By Haroon Mahomed

Racism, discrimination, prejudice and intolerance in society are realities of our lives that are of concern to the values and aims of a common humanity.

Such attitudes and actions are shaped by beliefs that some groups of people are better than others and hence they have a right to label, judge and treat other people unfairly. The perpetrators of such behavior have feelings of false gratification while the recipients feel hurt and upset.

Clearly, this goes against the grain of the concept of all of humanity as being equal, from one source, having the right to dignity, and being subject to similar needs and life experiences in the passage from birth to death.

Racism has a high prevalence in society, but it is poisonous, causing much bitterness and suffering; it hurts its victim sharply and immediately, and perpetrators are affected more slowly and over a longer period of time, personally and publicly.

Racism has no basis in science as proven by many studies, but is socially constructed and emanates from systemic inequalities such as slavery, colonialism and segregation. It is born of deeply ingrained attitudes inculcated over centuries and capitalises on stereotypes to promote and maintain social divisions.

Racism has to be combatted, because it causes separation between people.  Sport is an activity which enjoys huge participation and following. It has played and can play a positive role in combatting racism.

Sports activities require high levels of planning, preparation, team-work, co-ordination, and co-operation and build bonds between people that can last a lifetime.   In the context of racism, sport has shown that it can bring people of sharply different backgrounds together in a co-operative way.

In the South African situation, there were massive campaigns conducted within and outside the country to combat racist sport which perpetuated apartheid and to replace it with non-racial sport and build unity.  The boycott of racist sport was successfully campaigned outside and inside South Africa by preventing sports tours from taking place, and at the same time, mobilising worldwide condemnation of apartheid.


Within South Africa, structures like the South African Council on Sport (SACOS) organised large scale activities in all codes in communities and in schools to promote an ethos of non-racialism, social contribution and community development.  It coined the slogan “No normal sport in an abnormal society”, to oppose a society that promoted racism and other forms of discrimination.

The 1995 Rugby World Cup and 2010 Soccer World Cup and others, are good examples of how the deep divisions in South African society could be approached at a national level in a positive way; however, these are not enough.  The barriers between the different peoples of the country although narrowed, are still huge and there are considerable challenges at local levels.  The recent manifestations of racism in the country confirm that an enormous amount of work needs to be done to address the problem.

The national anti-racism week and events of March 21 will play an important role in creating awareness, but more needs to be done on an ongoing basis.  The messaging and awareness need to be followed up with activities and programmes that bring people together.

In the area of sports, there should be focus on issues of proper provision of facilities, proper funding of amateur sport and the creation of more and equal opportunities for all South Africans to realise their potential, including national colours.

There needs to be considerable education and healing programmes in schools, universities, training centers, churches, mosques, temples, sports clubs and associations, workplaces and communities.  The content should be on giving people dignity, the ability to organise themselves relying on meagre resources and to withstand resorting to vandalism and violence.

It is proposed that a variety of materials should be developed that could be used in these programmes. These should cater for the different ages, and multi –layered types of audiences in our society, for example, urban, rural, rich, poor, different languages etc.  Government, the private sector, NGOs and labour, community and civil society organisations and resources could be brought together to co-ordinate an ongoing programme.

Materials could cover issues such as the history of racism, the effects thereof, and methods of team building across racial, class, gender, religious and disability boundaries.

* Haroon Mahomed is from the Non-Racial Sports History Committee – Gauteng. The organisation was established in 2015 and aims to add to and strengthen initiatives which are involved in the capturing of histories, well-being and development of sports in a non-racial context. The project has thus far recorded the histories of 90 people who made a contribution to non-racial sports during the apartheid era, and archived over 300 items of material, and conducted a number of advocacy and training activities.

This piece form part of a series of op-eds written for Anti-Racism Week (March 14-21). For more information, visit





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