Sport, Race, and Liberation Before Apartheid: A Preliminary Study of Albert Luthuli, 1920s-1952s
Dr Peter Alegi, Department of History, Michigan State University
Albert Luthuli's place in the history of South African liberation movements derives primarily from his two crowning achievements: President of the African National Congress (1952-1967) and the first African to be honored by the Nobel Committee (1960 Peace Prize). Interestingly, however, Luthuli was a latecomer to activist politics, joining the ANC at age 50. This paper begins to probe an earlier period in Luthuli's life, when the teacher and organizer (and later elected Zulu chief) engaged the world of sport through his involvement in football (soccer). He revealed his passion for football in his autobiography:
"I became a compulsive football fan," while teaching at Adams College in Durban in the 1920s. "To this day," he noted, "I am carried away helplessly by the excitement of a soccer match" By exploring aspects of Luthuli's sporting career, this study attempts to show the ways in which his role in sport administration boosted the development of black football in South Africa.
In some ways, Luthuli's contribution exemplifies the heritage of struggle in black sport before the 1950s. It laid the foundation from which the anti-apartheid sport movement built its campaign to isolate white South Africa from international sport in the 1960s and 1970s. After a brief description of the Luthuli family's background, this paper turns to an examination of Luthuli's involvement with the Adams College Shooting Stars Football Club. The focus then shifts to his service on the executive of the Durban and District African Football Association and his key role in the founding of the South Africa African Football Association and the Natal Inter-Race Soccer Board. If successful, this paper will deepen our understanding of the changes and continuities in the relationship between sport and the liberation struggle in South Africa.
Mvumbi ("continuous rain" in Zulu) Albert John Luthuli was born near Bulawayo in the Matabeleland region of Southern Rhodesia (Zimbabwe), around 1898. He was the son of John and Mtonya Luthuli, two Zulu Christians (amakholwa). His mother's roots were in the Qwabe clan, but she had grown up in Zulu royal circles. As a young woman she left these privileged circumstances and converted to Christianity. His father had fought with colonial forces in the Matabele (or Ndebele) rebellion in Southern Rhodesia and stayed on after the hostilities ended. The senior Luthuli then worked as an evangelist and interpreter in a Seventh Day Adventist mission, at which point Mtonya and their son Alfred rejoined the family after journeying all the way from their home in Groutville, located in the Umvoti Mission Reserve in Natal. The death of the patriarch a few months after the birth of Mvumbi motivated the Luthuli family's return to South Africa in 1908 or 1909. Mtonya entrusted Mvumbi to his uncle Martin Luthuli, the elected Zulu chief of Groutville. There the young Luthuli was enrolled in a mission school.
Western education and Christianity granted Luthuli membership in the privileged class of Natal kholwa - a tiny group of Africans that played an influential role in the early history of black South African sport. In 1914 Luthuli studied at the Ohlange Institute near Durban. Modeled after Booker T Washington's Tuskegee Institute in the United States of America, this vocational school was established in 1901 by John L Dube, a kholwa educated in the USA and the first president of the South African Native National Congress in 1912 Luthuli left Ohlange in 1915 for the Edendale Methodist school outside Pietermaritzburg. At Edendale he embarked on a teachers' training course, which engendered a in him passion for teaching. It is unclear the extent of Luthuli's participation in sporting activities as a student, but it is possible, given his later interests, that he occasionally played football and tennis.
Upon completion of his training course in 1918, he accepted the post of principal and only teacher at a primary school in rural Blaauwbosch, Natal. Here Luthuli was confirmed in the Methodist Church and became a lay preacher. As has been noted elsewhere, "The language of the Bible and Christian principles profoundly affected his political style and beliefs for the rest of his life." In 1920, Luthuli accepted a government scholarship for a secondary school teacher training course at Adams College in Durban. "I left Blaauwbosch, little imagining that I would be spending the next fifteen years of my life at Adams" Luthuli said.
Adams College, known as Amanzimtoti Training Institute before 1914, was founded in 1849 by Congregationalist missionaries of the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions, based in Boston, Massachusetts. By the time Luthuli arrived in 1920, Adams had become one the best schools in southern and central Africa. Having qualified as a high school teacher, Luthuli declined the offer of a scholarship to attend the University College of Fort Hare. Instead, he stayed on to teach Zulu and music (and other subjects) in the teacher training school at Adams, hoping that the £10 monthly salary would help provide for his aging mother.
