How can we forget?

08 September 2010 - 02:09 By Joe Latakgomo

The Big Read: The year 2010 will go down in South African history as the year the country and its people made a statement to the rest of the world. It is the year in which we hosted the 2010 Fifa World Cup.

That, however, is not the only reason we will remember this year. Rather, it will be because the event was such a success and that we left the afro-pessimists - in Europe and particularly in the UK - in total shame.

We might not have won the World Cup, nor even progressed to the second round. Logically, however, if the Fifa rankings are anything to go by, it was not totally unexpected. Our hearts sought a second-round appearance, but the facts spoke otherwise.

But it was also a year of missed opportunities for Bafana Bafana, who, had they taken their chances, could have provided us with a bonus appearance in the second round.

None of the newspapers in the UK - who predicted chaos and the butchering of visiting soccer fans, and death by snakebite or by machete-wielding tribesmen - stood any chance of winning any of the awards at stake here today. Perhaps we should create one for them.

Tonight is the 30th anniversary of the SAB sports journalist awards - awards that were initiated at a time when South Africa was in crisis.

Not that we were short of sports idols and heroes. Far from it. The 1980s was the decade of Naas Botha. It was the time of Morne du Plessis. It was the time of Errol Tobias. It was the time of Ace Ntsoelengoe. And of Baby Jake Matlala - he who preaches that height is only in the mind. It was the time of Brian Mitchell; of Gerrie Coetzee; of Terror Mathebula, of Piet Crous; and of Dingaan Thobela.

It was a time when the Soweto Derby held soccer fans spellbound for days on end. It was the time soccer came alive, and Kaizer Motaung, Adbul Bhamjee and Cyril Kobus, with the support of Sticks Morewa and Leepile Taunyana, broke ranks with George Thabe and formed the national soccer league.

And it is worth noting that it was South African Breweries who supported them in this initiative, which revolutionised South African soccer.

But it was not all a time of joyous moments and glory. It was also a time when state oppression of the majority increased.

It was the decade in which the United Nations started its register of sports contact with South Africa, which led to sports people being banned by their home associations for playing with, or against, South Africans.

1980 was the year South Africa played in its last Golf World Cup in Caracas until apartheid was in its death throes in 1992.

1980 was also the year of controversial rugby tours by the British Lions and France, and the decade of rebel cricket tours. It was the year the Release Mandela Campaign gained momentum as 45 organisations endorsed it, led by Kairos in the Netherlands. It was the decade of Rara, the revolutionary anti-racist action radical group which attacked businesses with interests in South Africa; and the decade of protests against the death sentences of political prisoners, among them the Sharpeville Six and Moroka Three.

It was also the decade famous for PW Botha's statement to white South Africans to adapt or die, and yet he introduced some of the most draconian legislation this country has ever had to silence the black majority.

It was also the period in which he sent the defence force into the townships, ostensibly to quell unrest - in reality to wreak havoc.

Sadly, some events regarding the current government's determination to gag opposition and a critical press, reminds us of that decade.

The 1980s was a time in which newspapers were gagged from reporting on unrest in the township - "in the national interest".

It was the decade in which various organisations, among them the United Democratic Front, were banned - "in the national interest"

By 1989, more than 50000 people had been detained without trial - "in the national interest".

Death squads were running riot in the townships, and we could not report on their activities because the government decreed that it was "not in the national interest".

More than 4000 people died in this carnage, with so-called defence groups set up by the government to "liquidate terrorists", making the townships a danger zone for anybody who opposed the status quo. Assassinations were taking place daily - all in the "national interest".

Cosatu leaders were detained, union offices raided, and Cosatu House and the South African Council of Churches, among others, bombed.

How can we so quickly forget what the result of gagging the media could be?

How could we forget what happens when power begins to corrupt?

Today, we celebrate excellence in journalism.

The judges spent a great deal of time reading through submissions and nominations. And sometimes, the debate was quite robust, as each justified his selection, and tried to persuade the others. It is this process that makes the SAB sports journalist awards so exciting - both for the judges and for all sports writers and editors.

We had believed that the winning entries would come from the World Cup. Great as some of the writing and reporting was, the judges unanimously believed it fell short.

But this is an experience all those who covered this once-in-a-lifetime event - will take forward, no doubt. It will help shape careers.

  • Joe Latakgomo is the convenor of judges for the 2010 SAB Sports Journalists of the Year Awards. This is an edited version of his speech at Monday night's awards ceremony