Sports Minister Piet Koornhof has done more to accomplishe racial integration than any other South African officaial in recent history. He is hoping his party members do not find out about it.
After two months of canvassing the Nationalist party leadership, Koornhof guided through in September a new national sports policy that "gets the government out of sports." But it was not until late November that the Nationalist Party's information committee was given the details for general distribution.
"I kept it away from them for two months," Koornhof said with satisfaction. "If it were up to me I wouldn't distribute anything. it just draws attention and questions."
In contrast to American and other governments that have decided forceful leadership is needed to combat racism, Prime Minister John Vorster's government is seeking even moderate change here with ambivalence and stealth.
The growing number of domestic critics feel that this may be the major weakness to a policy that, the government has pledged to the United nations, is intended to "move away from discrimination based on race or color," Koornhof, who sprinkles conversations with references to historian Arnold Toynbee and his own Oxford University doctorial dissertation on the Industrial Revolution, has been posted at the cutting edge of race policy. Minor changes in sports policy provoked a traumatic split in Afrikaner political ranks in 1969 and sports border on mania status here.
In an interview, Koornhof made a rare concession that international pressure, which has led to South Africa is being banned from many international sports gatherings including the Olympics in recent years, "had some effect here. But in the last two or three years, the boycotts have definitelyhad the opposite effect, of hardening attitudes against change in sports. So we have to be careful."
The new policy allows white and black individual athletes to compete against each other and white and black teams to meet. Mixed teams may represent South Africa abroad, but the policy is highly ambiguous on whether whites and blacks will be permitted to play on the same teams inside South Africa.
Asked if the ambiguities were deliberate, Koornhof said, "If they are, I'm certainly not going to say so. We've got to get things done in a smooth way, without a oot of fuss. A miracle is happening here because we're geting the full cooperation of the nonracialists in this country.
"If you jump the gun the party will see things in it different from sport and will react viciously. And rightly so. Sport is not paving the way. Sport is part and parcel of the constitutional and political evolution of separate development.We are moving away from racial discrimination. But you can't do all these things before breakfast."
Sports fans have turned out for the mixed tennis, cricket and boxing matches staged so far. The republic has not fallen, nor has racial nirvana been reached.
Blacks entering a marathon race were warned they might not be able to sit down at the award ceremony afterwards since it would be in a white area. At the racially mixed South African Breweries Tennis Open, 30 black youths had to stand in aisles to watch, although there were empty seats in the all-white audiences.
"If I tried to go over to their side, I'd be run out of the stadium," said a black sitting in a segregated ringside section at the first championship fights between black and white boxers here in November. Some whites had drifted over to the non-white seating side where a white couple chatted comfortably with a black neighbor and in front of them another white revealed the pistol he was wearing as he opened his jacket.
"It's better that the sports thing is like this," said the black South African. "But it does not feed my children or get me a house outside the compound they put me in. If they have multiracial sports, how about multiracial saliries?"