"Adams was a world of its own," Luthuli noted, one "in which we were too busy with our profession to pay more than passing attention to what happened elsewhere." But, as one scholar has pointed out, while "the students at Adams led a uniquely sheltered and insular life ... their conditions were far from idyllic." Teachers' wages were low and sporting facilities inadequate. Despite enjoying kholwa status, some students struggled to make ends meet. For instance, Anton Muziwakhe Lembede, founder and first president of the ANC Youth League in 1944, wore shabby clothing. Luthuli showed empathy with working people's concerns: he joined the Natal Native Teachers Union and in 1928 was elected its secretary. He accrued valuable political experience by organizing boycotts and acting as a negotiator with white authorities.
At Adams, sport provided an important meeting ground for Western and indigenous cultures. Football was the school's most popular sport. As a young faculty member, Luthuli took the helm of the Adams College Shooting Stars Football Club in the 1920s. Aside from his job as supervisor and secretary of the club, his participation in athletic activities seems to have been limited: "Beyond playing an occasional game of tennis for exercise, I took no part in sport while at Adams," Luthuli later recalled. Shooting Stars was among the oldest and most prestigious African sides in Durban, having started playing matches against outside opponents as far back as the 1890s. In addition to the Shooting Stars, American Board missions had produced many of the earliest African clubs in Durban, such as Ocean Swallows of Umbumbulu (established in the 1880s), Natal Cannons of Inanda (1890s), and Bush Bucks of Ifafa (1902).
Institutional support for soccer at Adams reflected the American missionaries' endorsement of "muscular Christianity," the ideology at the heart of the rational recreation movement in Victorian England and the United States. Luthuli fully embraced the muscular Christian value of "healthy mind in a healthy body" which underpinned the endorsement of sport at Adams. "All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy," Luthuli opined; "in the case of people whose occupation involves much mental strain play is needed in order to give rest to their minds." In his twenties, Luthuli internalized the liberal view that sport was a useful tool to "moralize leisure time" of African youths. "Games develop and call for the exercise of those qualities which contribute to the highest manhood," Luthuli believed, "and for most of us they help to keep us occupied in our leisure moments when otherwise the devil would be finding work for our idle hands." One way to measure Luthuli's success in this endeavour is to highlight that many former Adams students went on to become players and officials in football leagues and clubs in Natal and Transvaal.
African football's founders on the Rand, for instance, were mission-educated, Zulu-speaking clerks. In 1917 the mabalans, as these white-collar employees were known, established the Witwatersrand and District Native Football Association. The leadership of the mine league was structured along ethnic lines. Dressed in western-style clothing, these secretarial workers occupied a key position between management and miners, leading "mine companies to develop recreational activities for them which not only occupied their leisure time and emphasized their elite status but also promoted an ethos of loyalty to the mine." As early as 13 October 1923, the Chamber of Mines newspaper Umteteli wa Bantu reported that "all kinds of sports are organized and in various other ways provision is made to keep the Natives wholesomely amused."
Adams alumni were part of this contingent of privileged clerks that held sway over black leisure on the Rand. Sport suited this male elite, engaged in a hesitant struggle to be heard and seen in a hierarchical segregationist society. The mabalans, like Luthuli himself, expressed a "profound cultural ambivalence" about their identity, which straddled traditionalist and modern experiences as well as the lower echelons of white supremacist society and upper reaches of the black oppressed. Many clerks embraced aspects of colonial culture that gave voice to their aspiration - to be set apart from the mass of ordinary workers. Clearly then, Luthuli, and Africans in general, were not simply duped into adopting Western sport: Africans enjoyed the game for their own reasons and on their own terms. Football was an attractive aspect of Western culture that Africans appropriated and deployed in different ways and often for different purposes than those originally intended by forces of colonialism and capitalism.
