Human dignity in South Africa

November 19 2011

D’Oliveira, centre, in a Coloured team in South Africa, low resolution from basildoliveira.com

Guardian, November 19:

“Though Basil D’Oliveira, who has died aged 80 after suffering from Parkinson’s disease, was one of the greatest cricketers ever to come out of South Africa, he will be best remembered for the dramatic role he played in helping to defy apartheid in sport. As a mixed-race – in South African terms, ‘coloured’ – player of exceptional ability in his native Cape Town, he was denied the chance to play for the country of his birth by the racial segregation of the apartheid regime. When he went to play in England [1960 and permanently from ’61] and became a Test player there, his eventual selection for the 1968-69 England tour to South Africa so offended the warped sensibilities of John Vorster’s government that it refused to allow him to play, and the tour was cancelled. As a result, South Africa was exiled from international cricket until the fall of apartheid in 1994.

“The dignified but determined way that D’Oliveira dealt with the resulting turmoil won the hearts of the British public and, more importantly, proved to be a turning point in the South African attitude to segregated games. Although it took many years for things to change, the D’Oliveira affair ushered in the start of a gradual easing of official segregation in South African sport, and significantly hurt the regime’s world standing.”

D’Oliveira was of Portuguese and Indian descent and thus classified as Cape Coloured. The apartheid system became entrenched after the National Party came to power in 1948 and lasted until 1994.

Below, an appeal for the Defence and Aid Fund (London-based support for black South Africans) published in The Times on January 15 1964. Background on Fund here and here. It had its origins in fund-raising for the Treason Trials.

In December 1956, 156 members of the Congress Alliance, including Nelson Mandela, were arrested. The Alliance was a coalition (1954-60) of anti-apartheid groups, including the ANC, South African Communist Party, South African Congress of Democrats, Coloured People’s Congress, South African Indian Congress and Federation of South African Women. In March 1961 all the accused were found not guilty. In May, after a whites-only referendum, the Union of South Africa (1910-61) was dissolved and South Africa became a republic and left the Commonwealth.

The 1964 appeal was published during the Rivonia Trial (1963-64), in which ten ANC leaders were tried for 221 acts of sabotage. Rivonia was the suburb of Johannesburg where they were arrested. Mandela was convicted in June and would spend nearly thirty years in prison (1964-90).

The sponsors are a fascinating cross-section of the British great and good in 1964. A few of them are still with us. Toynbee is there, next to Michael Tippett (post here). Aldous Huxley is there although he had died several weeks previously. Vicky is the cartoonist.

List of anti-apartheid activists. Trevor Huddleston ought to be there.

Dignity (post here).

3 Responses to “Human dignity in South Africa”

  1. Matias Tammiala Says:

    Interesting post! Made me think of Mark M. Smith’s How Race Is Made that I just read. The book is about the construction of black identities and the definition of blacks by southern Americans from 1750 to 1950. Eventually the segregation and the definition of race got (naturally) quite problematic in the States. I guess in the much more complex racial classification system in apartheid South Africa, rationalizing the segregation was done within very idiosyncratic logic. I have to read more about this!

    -Matias Tammiala, Finland


  2. […] 1964 Arnold Toynbee was a sponsor of the Defence and Aid Fund, a London-based support group for black South Africans which had its origins in the 1956 Treason […]


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