Sports have existed for many centuries. Let’s take for instance the olympic games in ancient Greece, the tournaments of the Middle Ages or the importance of dancing for the Modern period. We can take an interest into the ball games in Antiquity because they were played by greeeks, romans and egyptians. In France in the Middle Ages, a new game the Soule came into existence. This game was played in two halves : only with feet for the first one and with feet and hands for the second one. In the english countries, people play Hurling, a kind of Soule played with a stick.

The rugby bwas born in 1823. During a match of folk-football, a sort of Soule, William Weebs Ellis moved carried the ball in his hands which was forbidden. The movement of this student of Rugby S an english city, gave birth to this sport. A new sport was born : the rugby-football. It was codified a first time in 1846 and exported to others countries such as Autralia in 1863.

In 1873 rugby became a sport in its own right clearly different from football. This samethe first international meeting took place with the match England-Scotland. The rules were definitely settled in 1880 ;

This sport was popularised in many english colonies. However, the majority of players were white people and black pepole or coloured people (from mixed marriages) were evinced.

How dit this new sport succeed to impose itself in South Africa and how with the support of Nelson Mandela’s dit it help a nation ripped by the english colonization and the Aparthied (1958-1991)  to become a whole ?

I ) The birth of rugby and its appearance in South Africa

 1) public schools, a major driver in the spread of South African rugby


In South Africa, the Dutch left the colony of the Cape in 1657. The British established their succession in 1806. This ancient settlement, now dominated by the English, in 1829 led to the creation of many public schools where rugby practice and thus allowing its spread throughout the Cape Colony.

In this region, we play according to the code of Gog variant of Soule, introduced by the headmaster of Diocesan College in Cape Town the English canon George Ogilive. It was in 1878 that William Henry Milton, an English immigrant to Cape imposes the rules of rugby and removes the Gog variant. This standardization of rules allows the development of rugbyclubs in South Africa.

So a few years later, on 30 May 1883 was created the Western Province Rugby Football Union (WPRFU). It is headed by William Milton and R Shpestone Giddy, a man of English law formed to Christ College of Finchley. College where also studied Charles Monro who established rugby in New Zealand. This organization is composed of English-speaking whites and is not distinguished yet fully football.

It is in 1889 that sports delegates from South African provinces are in Kimberley and create the South African Rugby Board (SARB). This organization governs all rugby held in South Africa. It is headed by whites such as:

– Percival Frames Ross, leader of the Premier Diamond Mine

– William Bisset, lawyer

– Charles Fenzi, Secretary of the Colony of Natal

The South African rugby was at that time headed by representatives of the economy, administration and law. Until 1910, the number of provinces and clubs keeps changing. At that time, even if they are not mentioned, there are rugby players who are not white

4 provinces AS avant 1910

 the four provinces of South Africa before 1910

2) Rugby as separation of populations

In New Zealand, the Maori played at the XIX against white. This is not the case in South Africa. Indeed, the Afrikaner tended to exclude black by claiming their lack of interest in this sport. Today, if we look the number of South African rugby practicing, we can clearly say that these remarks dating from apartheid to say the least wrong!

In fact, it was not until 1989 and published by Paul Dobson, professor of Latin, to discover « that there are Africans in Africa! » Indeed, the history of South Africa is that of a « separate story » according to Paul Coquerel. Few clubs then let them play the whites, blacks and colored together.

Western Province Rugby Union Coloured (WPCRU) born between 1883 and 1886 allows no-whites whatsoever playing rugby. But only the club of Fair Plays Johannesburg, founded in 1897, does not separate the colored, black and white. It will be removed during apartheid.

club noirs

Non-white club in South Africa before 1914

Legend: black-club – coloured club

Supporters are also separated. The colored have their tribunes, as Newland called « Malay Stand ». Or an entire stadium like that of Mowbray. The only white found in this stadiums are usually coaches or players.

Until 1914 held the Cup of Rhode Coloured. This is a meeting between five teams located mainly in the south of the country: Western Province Western Province League Board and located in Cape Town, Griqualand West (Kimberley), Transvaal (Johannesburg) and South Western District.

This cup was played again in 1928 with 7 games in 10 years. In 1939 Rhode Cup gives the idea to create a selection of the best colored players. These players also wore them with the name of Springbok (antelope for logo). Most of the players were from the South and clubs were urban dwellers from the middle bourgeoisie.