In a political economy defined by Africans' poverty and landlessness, Adams occupied a privileged position. Control of its sporting facilities meant that the school did not depend on the largesse of Durban's white municipal authorities for access to playing fields. This degree of independence from white control allowed students to train more assiduously, a key to the Shooting Stars success. Partial autonomy enabled Adams to host weekend matches that boosted the prestige and influence of students, teachers, and the institution in the social and cultural life of the port city.
As will be shown below, Luthuli and the other teachers and staff from Adams and neighboring mission schools used this limited freedom wisely, as they steered the association clear of white power whenever feasible. One must not overstate the power and privilege of Adams. For example, playing conditions were far from ideal. Luthuli lamented the shortage of playing fields at Adams, where one football field and one tennis court served about 200 student-athletes. The formation of a second and then third team in the early 1930s intensified the pressure for more playing space and exposed the school's inability to meet increasing demand. Still, Luthuli and Adams worked tirelessly to address this challenge. Judging by the performance of Shooting Stars during Luthuli's tenure, these efforts met with remarkable success.
In the first issue of the Adams College magazine Iso Lomuzi (Eyes of Our Village), Luthuli wrote a short history of Shooting Stars. Between 1908 and 1913 the team performed well, reaching the semi-finals and finals, but the Durban championship proved elusive. For unknown reasons, the Adams club did not join the Durban and District Native Football Association (DDNFA) when it was officially founded in 1916. Upon affiliation with the DDNFA in 1921, Shooting Stars won the Marshall Campbell Cup, thereby earning a share of the city title. (The club that won the most trophies in a season was crowned champion.) Luthuli credited a supportive (white) teacher named Louis Elliot for leading the side to victory - an unusual case of interracial cooperation on (or off) the playing fields.
After some lackluster years, the club won the city title outright in 1925 and 1926 under the captaincy of Mark "uMqafi" (Zulu for heavy drinker, delinquent) Radebe and Kenneth Kwela respectively. For various reasons, several clubs were suspended from DDNFA in 1927 and the Shooting Stars, still under Kwela's guidance, triumphed in the only competition completed. The following year brought renewed success to Adams football. Led by captain Frank "Dangerous" Nkonkhobe, Shooting Stars won three cups to remain Durban champions. They lost their title to Rebellions in 1929, despite winning two trophies with Christopher Phera as captain, but reclaimed it in 1930, winning three of five competitions: the Bushbucks Challenge Cup, the Inter-District Cup, and Durban and District Cup.
Luthuli seems to have developed a sound technical knowledge of football through his lengthy involvement with Shooting Stars. The skilful Adams method of play, for example, impressed the president of the (white) Durban and District Football Association during a personal visit to the school. As a result, this sympathetic white official suggested the possibility of bringing the professional Scottish club Motherwell to Adams in 1934 for a coaching clinic during the Durban leg of the side's South African tour. Recognizing this opportunity to expose the young student-athletes to the tactical and stylistic approaches of British professionals, Luthuli accepted the offer. Unfortunately, heavy rain moved the event indoors to the dining hall. Despite the inclement weather, there was palpable excitement in the air as Luthuli "presided over a large gathering of students and teachers." Highlights of the scaled-down event included the Motherwell captain, R. Ferrier, giving useful coaching advice to the students and the latter offering "hearty cheers" as the guests were introduced individually.
(The loudest applause, Luthuli carefully noted, went to the three Scottish internationals: MacFayden, Stevenson, and McClory.) The climactic conclusion to this long and "memorable gathering" saw the students belting out the school song and "Nkosi Sikelel' iAfrika." The Motherwell trainer and players followed this performance with a rousing rendition of "Hail, Caledonia"! Whether Motherwell's visit improved the quality of soccer at Adams is unclear. But it is probably safe to speculate that it generated renewed enthusiasm and interest in the game. Soon after the Motherwell visit the younger players challenged the senior side more effectively. According to a member of the Young Tigers, Adams' second, team: "The Shooting Stars lost some of the lustrous reputation to the younger team, whose 'movement with the ball [made] the opponents stand and stare at them'." This evidence is consistent with the argument that Motherwell's short-passing style, tactical defense, and dazzling victories against all-white South African teams had a momentous impact on the local game beyond the confines of Adams; simply put, the Scots radically changed how black South Africans played their football.
