Laduma!: Soccer, Politics, and Society in South Africa

Laduma!: Soccer, Politics, and Society in South Africa
Peter Alegi. Scottsville: University of KwaZulu-Natal Press, 2004. 152 Pp.

Leslie Hadfield

Peter Alegi discusses the history of soccer in South Africa and what developments in the sport at different periods of time show about South African society.  He focuses on the phenomenal growth and adoption of soccer among black South Africans between the creation of the Union of South Africa in 1910 and the aftermath of the Soweto uprisings in 1976, with an epilogue briefly over-viewing developments in soccer from the late 1970s up to 1992.  The book is a political and social history;  Alegi explores the politics of soccer, how politics affected soccer in South Africa, the role of soccer in anti-apartheid efforts, and writes in the tradition of E.P. Thompson as he examines how larger societal changes affected the lives of the masses.  His discussions of the way soccer became an escape for black South Africans, the way black South Africans exercised autonomy and gained status on the soccer field, the role of clubs in communities, the role of sponsors and entrepreneurship, and struggles with white authorities over sporting facilities, show the central role of soccer in South African sport and the many issues in South African society to which soccer is linked.
Organized both chronologically and thematically, Laduma! begins with an overview of pre-colonial African sport in African societies in Chapter one.  Alegi shows that, “agrarian notions of physical prowess, masculine identity, theatrical performance, and martial competition,” were prevalent in pre-colonial African societies, facilitating the adoption of European sport, and that these African notions, “endured in modern sport” (7).  He also sets the stage in Chapter two by looking at which Europeans brought soccer to South Africa.  After these two introductory chapters, Alegi focuses on the adoption of soccer in urban areas, within highly industrialized regions and among the proletariat.  He writes about the rise of amateur football associations in Durban and the Witwatersrand in particular, showing how soccer became an urban game during the growth of industrialization and segregation in South Africa.  After examining the way Africans made soccer their own sport and developed different styles of play (the “Africanization of soccer”), Alegi focuses on the Orlando Pirates team and “Entertainment, Entrepreneurship, and Nationalism in the 1950s,” to show the relationship soccer clubs had to their communities and how soccer changed as the sport developed and South African society changed.  He finishes by addressing the position soccer held in anti-apartheid politics both within South Africa, as professional soccer leagues sought to racially integrate, and in the international arena.
The two greatest contributions to South African history of Alegi’s book are the picture he creates of black South African urban life, and the way he traces African sport culture in the history of modern South African soccer.  Alegi argues that soccer gave the South African people “a sense of their own humanity,” enriching the “lives of people with little else to cheer about,” and that pre-colonial African traditions “shaped the encounter with modern British sporting culture in fundamental ways” (6).  By using the history of soccer to make observations about South African society in general, he shows the colorful life of black South Africans and touches on how ordinary South Africans lived life.  A focus on sports adds to the study of the South African experience by providing a look at a dimension of society different from an entirely political or industrial study.
In highlighting the continuity of African ideas, values, and practices associated with sport in South African societies, Alegi adds to recent scholarship that stresses the agency and influence of Africans in the development of colonial society of South Africa and challenges the notion of the hegemonic nature of colonialism.  Alegi takes important steps back into history to chart the growth and transformation of South African soccer.  His descriptions of stick-fighting, cattle raiding, racing, and hunting, as well as competitive dancing, provides the basis of his comparison of pre-colonial African sport to the characteristics of modern soccer.  He then briefly discusses the first introduction of soccer by soldiers, traders, and missionaries who played soccer within their own circles when they first arrived in southern Africa.  Due to the value of athleticism, physical competition, and performance in pre-colonial African society, Africans easily accepted and embraced this European sport (14).   Alegi discusses the rituals performed before soccer games and tournaments, the value of entertaining performance in the first African styles of play, and the use of praise names, showing that Africans endowed soccer with their own meaning and cultural values.
In addition, Alegi highlights the complexity of South African society by discussing the tensions in society not only between whites and blacks, but between black South Africans as well.  He mentions tensions connected with modernization and urbanization, and political and racial tensions (21).  In explaining what he calls “the cult of rugby,” he writes that as Africans accepted and influenced soccer, whites saw Rugby as “patrician and white,” and soccer as a game for the black, lower classes (17).  He argues that soccer became a “sphere of social action” where “expressions of African modernity could be forged, tested, and negotiated” (20).  In some areas soccer served as a space where power relations could be played out as Africans attempted to assert their autonomy and white officials either promoted or discouraged soccer as they saw it either as a social stabilizer or an avenue for political protest and unity (20).   He also mentions gender and discusses masculinity in both traditional and modern sport.
Alegi does not go into depth on all aspects of society, at all levels, nor does he claim to have tried to do so.  He introduces a number of different issues that could be explored more.  For example, although in South Africa soccer players and participants consisted mainly of men, the world of the spectators and women, and how they were affected by soccer or affected soccer, could be explored more.  The significance of women carrying out “one of the most profitable trades, illegally brewing and selling beer and alcohol” could be analyzed (96).  In Chapter 8, Alegi mentions that women increased their participation and influence and power in society through sports (128).  A deeper analysis of how and why they did this could also add to the study of sport in South Africa.
Alegi largely focuses on South African players, officials, club managers and patrons.  This may partly be due to the nature of the resources available for a study on South African soccer, a problem which someone looking to further study women in South African sport (or any of the other issues Alegi brings up) would have to negotiate.  Alegi discusses his research and sources in his appendix.  He explains that since Laduma! is really the first scholarly work on this subject, he had to rely on autobiographies, the black popular press, public archives, published and unpublished surveys, as well as personal interviews, collections and manuscripts retrieved from individuals to construct this history.  He calls this a ‘painful’ process due to the lack of records that survived to the present day, official files of black soccer associations, and the lack of records kept by sporting organizations.
The way Alegi compiled the information from these sources contributes to the ground-breaking nature of Laduma.  It clears the way for more analysis by bringing those issues to the surface which have not been considered in regards to South African soccer – or South African history in general.  Alegi provides a basis for further analysis of soccer (and sport in general) in South Africa by giving a national summary of the political and social issues surrounding soccer.   In conclusion Alegi writes, “Ultimately, the ‘rediscovery of the ordinary’ documented in Laduma! explores a wide range of sources to uncover the specific ways in which the development of modern sport influenced, and was influenced by, the social, political, and economic experiences of black people caught in the web of segregation and apartheid” (152).  Laduma! shows that sports play an important role in many African societies and that studying sports in Africa holds value and can increase our understanding of African history as well as contemporary Africa.

Leslie Hadfield
Ph. D. Student
Michigan State University


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