SI Vault
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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Now Anita is confident enough to speak. "You can't beat records in 25-meter pools," she says. "The whites have exercise machines, heated pools. They train through the winter. All I can do here, when it gets down to 12 degrees [mid-50s F], is run on the beach and swim out to the shark nets."

Anita might be surprised to learn that Cape Town has only one heated pool for whites; but it's unlikely that she would sympathize, even though in a sense she has the same goal as Annette—to head to the United States and practice her sport freely. "I'd like to go to college in Miami. I have an application form," she says. "I'd study phys ed, then come back and teach."

Surprisingly, there's a guarded sympathy for the white girl's frustration from Hassan Howa, a gentle-mannered man of 60 who is an elder statesman in the struggle against apartheid in sport. Howa, currently president of the South African Cricket Board, was president of SACOS from 1977 to 1981 but now is a bit removed from it. "I feel badly about Annette," he says when the topic is broached. "I haven't got it in me to hate white people, certainly not this little girl. That is not the way I would like pressure to work. But what she is getting is the backlash from what the government is doing, from the years of repression of black sport.

"Whatever facilities they make available, when a child comes to be coached in any sport and he's not white, there's an imbalance which makes it nearly impossible for him to compete with a white child, an imbalance in nutrition, education and psychology. A black kid in a township is only going to see a white when he comes in an official capacity, someone who threatens his parents, an inspector of passes, for instance. Now take this kid and put him with white children. He's afraid. A white person is authority. How can he compete? He has no shoes to go to school, let alone running shoes. His father, down in the mines, is earning about 140 rand a month now, and the poverty level is around 350 rand. You don't want us to mix politics with sport?" he asks ironically.

He swiftly discards any notion that the black in South African sport is in the same position U.S. blacks in the South might have been in 50 or more years ago. Howa says, "Here it is legislation, the constitution, that keeps them down. In the U.S. it was mainly tradition—and you can fight against that." A parallel strikes him. "Marian Anderson," he says, drifting away from sport, "a voice that comes once in 10,000 years. If she had been South African she would never have seen a concert hall."

In its legal system, Scotland allows a jury to return a verdict other than the familiar "guilty" and "not guilty." It is simply "not proven," and in the end, perhaps cravenly, the visitor would like to take refuge in some such phrase to assess South Africa's record in regard to the recent changes in the laws that govern its sport. It is certainly true that the lot of the first-class black athlete has improved, that he has an entree to national and provincial sides he never had before. At base, though, nothing has significantly changed. Hassan Howa's now famous phrase "No normal sport in an abnormal society," uttered in 1977, is still relevant.

In Cape Town, Sue Cowley, Annette's mother, had poured Earl Grey tea into delicate cups. "When the government changed the law," she said, "we invited the coloreds to join our club. Only two or three came. I think we were about 20 years too late."

Recently, in New Delhi, Juan Antonio Samaranch, president of the International Olympic Committee, said, "We decided two years ago that we would consider sending a factfinding mission to South Africa, but we didn't set any date. We will certainly wait until after the 1984 Olympic Games in Los Angeles. After that we will decide whether it is the right see what changes have taken place."

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