests and police were the closest they’ve ever gotten to a civil war in 20th century. They spent so much time and effort fighting each other, instead of moving on from apartheid and discrimination. The movement was a tiny idea, which became an international epidemic that moved the government and moved the common-world to act.

The challenge made an enormous impact on the whole struggle against apartheid. Sports influenced the attitude of white South Africans. People began to wonder if they were in fact doing something wrong, and it took time for them to finally realize that the answer was yes.

url-2In 1994, Nelson Mandela was inaugurated as the first democrat leader of South Africa. After the election – black South Africans, obtained the Springbok emblem of the South African sport. It represented depression, exclusivity, and white domination. After beating New Zealand in the 1995 World Cup, a riot broke free – but this time it was a riot of pride. Hundreds of black South Africans unified outside of the stadium and screamed, “I’m a Boko, I’m a Boko.” Once a symbol of division and exclusion – sports brought on a new era of a united and reconciled nation.


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