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Encyclopaedia of Black Rugby

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I know it is difficult for players, parents fathers, wives, sisters or grandchildren to part with their or the families rugby memorabilia but if we want to preserve the rugby history of black players, we’ll have to come together and share our unique rugby history, writes Avril Fillies

This is how Mark Alexander, President of SA Rugby, said at the launch of the first encyclopaedia of Black  Rugby on Thursday 26 October at the  Springbok Experience in the V & A Waterfront in Cape Town.

“The touch screen installation – which was developed with the help of funding from the National Lotteries Commission – is the first stage of an ambitious project to collate the often  ‘hidden’ history of black rugby in South Africa until the sport’s unification in 1992.

The objectiv of the work is to capture the A to Z of black rugby prior to unity.

The biographies of all 409 players to have appeared for the pre-unity African, Coloured and non-racial rugby boards will be featured in due course, as well as the stories of clubs, trophies, administrators, federations and other personalities or events that may have shaped the development of black rugby” Alexander said.

He reiterated that the work was a first step to filling an embarrassing vacuum in the story of black rugby.

“Players, administrators etc will have the opportunity to tell their stories in person and if possible with pictures as part of a digital exhibit at the Springbok Experience.

That is why we need the rugby memorabilia to enhance the history. This is the first step to filling an embarrassing vacuum in the story.

The story of black rugby has increasingly been brought out of the shadows by the work we have done at The Springbok Experience and in the heritage filed over recent years, but there is still not a single point of reference where anyone can go and discover the hidden story,” he said.

In time we hope to have created a ‘one-stop shop’ where it is possible to access the stories and records of all the significant people and institutions that went into creating the vibrant story of black rugby in South Africa in the pre-democracy era.

The resource we will have at the end of the process we plan to make available as widely as possible. We are keen to receive photographs, newspaper cuttings, programmes and old playing jerseys from club, provincial or national players and any brochures or other mementoes that may help us tell the story.

We are starting with national players, clubs and both provincial and national boards but the nature of a digital installation means we will be able to continuously update the display,” Alexander said.

The launch was attended by provincial and national players from the SA Rugby Association, Boland, Western Province Rugby Union, Western Province Rugby Board, Tygerberg Rugby Union and City and Suburban Rugby Union.

Present were Cassiem Jabaar, Mervyn Samuels, Piet Kruger, Ivan Jacobs, Riedoh Allen, Fagme Solomons, William Croy, Broadness Cona, William Diba, Yusuf Davids, Faiek Hendricks, Irven October and Piet Jooste.

“It is more than 26 years after unification and better late than never. I am glad that our rugby history is being captured and as Mark said this is a start.

We do have stories to tell of heroes in our communities from the eras when the players of the SA Rugby Board played against touring sides from England, New Zealand, Australia, France or the British and Irish Lions.

It is important that the youth of today should know about those players as well by visiting the rugby museum. If everyone plays their part then great-grandchildren will be able to read and see pictures of their family member,” Cassiem Jabaar said.

Jackie Abrahams, former President of Boland, said that it would also be appreciated if anecdotes can be included in the history because the youth don’t know what the players had to endure pre-unification.

Mervyn Samuels, former player, said that when they had to play against Kwaru, Eastern Province or South Western Districts, they left Cape Town the Thursday after the final practice to their destination, arriving on the Friday to be fresh and ready for the match on the Saturday.

There were sometimes no changerooms and you dressed in the car, bus or lorry and ran onto the field.

Today’s rugby players are spoiled with all the facilities at their disposal and they should know our experiences. We worked during the day and played rugby over weekends, we did not have the novelty of making rugby a career because we had to provide for families and extended families.

Broadness Cona said that they never flew from city to city, you had to hit the road, whether it was your own or public transport.

“The best part of travelling with your teammates was the bond that was formed on the road.

You had to pack your own food for the road and it was mostly sandwiches, cream crackers, boiled eggs and chicken with a cooldrink or your flask of coffee.

Due to the heat on the road, the tomato and cheese sandwich was soggy when you arrive at your destination but you munched it down with the hot cooldrink or coffee,” he chuckled.

If you have information or images that could be included in the A to Z please contact The Springbok Experience at

springbokexperience@sarugby.co.za