They realized a national tour during which they contended 9 games and won seven. The idea of ​​a tour overseas is then invoked, but World War II prevented the realization of this project. In addition, the SARB all white felt such contempt for rugby colored it would probably aborted the plan.

Do not forget the black’s rugby. This is mainly present in the Cape Colony in particular in the cities of East London and Port Elizabeth. Players are workers or miners. In the inter-war years, in Johannesburg, there were only seven black’s rugby clubs  against thirty three of football.

So there is a big difference in rugby between colored and black. Indeed the first are bourgeois and established itself in Africa through Rhode Cup. When black people make up some clubs and are much poorer than the majority colored.

longside rugby non-whites, the English and Afrikaner continually strengthens and begins to meet with teams overseas territories. The entrance to the South African rugby in international competition, however, is stopped by the Boer War, although a surprising continuity is observed in the practice of this sport.

3) The Boer War and South African rugby on the international stage

South African rugby faces the British Lions in 1891. The team is composed of the best players from England, Scotland, Wales and Ireland. They come to play different games in major cities against the South Africans. This competition aims to recall the connection with England and permanently establish rugby in this part of the world.

This is also repeated in 1896 date on which the South Africans won their first match against the British Lions. The former South African international from this period are white and largely male born out of the colony: England, Scotland, Ireland, Canada, Netherlands ….


1891 British Isles versus Cape Colony match

the first match of the British Isles tour of South Africa

Second Boer War (1899-1902) opposed the British and the Boers (descendants of Dutch settlers, German or French Huguenots). This one breaks out after the discovery of gold in the Boer territories (Orange Free State and Transvaal) so that the English wish to appropriate.
This war affects many rugby because many players are sent to war. However, it is an example demonstrating the love of the game for both sides. Indeed, April 28, 1902 the Boers S. G Maritz officer offers in a letter to English Major Edwards a « suspension of arms » to allow a rugby match between English and Boers. This is not without reminding us of the legendary parties foots among French and German during World War during the Christmas break.

After this three-year war, the Boers statements are incorporated into the British Empire and rugby resumed.

In 1905-1906, held the first European tour of the colonial rugby with the Springbok team. All players are English or Afrikaans. The team has 29 very young players since the average age is 22 years. 24 players came from the Cape Colony; This shows the importance of rugby in the south. The Springboks won 25 of 28 matches.

At that time, the Springboks are still all white despite the large number of no-white clubs. Segregation laws of 1948 and apartheid led to a decrease in playing rugby at a high level by the colored and especially blacks. These measures also went to South Africa unpopular with other countries.


Springboks in 1906

II) 1948-1991 hardening of segregation

1) New laws: the disappearance of no-white clubs?

In 1948 following the elections and the Nationalist victory, the country knows a hardening in the laws and the separation of men. New laws are made by the Minister of the Interior Dr. DE Dönges:
– Black and white are separately organized sports activities

– No mixed sports will be allowed inside the country

– No mixed sport will be trained to compete abroad

– International teams touring meeting with South African white sports should be exclusively white

– Foreign no-white teams will meet no-white athletes in South Africa

Métis and blacks can meet during tournaments. No mixed sport was not yet allowed in the country. But this possibility of meetings between Métis and black is explained by the indifference and contempt especially white for these communities. These laws are created for the whites remain together and enjoy the best facilities. The government doesn’t worry about « mixture » between blacks and colored.

The non-white rugby therefore has difficulty to stay because it lacks funding and structures. So many games are canceled. Players receive death threats and are accused of using magic to win games. Thus, in the Western Province there are now 15 clubs Métis in 1959 against 22 before 1914.
no-white federations decide to change their names in order to remove the colonial connotations. Their representatives are teachers. Thus, if the white rugby developed through colleges, no-white rugby also used as a means of education.

Since the creation of the segregation laws, the South African  stop to support the Springboks. This may have a link with the rise of emerging anti-colonial ideas after the Second World War. These are probably the questioning of white supremacy in particular by the independence granted to certain countries.

n 1966 the colored federation changes name to be called the South Africa Rugby Union (SARU). She says she is without race and rejects any idea of ​​segregation. What goes in a direction opposed to the politics of the time. This federation is mainly active in the south. To show their opposition to the government in place, they refuse contact with white SARB. This results in the inability to meet foreign teams since all decisions and meetings had to pass by the SARB. This gives other federations less intransigent the opportunity to meet the British Lions in the United States in 1971.

If non-white clubs do not disappear, everything is done to see occupy less space on the sporting and political national and international scene. No-whites are excluded by the government and their own behavior overseas tournaments. But can last from when this segregation is exported outside the country?

