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Clive Gammon
May 16, 1983
By permitting some integration in sports, as in this soccer game in Soweto, South Africa has created an illusion of progress where little change exists
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May 16, 1983

Swirling Shades Of Gray

By permitting some integration in sports, as in this soccer game in Soweto, South Africa has created an illusion of progress where little change exists

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With hindsight, the police might wish they had left him alone, for Ramsamy outside the country is a far worse scourge to the apartheid system than he would have had the power to be if he had stayed home. That basement office in London fuels many of the international boycotts South Africa suffers from, and it's certainly the intelligence-gathering center for the U.N.'s Special Committee Against Apartheid and its special blacklist of international athletes who have taken part in South African sport.

Meantime, within South Africa, Ramsamy's chief concern is about that shade of gray, that blurring effect that, he and his allies say, is merely a government tactic to bamboozle the world. His worry is all the greater because of the tendency of many nonwhite South African athletes, and especially the more highly skilled ones, to play in the well-sponsored government-backed sports system for greater rewards and recognition, and to turn their backs on the generally impoverished and unsponsored SACOS leagues.

It turns out to be surprisingly easy, in the maze of South African sport, to miss your turn. Golfers may recall the name of the late Sewsunker (Papwa) Sewgolum, Pappy to all, whose career came to a peak in the entirely verkrampte days of the '50s and '60s. Pappy, an Asian, was the best nonwhite golfer the nation had ever produced and, in the opinion of some, the best golfer in the country at that time. In 1963, after he had won the Dutch Open in '59 and '60, and after much international protest, he was finally permitted to compete in the South African Championship. He placed second to Retief Waltman, but wasn't permitted to use the locker room or the clubhouse, or even to appear at the awards ceremony.

Recently, it seemed that similar treatment was being given to a young and promising golfer, an Asian like Pappy and known, perhaps not coincidentally, as Peppy Govender. Reportedly, he had been barred from the Port Shepstone Country Club in Natal, where he had regularly played, after a club official had seen him about to tee off in a match with another Asian and two whites.

Govender is a rural teacher. He has no phone and was unreachable on this occasion, but one was told that in Durban he has a friend, another young Asian teacher living in the city, who could speak for him. He turned out to be Rowan Ramtahal of the Central Durban Golf Club and, oddly, he seemed at first to dismiss Govender's problem. "He's, well, just outspoken," said Ramtahal. "He just went out and had some unfortunate exchanges with the whites."

He was eager, though, to stress his own racial loyalties. "I caddied for old Pappy, did you know that?" he asked. "He used to change in a car. They wouldn't let him use the clubhouse. Of course, there's no way that would happen today. We have five black players on the Sunshine Circuit. They have their cards. Uh, of course, they wouldn't have the same privileges on ordinary weekends. It would depend on the clubs...."

His voice grew more confidential. "There are waves, you know. We are weathering a stormy point. Cutting South Africa off from international sport does not help. My club has to use municipal courses now, but when we have our own we will affiliate to a white association. The talent we have is unreal, man," he said, and issued an invitation to see it in action the following morning.

The date at the Papwa Sewgolum Municipal Golf Course turns out to have an embarrassing start. Innocently inquiring for Ramtahal, you get the deep-freeze treatment from a group of golfers about to start a round. It takes a talismanic note from Ramsamy in London before you are accepted by what turns out to be the SACOS-affiliated Durban Golf Club, a body which uses the same public course as Ramtahal's group but which regards the latter with contempt.

Lambie Rasool, president of the SACOS-led club, is eager to erase any gray shadows. "Whatever you are told," he says, "there are only five courses in South Africa really open to blacks. You'll hear that other clubs are open, but you won't be told how there suddenly becomes a six-year waiting list and about the Liquor Law problems in clubhouses."

Rasool walks his visitor to a small, single-story building that contains shower stalls and lavatories for both sexes, but nothing else. "What you are viewing," he says grandiloquently, "is the most modern clubhouse for blacks in the nation. Our original course," he says, pointing eastward, "was over there. The government expropriated it to build a railroad, and they promised to compensate us with 400,000 rand [a rand is worth around one U.S. dollar] for a new clubhouse. What we got was this. It cost 28,000 rand.... How much gets spent on those tournaments in so-called Bophuthatswanaland, in Sun City? Two million?"

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