Luthuli's engagement in sport at Adams College convinced him that football was a new cultural idiom with special value for political mobilization. As a form of popular culture that cut across class, regional, and generational lines, it could help to build political alliances between Durban's mostly Zulu urban workers, rural migrants, and mission-educated elites. The populist appeal of football stoked Luthuli's interest in the game: "what has attracted me as much as the game," he recalled, "has been the opportunity to meet all sorts of people, from the loftiest to the most disreputable.
" Not everyone at Adams supported this agenda. Rev Gideon Sivetye, a member of Shooting Stars and a teacher at Adams since the 1890s, remembered having to endure criticism for bringing elite student-athletes into regular contact with illiterate domestic servants, dockworkers, ricksha-pullers and other lower-class African players and fans. "As teachers we were criticized for going to Durban to play with the wild boys who were working in Durban," Sivetye said. "We had to answer questions of ministers, etc. I am glad to say our principals joined us; they thought it was a way of attracting them, to co-operate with us... It did a lot of good, this playing with those people in town. We got to know each other" Alert to the power of sport and popular culture, white missionaries and school administrators capitalized on Africans' passion for football by using the game to recruit students. As Sivetye remarked: "We got a lot of students to come to the school. Ohlange especially advertised themselves that way."
During Luthuli's tenure at Adams in the 1920s and early 1930s football in Durban ceased to be a pastime for the kholwa elite and integrated itself into the everyday life of Durban's mostly Zulu-speaking African population. The popularization of African soccer unfolded in the context of enormous social transformations caused by increasing urbanization, industrial expansion, and intensifying racial segregationism. The massive growth of cities such as Durban was evident in the rise of South Africa's official urban population from 1,478,000 in 1911 to 4,300,000 in 1946. Urban migration in South Africa had a distinctly male character. In Durban, for example, the ratio of African men to women was 6.6: 1 in 1921 and 3.4: 1 in 1936. As a result, most players and fans were single men, migrant (or recently immigrated) workers performing menial jobs.
Unlike the kholwa elite, working-class Zulu men had little or no formal education, spoke Zulu, and belonged to African independent churches, and/or practiced indigenous religions. Working-class Africans' low wages and long work hours made weekend trips across greater Durban to play and watch football both time-consuming and expensive. Many players undertook long journeys on foot or bicycle from their homes to the grounds, often arriving late for kickoff and sapped of energy. With access to only three grounds in Durban until the mid-1930s, African footballers displayed determination and commitment in order to run a long soccer season from April to November, and, occasionally, into December. Weekend matches regularly attracted about 5,000 spectators, but big rivalries, semi-finals and finals drew crowds twice that size.
Albert Luthuli's involvement in football broadened beyond Adams College in the late 1920s. Thanks to his experience with Shooting Stars and his growing reputation as a skilful negotiator with the Natal Native Teachers Union, he was elected vice-president of the DDNFA in 1929. By that time, the number of clubs affiliated to the DDNFA had risen from seven in 1916 to about two dozen. Luthuli's arrival proved timely. African football in 1929 in Durban was experiencing rough times, largely as a result of the city's sudden explosion into the political "storm center of South Africa." The peak of popular African resistance in 1929-30 was a boycott of Durban's municipal beerhalls - the main source of revenue for Native Administration. Government repression turned Durban into a combat zone, leaving two white members of the security forces and four black workers dead. Football too was disrupted and the association turned to Luthuli to help rebuild its organization.
Luthuli's managerial skills, together with his charisma, boosted football administration in the port city. During his first year in the executive the association released its first official "Annual Report" The improved organization of African football in Durban, partly thanks to Luthuli's efforts, elicited commendation in 1930 by a white official of the Chamber of Mines' Native (Labor) Recruiting Corporation: "The Natives manage their own soccer affairs and they do it well. [They are] very proud of this privilege and they resent any interference as far as soccer is concerned." On a personal level, Luthuli found the debates and conflict-resolution typical of sport administration rewarding: "I love the impact of mind upon mind, and I love thrashing things out in the attempt to get at the truth. The procedures of the court give these things orderliness, and getting at the truth is worthwhile for its own sake."football afforded Luthuli an opportunity to engage an audience more representative of the broader urban population than that comprised of the small, relatively homogenous audience of African teachers and students.