2) The South African rugby boycotted in the world, new measures?

Segregation in rugby is unpopular abroad. The government refuses that Maori players (New-Zeland) come play matches in South Africa. The All Back agree first and then in 1967 he boycotted the tour.

In 1969-1970, the Springboks will play in Britain. This is a disaster. Indeed, many demonstrations, riots and fights are held to denounce apartheid and segregation in rugby. Several games are canceled or played without an audience. Many slogans against apartheid are shouted to the arrival of the Springboks  « a low apartheid  »  » no racism in sport « or » black Springboks « .





Irish Prime Minister Jack Lynch made a speech against apartheid.

In Scotland and Ireland unions asked to boycott the tour.

In Australia during a tour in 1971, businesses displayed « Welcome to blacks. Springboks prohibited. « After the rugby tour,  Australia refused to receive the South African cricketers. Through the boycott of matches is the South African government is targeted. Cricket and rugby are political activities, they are part of life for all citizens as they are present. And sports laws of 1948, more involve in the political life of the country. Sport is the mirror of the nationalist power in power.
The government and the federation of the SARB are required to do to participate in future tournaments. They agreed in the following years.

In 1970 the SARB for financial reasons accept that Maori participate in the games. However we do not see in this team players « too dark » in the words of Terry McLean.

In 1971, the rugbyman Bourgarel is imposed in the French team for the tour of South Africa. These Guyanese origins suggests the South African government that prove to his people his efforts against apartheid in sport. What the opposition denies.

In 1975, the English meet for the first time a team of colored and a black team: the Leopard. The same year, the French are the first team to play against a multiracial team.

In 1976, a law states that any player regardless of color can integrate the Springboks, it must still be until 1981 that the first colored Errol Tobias is part of the team.

errol tobias

Errol Tobias

And in 1982 all the clubs are open to non-whites. However 200 players selected include 8 black and 8 colored.

The new national team that went to England then composed of 8 whites, 8 colored and 8 black  is not welcomed there, because apartheid is still in force in South Arique. This new composition of the Springbok team is only a facade.

All these efforts to allow new international rugby SARB were needed. They work in part because of new games are played. However, they are not sufficient because Srpingboks do not participate in World Cups 1987 and 1991 they are excluded. In addition, at the end of apartheid 30 June 1991 the South Africans are divided. Indeed, rugby is still, for the non-white, a symbol of the apartheid regime. It is then necessary to give the nation rainbow a new life to rehabilitate the image of rugby.

III) The revival of South African rugby: Nelson Mandela

1) The merger of the two main federations SARB (white) and SARU (no-white)

The South Africa Rugby Board

In 1977, the SARB White is joined by SARF and SARA. The SARB therefore form a federation where there are whites, blacks and mestis. However no-whites can enter only if they accept the rules of the SARB. This explains why the SARU doesn’t join the federation since refused any contact with the SARB since 1966.

It is a powerful federation of 300 000 to 350 000 members with civilians, students and schoolchildren.

The South Africa Rugby Union

It is much less important than the SARB because it has only 20 000 members.

The federation lack of money because of sponsors to affiliate with the SARU is a sign of political opposition. In addition, the heat office of the SARU is located in the suburb of Bellville in Cape Town where there are many activists of the ANC. Thus is born a project between the leaders of the ANC and the SARU for activists of both organizations struggle together against apartheid.

The SARU is in position at the end of apartheid would like to make an « alliance » with the SARB. A condition, however, be able to play at Newlands Stadium which is unlawful. It seems that Nelson Mandela has sought that the SARU queries are limited. World Cup 1995 to be held in South Africa; so we had an absolute unity between federations.

The merger takes place during the austral spring 1991, autumn 1991 after the final abolition of apartheid. This new federation called the South Africa Rugby Football Union (Sarfu) has two presidents. Only 12 March 1992 that this new federation actually born.

2) Apartheid present in mentalities, the reasons of Nelson Mandela’s support

The official end of apartheid did not mean an end to the ideas of the people. Witness the Boipatong massacre where fifty people are killed by the Conservative party Zulu Inkatha Freeedom Party. After this event, the party of the African National Congress defending the black majority facing the white minority since 1912 and directed since July 1991 by Nelson Mandela, called for a minute of silence during the game against the All Blacks in August 1992.

