Rugby Fever at the Batfair Grounds: Zwelitsha vs Ginsberg
© Mpondo, M. 2011. Imvubu 22: 4, 4-5.
Gone are the days when scores of people flocked to the Batfair Grounds in Zwelitsha to witness some great rugby matches in action. There was fierce rivalry between teams from Ginsberg and Zwelitsha. Players of real class emerged from such fixtures.
The principal of Forbes Grant Secondary School, Mr. P.V. Maneli, a black Springbok selected while a student at Fort Hare, played for the Star of Hope Rugby Club in Ginsberg. It was pure joy to watch him play. ‘P.V.’, as he was known, was brimming with confidence, bristling with talent and had all the natural attributes of a complete footballer. His team was known for its brand of running rugby with such star players as the late Michael Mbeki, Popayi Ntenteni, Peter Homan, Vuyisile Bhavuma, Fikile Jezile, Pringle Jack and many others who went on to represent Border and South Africa for many seasons. One player of note who played for this great team is Jack Dolomba, who works for the municipality in King William’s Town. He is still regarded as our black diamond in the whole border area. I played with Jack for Border way back in the 1970’s in the last tournament between Provinces held at Sisa Dukashe stadium in Mdantsane.
In Zwelitsha there was fierce competition among rugby teams. Swallows Rugby Club was made up of players from Stutterheim and environs, though some local players were recruited to the team. Who can forget such class players as the Malusi brothers, Johnson and his younger brother Payneri? There was the powerful Giant Ndzengwa, the ever present Style Maho and that jack in the box, Tirra Niclaus. There was the Tembu rugby team made up of players from Queenstown. They had a sprinkling of good players like Mzwakhe Mgontso, Dida Nel, Mzwandile Dondolo and many others who are still household names today. Then there was Mother City Rugby Club made up of players born and bred in Zwelitsha. The team was known as ‘iteam yomzi’. Mother City had a netball team which always travelled with the rugby players during the Easter tournaments held countrywide. The team had its greats like Night Dwesini, Temba Seyibhokhwe, Pikie Kolanisi, Willie Lubisi and the then underrated Msimelelo Manqina. There was the Crusaders Rugby Club with very good players like Eric Nosana and Ginty Mandlendoda. This was the Zwelitsha Rugby Union (ZARU) at its best. Most of the players mentioned above went on to represent Border.
Matches played among these teams were closely contested. Watching these teams play, the enmity that seemed to exist among the opposing teams was palpable. To everyone’s surprise these players would sit together at the Zwelitsha Hotel laughing at a particular team’s failure during the match. Some players from Ginsberg would even stay for a week-end with their friends who were actually fierce rivals on the rugby field. This really illustrated how sport united people from different social backgrounds.
During the 1970’s there was a break-away from the Batfair Grounds and non-racial rugby teams were formed. The first teams from Zwelitsha were the All Blacks and Morning Stars from nearby Tshatshu location. The rest followed and matches were played in Zone 10 at the Nompendulo Grounds.
The Batfair Grounds were deserted as only a few clubs and their followers in the Zwelitsha community were left. These clubs were playing under the auspices of the South African Rugby Association (SARA) which played along racial divisions. Rugby supporters started rejecting this kind of segregated form of rugby. The Batfair Grounds were ultimately abandoned and today it is just a barren piece of land.
Meanwhile teams had flocked to the Zone 10 Grounds and fierce competition was at the order of the day. The teams which played regular fixtures against each other were the All Blacks (‘Amabholantaba’), Head of Lion (‘Bhabhas’) from Ginsberg, Morning Stars from Tshatshu, Crusaders, Black Lion, Star of Hope and they were subsequently joined by Mother City. The union was known as the King and District Rugby Union (KADRU).
Class players emerged from these matches. Some players of note who proved their class were: Mveleli Nyakathi, Humphrey Nojoko, Buyisile Ngetu, Griffiths Valela, Ndzima Seyibokwe, Zolile Simanga, Thembekile Foslarha, Boy Skiet, Chester Kosani and the ever alert Elvis Ntozini. Mveleli Nyakathi went on to play for the powerful Kwazakhele Rugby Union (KWARU) in Port Elizabeth – what an ambassador of sport he was.
Later teams from Schornville and Breidbach joined forces with KADRU and a true non-racial body was formed. The teams from the coloured community were: Shamrocks, Africans, St. Joseph’s Old Boys and Breidbach Secondary School. The Union was known as King Central District (KCD). Two years later Rubberhides Rugby Club joined the Union. In the process rugby became stronger. Coloured players of note were; Eric Kennedy, Clarence Kennedy, Norman Williams, Isaac Williams, Calvin Wilson, Bruce Fourie and the powerful Newton Kennedy who went on to play for South Africa (SARU).
There is little rugby being played either in Ginsberg or Zwelitsha these days. Soccer fever has taken over. Some drastic measures need to be taken to revive sport in the townships. Let the residents from these townships stand up and do something instead of waiting for the government to take the initiative.
Dondolo, Mzwandile (former Tembu R.F.C. player and referee), 28 October 2010.
Kennedy, Clarence (former Shamrocks R.F.C. player and administrator), 4 January 2011.
Malusi, Johnson (former Swallows R.F.C. and Border rugby player), 14 October 2010.
Mazaleni, Daniel (former Mother City R.F.C. player and referee), 23 December 2010.
Mle, Cribo (former Mother City R.F.C. player and referee), 23 December 2010.