African football, however, posed new challenges. In Durban in the early 1930s, for instance, Luthuli and his colleagues in football had grown more concerned about white encroachment into black leisure. Much of the resentment stemmed from the municipality's social amelioration program launched after the riots of 1929-30. The limited annual funds made available for African sport and recreation ((between £1000 and £1500) provided much-needed benefits but threatened the relatively high degree of autonomy of the DDNFA. DDNFA was especially worried when the newly appointed Native Welfare Officer, whose salary consumed half of the funds earmarked for black sport, began to intervene in an authoritarian manner in local football. In an attempt to defend African sport's independence, representatives of the DDNFA met with (white) councilors on the Native Affairs Committee and members of the Native Affairs Department in November 1930. The African delegation selected Luthuli as its spokesperson.
The most important issue discussed was whether the Native Welfare Officer, J Rawlins, had the authority to require that the association request his permission to charge admission at games. Luthuli and his colleagues politely, but firmly, criticized Rawlins' position. In the course of vigorous discussion, it became known that the association charged only for marquee matches and that the average gate takings were between £9 and £10. These funds were used for maintenance of the grounds and meeting traveling expenses of DDNFA teams playing in inter-town contests in Ladysmith and Pietermaritzburg. The Africans defended their right to charge admission by pointing out how the municipality had funded, in years past, the erection of a barbed wire fence around most of the main ground in central Durban.
" The Council had expressed the view that the Natives should do something to assist themselves and it was by means of these admission charges," said DDNFA president THD Ngcobo, "that [Africans] were able to support and maintain the grounds without having to approach the Council for assistance on every occasion." By highlighting the municipality's earlier endorsement of the association's economic self-help approach, Luthuli's delegation worked the system to its advantage, thereby moderating the pernicious effect of white intrusion. HE Arbuckle, the chairman of the Native Affairs Committee, eager to prevent an escalation of tension in Durban's volatile political climate, ordered that any future conflicts over sport between Africans and whites needed to be solved not by the Native Welfare Officer's unilateral decisions but through consultation.
This meeting underscores how Luthuli's political thinking reflected a commitment to securing the small victories that could be won through increasingly assertive, but polite, protests against paternalist white rule. He was a man of his times. Looking back on his days as a young teacher, Luthuli recalled how "the world seemed to be opening out for Africans. It seemed mainly a matter of proving our ability and worth as citizens, and that did not seem impossible... [though] we were, of course, aware of the existence of colour prejudice".
A leading exponent of this liberal-democratic perspective was Professor DDT Jabavu, president of the All Africa Convention, an umbrella African political movement formed in 1935. Jabavu encouraged politically active Africans "to evolve an intermediary policy of using what can be used and fighting against all that we do not want." Luthuli favored conservative constitutional tactics, clinging to the hope of African political assimilation. But as the white government hardened its segregationist policies, African sport found itself increasingly on the defensive. For example, in Durban in 1931 the municipal authorities tightened control over black sport by establishing a Bantu Recreational Grounds Association, which pocketed fifteen percent of the association's ticket income.
In this shifting political context, Luthuli supported a move to change the name of the Durban & District Native Football Association in 1932 to Durban & District African Football Association. The deeper intrusion of Durban's white authorities into black sport, in part, accounted for Luthuli's pan-ethnic appeals to mobilize a more radical movement to combat colonialism. The shift also exemplified a rising African political consciousness that could be traced back at least to 1923, when the SA Native National Congress adopted the title of African National Congress. Radical and progressive Africans also increasingly used the term "African" in the 1920s and 1930s.
The involvement of Luthuli and trade unionist AR Ntuli in sanctioning the DDAFA name change suggests how football was both cause and consequence of the heightened race-consciousness and political mobilization of the inter-war period. Similar title changes occurred around the country. In Johannesburg, African mine clerks previously involved with the Johannesburg Bantu Football Association and the moribund Witwatersrand & District Native Football Association founded the Transvaal African Football Association in 1930. The Cape Peninsula Bantu Football Association, formed in 1927 in Cape Town's Langa township, transformed itself into the Western Province African Football Association in the mid-1930s. Above all, the new titles highlighted how developments in football were tied to changes in politics and society, where "race-conscious populism provided the African elite with a viable ideological approach to the problem of class division in the black community."
