Fagmie Solomons: How a two-sport star endured South African apartheid

For Fagmie Solomons, sport was always more than a yearly cycle of training and matches.A standout rug...

Posted: Jan 3, 2019 11:24 AM
Updated: Jan 3, 2019 11:24 AM

For Fagmie Solomons, sport was always more than a yearly cycle of training and matches.

A standout rugby and cricket player during the height of the apartheid era, Solomons could be viewed as South Africa's answer to baseball pioneer Jackie Robinson, or power-saluting sprinters Tommie Smith and John Carlos.

Africa

Continents and regions

Discrimination

Racism and racial discrimination

Rugby

Societal issues

Society

South Africa

Southern Africa

Sports and recreation

Sports organizations and teams

Springboks

Rugby events

Rugby World Cup

Sports events

Athletes

Nelson Mandela

Political Figures - Intl

africa news

Born in the predominantly Muslim Bo-Kaap section of Cape Town, Solomons captained the multi-ethnic -- or "non-racial" as it's locally known -- South African Rugby Union (SARU) team as a flyhalf during the late 1980s.

When he took to the field, he played for freedom, equality, and social change.

Visit CNN.com/sport for more news, features and videos

In 1987, Solomons led the SARU team in its first ever overseas test match -- a ground-breaking moment of recognition -- winning 72-3 against Namibia.

Previously, he had been approached by the South African Rugby Board, the governing body of the whites-only national team, to join the Springboks under a special dispensation offer.

Despite the temptations of publicity, along with proper pay and professional working conditions, Solomons declined, citing the SARU mantra: "No normal sport in an abnormal society."

"Our sacrifices weren't in vain," Solomons, 61, tells CNN World Rugby from his home in Bo-Kaap, the same one where he was raised as a child. "Today it's a free country."

"That was actually my contribution, fighting for the liberation of this country," he reflects, "and today there (are) no regrets about the past because I can truly, and honestly say that I contributed that small (amount) for the liberation of this country."

READ: How rugby players prepare for retirement

READ: All Blacks coach to step down after World Cup

Playing on rubbish dumps

To compete during the era, explains University of Johannesburg sociologist Ashwin Desai, Solomons and his peers endured hardships like round-trip bus rides of up to 22 hours for matches that paid almost nothing.

"For somebody like him to say no (to joining the Springboks) meant multiple forms of sacrifice," says Desai, author of "The Race to Transform, Sport in post-apartheid South Africa."

"The distance between the non-racial South African Rugby Union and the main apartheid body was incredibly wide.

"To play for SARU was to play on rubbish dumps, and you trained often in darkness, because very few of the fields that these people trained on had floodlights, or club houses and resources."

Financially, "no one came anywhere near being a professional rugby player with a contract in South African Rugby Union," adds Desai. "Basically, you were just spending your own resources to play."

Contemplating an offer to play for the Springboks during apartheid was a complicated matter.

Although the few who crossed the line, like Springboks player Errol Tobias, proved they could compete as equals, they were accused of "selling out" by their own communities and lived markedly different lives from their white teammates.

"After he played he would go to a separate township, he wouldn't be allowed to go into the bar, he wouldn't be able to join the social gathering, his children would go to separate schools and so on," says Desai of Tobias.

"The idea is that (Solomons) didn't want to be an honorary white for 80 minutes of play on the field when the rest of his life would be circumscribed by the existing racial laws."

Instead, Solomons remained loyal to his SARU team, and suggests that the lack of funding in the sport kept him grounded.

"We played from the heart because we played for the love of the game. There wasn't money like there is now," he says. "I think that was my advantage while playing, during my years of non-racial sport."

Last year Solomons was honored by South African Rugby president Mark Alexander, who labeled him "a true living legend," words that reportedly left the Bo-Kaap native in tears.

At the same event, Western Province Cricket Association president Beresford Williams credited Solomons as being "a great ambassador for the game" and recalled his part in the Howa Bowl, a segregated Cricket tournament played during the era.

Grounds used in the competition were reportedly of poor quality, and cricketers operating under apartheid were even less fortunate than rugby players, says Desai.

"Cricket, by the very nature of the game and facilities that you need and the kind of wickets that you need to play on, was much harder hit by apartheid legislations," he explains. "Rudimentary forms of rugby could still be played."

READ: How to build a ruby player -- Inside England's Under-20s camp

READ: Cape Town Sevens: Bitzboks to wear jersey to honor Nelson Mandela

Changing the mindset

Shortly after the fall of apartheid in 1992, the Springboks unified with the SARU team, culminating in a World Cup win in 1995.

Although full integration would come much later -- the 1995 Springboks featured only one non-white player, Chester Williams -- the symbol of Nelson Mandela presenting the winning trophy in a shirt that previously symbolized white Afrikaner nationalism was significant.

"When he came on television wearing the Springbok jersey, that really united our country," recalls Solomons, who became close with Mandela during his career. "The generation after needed to implement the standards and values that he left."

