It is Saturday afternoon in Johannesburg, a highveldt winter day under clear skies, the sun weakened by a chill north wind from the snow-shrouded Drakensberg mountains. A white schoolboy, 13, puts on his track suit and old sneakers and heads for a piece of dusty open ground in the shadow of an apartment block near the Parkview Synagogue. He meets some schoolmates, and—Caucasians all—they join with a crowd of black men, workers in the smart white suburbs. Together, they play soccer until the light is fading. That's when Edward Hlabane—coach, center forward, referee, linesman, chief cheerleader and descendant of a Zulu warrior—cracks a joke: "Watch that goalkeeper now. Don't shoot until you see the whites of his eyes." Everybody laughs hugely.
The white boys and the black men share a Coke or two. They talk about their idols: Pel�, Jomo Sono of the Moroka Swallows, Patrick (Ace) Ntsoelengoe of the Kaiser Chiefs. Then they shake, first joining hands, then thumbs, then hands again, then clasping fingers, and they go off to their different worlds.
On another Saturday afternoon in South Africa, a televised sports special shows black and white boxers mixing it up, black marathon runners outstriding white competitors, black cyclists riding against whites, a black horseman among whites in a gymkhana and black athletes up against whites at a white Afrikaans university.
In addition to the shocks in South Africa's apartheid society these days, there are many surprises. One is that, impressions to the contrary, there is no law in South Africa that says blacks and whites cannot play sport together—individually, on the same team, or in any other way. Another surprise is that, for all the soul-searching about sport and racial policies, integrated sport does exist.
The sad fact is that an informal game such as the one between the white schoolboys and the blacks was never played as far as government officials are concerned. Integrated sport in South Africa exists officially or not at all. If it doesn't have political and bureaucratic approval—the phrase is "within the framework of government policy"—it is regarded with suspicion by policymakers, viewed as something of an aberration, an embarrassment and possibly downright subversive.
This curious approach to what is regarded as normal anywhere else is a direct product of a racial policy that has made South Africa one of the most complex and despised countries in the world. In a country where Japanese are regarded as "honorary whites" but Chinese are not (and neither can marry whites), where blacks can stay in "international status" hotels as long as they don't use the swimming pool, where a black man can visit a white in his home but the white needs a permit to return the call, there is a Minister of Sport who pronounces daily on government policy and declares, "I would like to see dirty bloody politics out of sport and let the sportsmen get on with it."
These are encouraging, if paradoxical, words from the Minister of Sport, Dr. Piet Koornhof, an Oxford scholar and weight-lifting enthusiast. But sportsmen who do try to "get on with it" find that it isn't quite that simple. Under apartheid, nothing is.
There is no law against integrated sport, but within the apartheid legislation that governs every South African's life unto death (and even after, if one includes segregated cemetery lots), there are several provisos that can prevent multiracialism in sport. There is the Group Areas Act, for example, that delineates certain residential areas for certain racial groups and requires official permission for any one racial group to "occupy" an area of another. There is also the Separate Amenities Act, under which sports grounds, clubhouses and so on are reserved for a particular racial group.
Then there are the Influx Control regulations, commonly known as the Pass Laws, which determine where non-whites can and cannot be and what they can and cannot do. These racial partition policies explain why Asian golf champion Sewsunker (Papwa) Sewgolum received the Natal Open golf championship award in the rain outside the clubhouse: the Group Areas Act didn't allow him inside. And that's why a non-white cricket team playing a white one (with official permission) had to be served drinks in the lounge of the club. They couldn't be served at the "white" bar.
The most painful decisions that government officials have to make do not concern the events themselves, but bar and locker-room facilities. What inhibits South Africa's integration of sport is what apartheid seeks to prevent: black and white men drinking from the same cup, using the same toilet and then, of course, marrying each other's daughters.