A compromise on the issue of language demonstrates how Luthuli tried to build solidarity across occupational, class, regional, and ethnic lines. As a result of a constitutional amendment passed in 1932, the Durban association made English the official language so that delegates wishing to address meetings in Zulu needed the chairman's permission. This policy followed the indigenous elite's tradition of using English rather than African languages in public life, a nod to Pan-Africanist argument that "if Zulu were to be used other nationalities would suffer." English was also a marker of "respectability" and differentiation from lower-class men with minimal or no formal Western education. While DDAFA officials tended to take advantage of their English fluency to cling to administrative positions at the expense of the Zulu working class, Luthuli demonstrated sensitivity to issues of language, culture, and class. An example of his cultural pride and awareness was the Zulu Language and Cultural Society he formed within the Natal Native Teachers' Union "to revitalize the Zulu language and culture." "A polished orator in English and in Zulu," he was known to stand up for DDAFA colleagues who spoke halting English before white officials. At a meeting with Durban municipal authorities, "Luthuli intimated that they desired to make their points as clear as possible, although it was difficult for them in speaking in a foreign language." Luthuli's willingness to embrace his Zulu identity further endeared him to ordinary workers, players, and fans. His endorsement of isiZulu also captured the contradictions dividing the kholwa, torn between promoting a progressive, urbanized, and modern world-view and reveling in pre-colonial glories.
Despite the challenges posed by white power and poverty, African football expanded and a need arose for new competitions and a national association. In 1930, top officials in Durban contacted the Transvaal African Football Association (TAFA) with the purpose of establishing a South African association and a national championship for Africans. The DDAFA executive approached AF Baumann of the Durban firm Bakers Ltd to donate a trophy for a national inter-provincial tournament. Luthuli, representing the Natal African Football Association (of which he was secretary-treasurer), and DDAFA president T Ngcobo spearheaded the Durban contingent that, in cooperation with the Transvaal, founded the South Africa African Football Association (SAAFA) in 1932. He was named secretary and treasurer of SAAFA. The national association forged an alternative definition of nationhood and citizenship in direct opposition to the segregationist vision constructed by white minority rule.
Luthuli's and Natal's powerful position in South African soccer's boardroom extended to the playing fields. Natal hosted and won the inaugural Bakers Cup in Durban in 1932 and then traveled to Johannesburg's Bantu Sports Club to defend its national title in 1933. The inter-provincial matches were regularly staged on holidays when white businesses closed and black workers enjoyed some leisure time. The 1933 championship took place on a bank holiday, thus ensuring a large crowd and teams at full-strength. In an electric atmosphere at Bantu Sports, some 4,500 paying spectators (and many non-paying fans) roared as the teams appeared. Luthuli led the Natal side onto the partially-grassed pitch, while a "band of miners with their lanterns, [accompanied] the Transvaal team onto the field as mascots." The home crowd enjoyed "excellent and thrilling soccer," but most left disappointed after Richard "Wireless" Khumalo, a star forward from the Ladysmith Rainbows, scored the winning goal late in the game to give Natal a 2-1 victory and a second consecutive title.
Due to the spiraling number personal and professional commitments, Luthuli declined the presidency of DDAFA in early 1932. Between May and August 1932, the association suffered a major breakdown. The president, treasurer, secretary, and vice-secretary were all charged with mismanagement and suspended. Luthuli was then asked to serve with four others on a special Commission of Inquiry appointed "to report on the various complaints, laid by certain clubs, against your association." He agreed. The Commission held twelve meetings between 17 December 1932 and 22 February 1933. Citing copious and persuasive evidence, its final report blasted the accused officials for exercising arbitrary power, biased decision-making, financial mismanagement, disregarding correspondence, keeping unintelligible and partial minutes, and failing to train and protect referees. The Commission recommended, among other things, that a financial audit be undertaken on a regular basis to ensure greater accountability and transparency. It also called for a full-time paid secretary to improve the day-to-day running of the association--a change enacted the following year. The Commission's concluding comments echoed Luthuli's feelings; the Report stated that officials should only accept positions "provided that they have the time to devote to their duties... [They] should remember that they have been chosen, to these positions, for the faith and trust that their fellowmen have placed in them."for the next two years Luthuli worked tirelessly to heal factional divides within the association, stressing the need for "brotherly love and no individual recriminations." In 1933 the job of financial auditor was added to Luthuli's expanding set of duties a tribute to his indefatigable work ethic and impeccable integrity.
