South Africa: Film – Have you heard from Johannesburg?

Africa Files

African Charter Article# 17: Every individual shall have the right to education, cultural life, and the promotion and protection of values.

Summary & Comment: The fourth part of the eight and a half hour historical documentary, Have you heard from Johannesburg?, is entitled Fair Play. It shows how sports boycotts around the world contributed to the collapse of apartheid. It is a powerful account of racism in athletics over the past four decades.

Have You Heard from Johannesburg: Fair Play

The fourth part of Have You Heard from Johannesburg, a history of apartheid, Fair Play concentrates on sports and its impact on race relations in South Africa. Interviews with several key figures provide both a context for events and personal details, but the bulk of the film is archival foot age. Providing a clear, cogent account of racism in athletics over the past four decades is one of the principal strengths of Fair Play.

The film begins by documenting the rich tradition of sports among white South Africans. Anti-apartheid leaders believed that by banning South Africa from world sporting events, they could force government leaders to reconsider their exclusionary policies. Dennis Brutus describes his 25-year effort to have South Africa banned from the Olympics, a struggle that saw him arrested, shot and jailed. Pleas to exclude South Africa from the 1964 Tokyo Olympics were rejected by Avery Brundage and the rest of the International Olympic Committee. Working from jail, Brutus turned to neighboring African countries for help. By the 1968 Olympics in Mexico City, 38 countries refused to participate unless South African players were prohibited. The IOC had no choice but to accede.

Boxing, track, cycling, judo, table tennis, volleyball and oth er sports followed suit. By the mid-1970s, about the only international sport South Africa could still compete in was rugby. As early as 1968, apartheid opponents came out in force to demonstrate against the Springboks’ tour of Australia, New Zealand and Great Britain. Protestors disrupted practices and games, scattered nails and broken glass on playing fields, and drew the attention of journalists. In Australia, the Wallabies team lodged a protest against the Springboks. Director Connie Field includes clips that cite this incident as a turning point in the struggle for aboriginal rights. In England, the government tried to frame demonstrator Peter Hain on trumped-up charges that he robbed a bank.

But, according to Fair Play, one of the key battlefields was New Zealand. After a 1973 tour in which the Springboks played New Zealand’s All Black, a team that featured Maori players, protestors demanded that the Springboks be banned from future visits. But the country was di vided. Robert Muldoon won a 1975 election for Prime Minister by campaigning in favor of the Springboks. A 1981 tour of New Zealand by the Springboks proved to be “the last great battle” for the team, which by now had been forced to include a black player. Footage of the first game, in which 400 demonstrators took over the field while thousands more massed outside the stadium, provides the most stirring moments in Fair Play.

A brief coda following the release of Nelson Mandela describes incidents that were dramatized in Clint Eastwood’s Invictus. Eastwood had the luxury of devoting two hours to the Springboks battle. Even so, Field’s account of the progress made in South African sports proves informative and uplifting.

Action on behalf of justice is a constitutive dimension of the preaching of the gospel.
Justice in the World – 1971 Synod of Bishops