Although the Afrikaner National Anthem and the old flag are prohibited in the stadium during the match many flags still roamed the stadium and the anthem Die Stem van Suid Afrika was sung.The hymn was transmitted by a loudspeaker was taken up by most of the spectators and players.During a subsequent matches to avoid problems, loudspeakers diffused music to avoid interference.

Rugby was the white sports. It was always a symbol of apartheid, which discouraged blacks and mestis. We often saw the South African support all teams could face South Africa.

The country was still deeply divided and the South African team hated blacks and colored. The new president Nelson Mandela, it was imperative to bring the population under the new government. Also amazing as it may seem, the solution was rugby.

In 1994 after the election of Nelson Mandela the country was still divided. Indeed, the elections were disrupted by attacks organized by Afrikaner extremists. For their part the South African could not forgive those years of white racism. However, Nelson Mandela was confident that it will succeed in unifying his country through rugby.

The party of Nelson Mandela wanted to drop the name of the Springboks and replace it with that of proteas (flower) as a symbol of the team and national. But Nelson Mandela objected. He wanted to restore the Springboks, their emblems and colors. From his perspective, he had to live with whites in the new democracy was born. And that whites accept this democracy and this new government, it was necessary they can keep the interest they had heart: the Springboks, the anthem, the flag ….


Proteas flower

South Africa Flag Grunge

South Africa flag

Nelson Mandela therefore wished to keep the Springboks for his side as a white South African. Indeed, the new president needed their support because the white minority that had control of the economy, the military and the police. The support of Nelson Mandela rugby was therefore a political and human calculation.

Today logo Srpingboks is represented by the antelope but also by Proteas that South African wanted to adopt after apartheid.


The new logo of Springboks with the antelope and the proteas


For over 100 years, the South African rugby has developed in several phases. First in the public school under English influence. Secondly, we see the creation of different non-white clubs. These are developing strongly in the XIX century. However, apartheid and the establishment of an apartheid regime in South Africa prevented access to the same rights, competitions and stadiums in the world of rugby. These prohibitions are only a reflection of the South African society under apartheid. This leads to justified protests from some countries that decide to boycott the games. The apartheid regime has been rightly criticized. Johnny Clegg, idol of my childhood with Nelson Mandela, did not he sang « one man one vote »? it is understandable that a country so divided by years of racist regime and colonization requires unification. Nelson Mandela by his ingenuity found a way around the rugby reunite black, colored and white quickly. The consecration was the World Cup 1995 in South Africa.

For my part, I am not surprised to see rugby arrive in South Africa through the English colleges in XIX century. But see so many non-white club born in the course of this time is quite impressive. This systematic separation by skin color is now revolting but unfortunately was mostly considered normal at the time. The struggle of Nelson Mandela during apartheid and then to put the country on foot was a lot of work. The idea of ​​this fight through sport allowed to gather the men they do not even realize it. It was an effective strategy that raised the rainbow nation and finally allowed him to move forward while his ball back.

Extract of Invictus (Morgan Freeman as Nelson Mandela)

this clip is interesting because it shows Nelson Mandela’s arguments to preserve the symbols of Afrikaner. Indeed, whites chose to represent their Springboks rugby team and blacks want a flower. Nelson Mandela gold demand to keep the antelope to avoid new conflicts between the two populations. black may have their symbols elsewhere.

Sisters, comrades

I am here because I believe you have made a decision whit insufficient and foresight. I am aware of your earlier vote. I am aware that it was unanimous. Nonetheless, I believe we should restore the Springboks. Restore their name, their emblem and their colors immediately.

Let me tell you why. On Robben Island in Pollsmoor Prison all my jailers were Afrikaners. For twenty seven years I studied them. I learned their language, I read their books, their poetry. I had to know my enemy before I could prevail against him. And we did prevail, did we not? All of us here, we prevailed. Our enemy is no longer the Afrikaner. they are our fellow South Africans, ours partners in democracy. And their treasure Springboks rugby. If we take that away, we lose them. We prove that we are what they feared we would be. We have to be better than that. We have to surprise them with the compassion, with restraint and generosity.

I know all of the things they denied us. But this is no time to celebrate petty revenge. This is the time to build our nation, using every single brick avaible to us. Even if that brick comes wrapped in green and gold. You elected me your leader. Let me lead you now.

Website: The official home of Srpingboks

The official home of Springboks


Sans titre

this website is useful to learn more about the Springboks. it is possible to know the composition of their team, to have pictures of their games or buy goodies. However, the informations are only contemporary, there is little data on their history. I used this website to find thier logo and to have information about their last matchs dans Nelson Mandela.