n African Journal for Physical Health Education, Recreation and Dance - Xhosa people and the rugby game : diffusion of sport in the Eastern Cape of South Africa under colonial and apartheid eras history - : sport history

Volume 20, Issue 3
  • ISSN : 1117-4315


This paper discusses a uniquely African people's modern sporting culture in colonial and apartheid South African society. It documents the history of a previously disadvantaged population's and/or black people's (specifically of the then Cape Colony in the 19th and the 20th centuries and the Cape Province following the unification of South Africa in 1910) sport (cricket and rugby union) and way of life. The history and the development of a sporting culture in commonwealth countries, including South Africa is well-documented. However, the history of sport and life of black or previously disadvantaged South Africans is still on the periphery compared to that of their white compatriots. This paper describes the life and sporting experiences, mainly rugby and to a lesser degree cricket, of AmaXhosa or Xhosa people. The term "AmaXhosa" is used reservedly to describe the people central to this research, which are predominantly located in the present day Eastern Cape. A semi-structured questionnaire was administered to 35 former black rugby and cricket "provincial and national" players from the early East London locations and the Border region of the Eastern Cape. The former, was so designed, to offer the respondents an opportunity to comment on other relevant issue(s) not raised during the interview sessions. Documents from both primary and secondary sources, i.e., those privately held (personal documents such as letters and club brochures) and those in the public domain (the official and/or government documents; the newspapers and the regional and national newspapers; academic articles and books) were sampled and analysed. Thematic content analysis was carried out on the semi-structured questionnaires. This paper discusses diverse issues on sport and society, specifically the origins, diffusion and development of black rugby and cricket, in the context of racial division and; the difficulties and ambiguities of uniting sport in South Africa. Further, issues such as the role of schools, churches, migrant labour, class and gender, in the diffusion and development of rugby and cricket, in the Cape societies; the relationship between sport, politics and life under colonialism and apartheid; the emergence of non-racial sport in South Africa and prominent sportspersons' influence and contribution thereof, are discussed. The data gathered was utilised to critique a section of South African society and sport in the context of AmaXhosa's sporting or cultural practices and preferences between 1894 and 1994. The reported findings are an attempt at illuminating and improving the understanding of this population's life and thus build on the existing South Africa's sport historiography.

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