S. Africa's world-class athlete bounces against apartheid

Archie Siwisa has been ''bouncing seriously'' for only seven or eight months. But he will have the distinction of being the first black trampolinist to represent South Africa abroad when he competes in a world championship in the United States next month.

''He has good height and some difficult moves,'' says his trainer, Gideon Lotz. The main question is whether Mr. Siwisa has put in enough hours of training to hone his talent into a world-class routine that is ''neat and tidy'' and strong on ''technique.''

Mr. Siwisa's young athletic career says much about sport in South Africa today. His success underscores that racial barriers are falling here in the field of sport.

But the extraordinary effort required of the young man from Soweto because he is black begs the question whether sport can ever be ''deracialized,'' as the government calls it in S. Africa's segregated society.

Mr. Siwisa's training time has been restricted not for want of self-discipline, but because the Johannesburg municipal sports facility he uses is for ''whites only.'' He was barred from the facility last year after a white member complained about his presence. Just recently the city authorities gave him permission to train on weekends and holidays, and he can work out with his team when no one else is using the sports center.

The arrangement affords Mr. Siwisa an acceptable training schedule. But with the international competition a matter of weeks away, Mr. Lotz says, ''This thing should have been solved long ago.''

South Africa is noticeably proud of its promising trampolinist from Soweto. The government no doubt hopes his presence in world competition will show it is ''normalizing'' or removing racial barriers in the field of sport. But Mr. Siwisa's case also shows that there are still racial problems in the field of sport.

The pressure on South Africa to allow multiracial sport comes in large part from the world community, which has barred this sports-loving country from many major world events because of its doctrine of strict separation of the races (apartheid).

Government policy in recent years has been increasingly to permit mixing of the races on the sports field; it does this largely through administrative exemptions to existing laws. Although some sporting clubs have gone along with this, others questioned whether the practice was legal, given the fact the laws had not been changed.

Now the government has begun to change some of the laws that prohibited or discouraged multiracial sport. The ruling National Party apparently feels legislative changes can now be made without fear of a large political backlash from resistant whites.

As of this month the Liquor Act -- which prohibits the holder of a liquor license from serving liquor or food or even receiving a nonwhite as a guest -- has been amended to exclude sports clubs.

Parliament has just amended the Group Areas Act to exclude sportsmen and sporting activities from its provisions. The law forbids members of one racial group from occupying geographic areas set aside for another racial group. Under existing regulations, mixed play on the sports field and even allowing spectators to mix could be interpreted as a violation of this law.

The government is also expected in the coming weeks to amend the Blacks (Urban Areas) Consolidation Act so as to exclude its applicability to sport. This law regulates South Africa's black townships, the movement of blacks in urban areas, and the movement of whites into black urban areas. It restricts the movement of black sportsmen and even white spectators to a sporting event in a black township.

The government appears to be following the recommendations of the Human Sciences Research Council (HRSC), a government-funded research group. The council urged changing the Liquor Act, Group Areas Act, and Urban Areas Act as steps toward ''normalization'' of sports in South Africa.

But these changes would not alter the situation faced by Mr. Siwisa.

Even aside from any concessions made under the Group Areas Act, Sisiwa would still fall foul of the Separate Amenities Act. Although this is not as sweeping as the Group Areas Act in that it doesn't address itself to entire residential areas, the Separate Amenities Act specifically excludes nonwhites from using such facilities as toilets, hotels, and restaurants that are located in white-designated areas.

HSRC recommendations do not suggest any changes in the Separate Amenities Act. Even if this law were amended with regard to sport, most analysts say the government would never go as far as to prohibit local governments from segregating facilities.

Indeed, the whole thrust of the government's sports policy is not to prohibit segregation, but rather not to require it. The HSRC urges safeguarding ''sporting autonomy'' which includes ''the power to discriminate on the ground of race, religion, language, etc., provided the factors concerned are relevant in the given circumstances or case.''

Still, Dave Dalling, sports spokesman for the opposition Progressive Federal Party, says the government's recent legislative initiatives indicate it has ''shifted materially away from discrimination in sport.''

The important result, Mr. Dalling says, is that sports clubs can ''no longer hide behind the law.''

You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.
QR Code to S. Africa's world-class athlete bounces against apartheid
Read this article in
QR Code to Subscription page
Start your subscription today