Crossing the racial divide: The 1946 Rhodes University versus Fort Hare University athletics meeting

  • P. A. H. Labuschagne University of South Africa
Keywords: Athletics, Fort Hare University, Racial hegemony, Rhodes University, Segregation, Atletiek, Fort Hare Universiteit, Rassehegemonie, Rhodes Universiteit, Segregasie


In the annals of South Africa’s sporting history, the intervarsity athletics meeting between Rhodes University and the University of Fort Hare that took place in 1946 is not well-known. This encounter between two neighbouring universities is unique for a number of reasons: not only was it the first reported athletics meeting at club level between two universities in the Eastern Cape, it was also the first time in South Africa that different race groups competed at club level. The meeting flouted the government’s policies at that time, as well as its stated position on the segregation of the different race groups. In the article the broad background of segregation in South Africa is outlined, with a description of how clubs developed in keeping with segregationist policies. The historic meeting between the universities of Rhodes and Fort Hare is the focus of the second part of the discussion, which demonstrates how athletics officials at Rhodes were prepared to challenge national policies in an attempt to further racial harmony. The historic athletics meeting between the two universities was a brave effort to normalise society and reflected an enlightened approach to the prevailing segregationist policies being imposed on all levels of society.


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