Absa Premiership

50 years on: When apartheid vetoed Highlands Park v Pirates

2018-03-26 14:41
Highlands Park players (Gallo Images)

Cape Town - It might seem beyond the imagination of the younger generation of fans today that a government would and could ban a soccer game between Orlando Pirates and Highlands Park in order to preserve its doctrine of apartheid.

But 50 years ago this kind of eventuality was quite normal - or should one more accurately describe it as abnormal? - with the 50th anniversary of the forced cancellation of the game between the Buccaneers and the Lions of the North in Swaziland a grim reminder of race-ravaged South Africa at the time.

The mixing of different races in soccer, like in all other spheres of life, was prohibited by law in South Africa, so Highlands and Pirates officials hit on the idea of breaking the brazen bogey by playing each other in Mbabane.

But government officials soon put an end to the epochal innovation by refusing those involved travel documents - and even threatening to confiscate their passports if they attempted to cross the border.

And so the game never took place between the legally enforced all-white Highlands and the Pirates side that was made up of what were termed non-whites.

"Of course there were greater iniquities based on racism at the time," says gritty, dynamic former Highlands defender Hennie Joubert, "but at the time we were simply very disappointed at not having the chance of playing against our Pirates counterparts."

Ironically a Highlands-Pirates game did belatedly take place outside the country's borders 10 years later when the first iron-fisted doctrines of apartheid in sport began to crumble, with legendary Highlands centre-half, Stuart Lilley, switching his allegiance to the Buccaneers and Pirates forward flier, Jerry Sadike, attacking down the flanks for the Lions of the North.

In 1968 South African soccer was officially suspended by FIFA from participating in official games outside the country's borders, with the suspension tightened in 1974 to outright expulsion while apartheid continued to flourish - and it was only 25 years ago after the release of Nelson Mandela and the Madiba era had brought about a degree of normalisation that membership of the world soccer body was restored.

As for the banned Pirates-Highlands game 50 years ago, it’s a reminder to ensure such abnormalities are never repeated. 

Read more on:    highlands park  |  orlando pirates  |  soccer
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