For a long time, South African sport was isolated from international events because of the country’s apartheid regime.
The country was absent from international competition for 32 years as a result of international sporting sanctions imposed because of South Africa’s apartheid policy.
On the home front, under apartheid blacks did not have equal access to competitive or recreational sports opportunities at school or community levels, according to the Twenty Year Review released by the Presidency.
“There was little or no investment in sports infrastructure, equipment, attire, development, talent identification and/or activities for previously disadvantaged population groups,” the review notes.
South African teams and athletes started competing globally in 1992 after the country’s white electorate voted in a referendum in favour of a negotiated settlement on the issue of apartheid and the country was re-admitted to the international sports arena.
Since 1994, sport has been a unifying force in South Africa.
Sporting institutions such as the South African Council on Sport, the South African Non- Racial Olympic Committee and the National Sports Council were consolidated by building a democratic and unified sports system.
From being an outsider, South Africa is now an affiliate of the Supreme Council of Sport (SCSA, Zone VI) and also participates in various international sport organisations and events, such as the Commonwealth Games, Olympic Games, Paralympic Games, World Games, World Anti-doping Agency, International Anti-doping Arrangement, FIFA tournaments and continental competitions.
According to the review, from 1994 to 2005, Sport and Recreation South Africa built 744 sport and recreation facilities throughout the country. South Africa has also successfully hosted a number of key international sporting events, most notably the Rugby World Cup in 1995, the African Cup of Nations in 1996 and the 2010 FIFA World Cup.
“These events strengthened the glue that keeps this country together by fostering an overarching national identity as well as a spirit of camaraderie. They also contributed significantly towards developing South Africa as a tourist destination,” the review adds.
Since the advent of democracy, the performance of South Africa’s national teams has been on the rise with the Springboks winning the Rugby World Cup in front of the home crowd at a packed Ellis Park Stadium in 1995. The Springboks defeated New Zealand 15 – 12 in the final.
The 1995 Rugby World Cup played a significant role in healing a divided nation. It was also the first world cup in which all matches were played in one country for the duration of the tournament.
The 1995 Rugby World Cup was the first major sporting event to take place in South Africa after the end of apartheid. It was also the first world cup in which South Africa was allowed to compete - the International Rugby Football Board (IRFB, now the International Rugby Board) had only re-admitted South Africa to international rugby in 1992, following negotiations to end apartheid.
At the game, the late former President Nelson Mandela walked onto the field to congratulate the team, a moment that South Africans remember with pride.
“In the late former President Nelson Mandela, the country had a leader acceptable to almost all groups in society and deeply respected across racial and class boundaries. In this regard, President Mandela was himself a key part of the new national identity,” reads the review.
The following year, Bafana Bafana emulated their rugby counterparts when they captured the African Cup of Nations. The 1996 African Cup of Nations showpiece was held for the 20th time and for the first time on South African soil.
Also in 1996, at the Atlanta Olympic Games, Penny Heyns won both the 100m and 200m breaststroke events.
It was the first time democratic South Africa participated in the Olympics and Heyns’ performance in the pool made her the country’s first post-apartheid Olympic gold medalist.
On the track, Josia Thugwane also did the country proud by winning a gold medal at his first attempt. Thugwane won the gold medal in the marathon becoming the first black athlete to earn an Olympic gold for South Africa.
Two years after successfully winning the African Cup of Nations on home soil, the national football team also qualified for the FIFA World Cup in 1998, held in France. Though the team was kicked out in the first round, qualifying for the tournament for the first time was a huge step in the right direction.
Sport has been used as a tool to heal a nation divided as a result of apartheid. This was evident during the 2010 FIFA World Cup, which was held on the African continent for the first time. South Africans of all races rallied behind the national team for the duration of the tournament.
The review acknowledges the important role that sport has played in the uniting South Africans.
“Sports interaction has contributed towards increased interaction across race and class,” the review notes.