Sep 13, 2021
University of Texas Permian Basin history professor Derek Catsam ("Flashpoint: How a Little-Known Sporting Event Fueled America's Anti-Apartheid Movement") joins to delve into the intriguing story of how a relatively low-key South African rugby tour of the United States in 1981 became an unwittingly pivotal turning point in the nation's growing collective conscience against apartheid, and an influential test of American foreign policy.
By the late 1970s, the US lagged significantly behind the rest of the Western world when it came to addressing the thorny moral, societal and diplomatic issues posed by the Republic of South Africa's racial policies, and its ruling National Party's obstinate defense of them despite increasing international condemnation.
The September 1981 American tour of the country's perennially world-dominant "Springbok" national rugby union team - a continuation of an already tumultuous and violent summer of matches in New Zealand - markedly changed that dynamic.
Those who had been part of the US’s relatively small anti-apartheid decades-long struggle opportunistically seized the visit by one of white South Africa’s most cherished sporting and cultural institutions to mobilize against both the team, and the political regime it represented.
American protestors confronted the Springbok team at airports, chanted outside their hotels, and openly courted arrest at matches - forcing tour organizers to hastily (and bizarrely) convert publicly announced matches into near-clandestine affairs to avoid undue attention or confrontation.
What began as a modest effort to publicize an exciting but little-followed sport in the US, quickly gave rise to the solidification of the nation's soon-robust anti-apartheid movement.