Along with looking towards the long-imprisoned Mandela for inspiration, Solomons leaned on his Muslim faith to counter discrimination during his playing days.

"That was the first priority where my parents were concerned. Before you played sports, first you were a Muslim," he explains. "Never ever forget your way of life. If you go according to the holy Quran then you can't go astray."

Solomons applauds the efforts of 21-year-old South African rugby sevens star Zain Davids, who he calls a "super role model."

Davids, who is also from Bo-Kaap, does not wear the name of beer maker Castle on his sponsored Springboks jersey on religious grounds, fasts during Ramadan and leaves practice early to attend Friday prayers at his local mosque.

"It's not every day that one of his caliber guys comes through the ranks," says Solomons. "You must remember we grew up with a culture where our community always supported the (New Zealand) All Blacks, England, and France -- not supporting South Africa rugby.

"The more guys (like Davids) come though now, that will change that mindset."

Minnesota Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Confirmed Cases: 96734

Reported Deaths: 2060
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Hennepin27177931
Ramsey10985320
Dakota7585126
Anoka6182135
Stearns404524
Washington384155
Scott260333
Olmsted247328
Nobles197516
Blue Earth17146
Wright16647
St. Louis161841
Carver14297
Clay141140
Rice13438
Mower13365
Sherburne116114
Kandiyohi10262
Winona90618
Lyon7134
Waseca6898
Benton5583
Steele5532
Freeborn5444
Nicollet54217
Crow Wing53318
Watonwan5304
Chisago5071
Todd5022
McLeod4942
Le Sueur4724
Otter Tail4454
Beltrami4405
Martin42610
Goodhue3769
Itasca33914
Pine3360
Douglas3262
Polk3164
Isanti3071
Becker2802
Carlton2711
Morrison2642
Dodge2480
Pipestone23010
Cottonwood2270
Chippewa2191
Meeker2072
Wabasha2010
Brown1952
Sibley1953
Yellow Medicine1872
Cass1824
Unassigned18052
Rock1760
Murray1702
Redwood1703
Mille Lacs1653
Renville1568
Jackson1501
Faribault1460
Swift1421
Houston1270
Kanabec1268
Roseau1240
Fillmore1230
Koochiching1233
Pennington1201
Lincoln1150
Hubbard1111
Stevens1051
Pope980
Big Stone830
Aitkin811
Wadena690
Wilkin663
Grant624
Lac qui Parle601
Lake590
Marshall531
Norman530
Mahnomen481
Red Lake451
Traverse310
Clearwater280
Lake of the Woods231
Kittson120
Cook60

Iowa Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Confirmed Cases: 86239

Reported Deaths: 1307
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Polk15962262
Woodbury550964
Johnson514727
Black Hawk450090
Linn4078112
Story345317
Dubuque328341
Scott302028
Dallas279838
Pottawattamie214139
Buena Vista199212
Marshall179034
Sioux16463
Wapello133457
Webster127214
Plymouth115521
Clinton112421
Muscatine111155
Crawford10915
Cerro Gordo105821
Warren9656
Jasper84532
Des Moines7978
Marion7637
Henry7464
Tama73231
Carroll6745
Lee6397
Wright5921
Dickinson5286
Boone5118
Bremer4957
Washington46611
Louisa42915
Delaware4103
Mahaska41019
Floyd3523
Franklin35018
Jackson3503
Winneshiek3396
Lyon3324
Clay3284
Hamilton3273
Benton3241
Winnebago31513
Hardin3041
Poweshiek3048
Buchanan2851
Jones2763
Kossuth2740
Butler2712
Shelby2671
Clarke2663
Emmet26510
Allamakee2646
Clayton2613
Chickasaw2570
Sac2570
Cherokee2512
Cedar2501
Guthrie2456
Harrison2413
Fayette2272
Grundy2233
Madison2232
Iowa2131
Palo Alto2030
Mitchell1910
Howard1906
Humboldt1903
Hancock1882
Calhoun1853
Mills1811
Page1700
Cass1692
Osceola1680
Pocahontas1632
Monroe15911
Monona1571
Lucas1566
Appanoose1393
Jefferson1391
Union1373
Taylor1311
Davis1274
Fremont1220
Ida1221
Van Buren1141
Keokuk1091
Worth1080
Greene1010
Montgomery975
Wayne872
Audubon821
Adair721
Decatur670
Ringgold522
Adams330
Unassigned230
Rochester
Overcast
47° wxIcon
Hi: 57° Lo: 44°
Feels Like: 43°
Mason City
Overcast
48° wxIcon
Hi: 58° Lo: 43°
Feels Like: 43°
Albert Lea
Clear
46° wxIcon
Hi: 56° Lo: 45°
Feels Like: 46°
Austin
Overcast
48° wxIcon
Hi: 57° Lo: 45°
Feels Like: 46°
Charles City
Few Clouds
45° wxIcon
Hi: 58° Lo: 44°
Feels Like: 41°
Much Cooler Week Ahead
KIMT Radar
KIMT Eye in the sky

Community Events