Overall, Luthuli played a crucial role in the DDAFA's development into a large, efficient, popular black-run organization. The Durban association expanded steadily during Luthuli's tenure on the executive committee (1929-1935). The number of clubs increased from twenty-four in 1930 to twenty-six clubs in 1931, thirty-one in 1932, and then forty-seven in 1935. Registered players increased from 900 in 1930 to about 1,500 in 1935. Luthuli and the DDAFA executive worked with the municipality to obtain funding for the construction of a fully enclosed Native Recreation Ground at Somtseu Road location, which was completed in 1935-36. The new facilities at Somtseu produced better football, attracted larger crowds, and improved the financial prospects of the African game. The black popular press noted how "soccer is the most powerful [sport in Durban]...football is a magnet... The [people are] so interested in this game that the other sister games are simply dwarfed." The Bantu World summed up the local status of the sport with a column entitled: "Bantu Sportsmen in Natal Know Only One Game--Soccer."
Football ceased to be an important part of Luthuli's life after he left Durban in January 1936 to assume the position of elected chief in his home village of Groutville. Luthuli noted how "leaving Adams wrenched me from this addiction." It should be remembered, however, that his commitment to the Groutville farming community and, later, the anti-apartheid struggle, did not completely sever his connections to the vicissitudes of South African football. Luthuli made one final major contribution to the development of the domestic game. In 1946 he joined forces with Rev. Bernard Sigamoney, an Indian Anglican pastor (from Johannesburg) and enthusiastic sport organizer in the finest "muscular Christian" tradition, to establish the Natal Inter-Race Soccer Board. Aimed at overcoming the racial balkanization of the game, this body organized competitions between African, Indian, and Coloured teams in the province. The Natal and Transvaal (est. 1935) Inter-Race Boards represented an initial, perhaps necessary, step towards the formation in 1951 of the anti-apartheid South African Soccer Federation. In other words, Luthuli was at the forefront of the process of transforming sport into a potent force for racial integration, equality, and human rights. In the 1950s, as the ANC turned from elite protest to civil disobedience and mass action during Luthuli's tenure as president of the organization, the white government imposed bans on him. But Luthuli continued to be loosely linked to football by holding ceremonial posts. His name, for instance, appeared under the official title of "patron" on the official letterhead of the DDAFA, SAAFA, and the South African Soccer Federation.
As the game transformed itself into a leading form of black popular leisure in the first half of the 20th century, Albert Luthuli raised the standard of African sport administration, fought to preserve the partial autonomy of black football's institutions, and then fostered racially integrated sport. His experience with club football (Shooting Stars), and with local (DDAFA), regional (Natal), and national (SAAFA) associations heightened his awareness of ordinary workers' concerns and their expectations for adequate leisure, health, and entertainment. Football management provided him with crucial organizational training and experience before his entrance into liberation politics and ascendancy to the leadership of the ANC in December 1952. The populist nature of football may have also enhanced Luthuli's image as a trustworthy "man-of-the-people." This analysis of Luthuli's sporting life allows us to make at least two conclusions. First, counter-hegemonic sporting activities often occurred at the local level and before the rise of apartheid. Second, a historical analysis of the relationship between sport and movements for political liberation is important because it reveals how "serious fun" shaped and sustained a subaltern and oppositional leisure culture.
"Over twenty-five years," Luthuli recalled, "I have played what part I could in organizing African and inter-racial sport." But the impact of his sporting career was greater than this humble leader would care to admit. A quarter of a century before Dennis Brutus launched the first anti-apartheid sport organization (CCIRS, 1955), and nearly half a century prior to South Africa's expulsion from the Olympics (1970), Luthuli recognized the power of sport to build solidarity through sociability and to serve as a mobilizing force in the South African liberation struggle.