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Review by Alex Laverty, University of California Los Angeles (UCLA)
African Studies Quarterly | Volume 12, Issue 2 | Winter 2011 (Accessed 26/07/2011)

A timely update released before the FIFA World Cup in South Africa during the summer of 2010, Laduma! Soccer, Politics and Society in South Africa, from its Origins to 2010 brings Peter Alegi’s work forward from the original ending in his first edition up to 2010. The work adds to the historiography of South Africa as it examines the political and social context of football during the struggle against apartheid in the twentieth century.

The book is divided into nine narratives in chronological order, some examining regions, others specific time periods, and then two devoted to the tradition of sport in South Africa from colonialism onward. Alegi focuses the reader’s attention to the way football in South Africa brought relief from apartheid through the creation of sporting bonds that were created through competition, camaraderie, and collective action on the football pitch. A reader of South African history will quickly see the parallels between the characteristics of the struggle against apartheid and that of football: solidarity, teamwork, and cooperative strategy. The book attempts to show how the Africanization of the game came about and how the power struggles of local and national football associations shaped the sport into a primary pillar of Black South African culture during the 20th century. Alegi is a specialist in the field of sports in South Africa, specifically soccer. This is the updated version of his first book, originally published in 2004.

Alegi uses the terms football and soccer interchangeably, just as they do in South Africa. This mixing of terms likely results from the twelve interviews that Alegi conducted personally, as well as the over twenty he used that were conducted by other scholars. Additionally, his use of the archives in South Africa and the newspaper collection at the National Library of South Africa in Cape Town greatly informed his study. Alegi himself notes that this continuation of his work on sport in South Africa was written in the revisionist school of South African historiography that started in the 1970s. The accounts that he incorporates illuminate the world of South African football in a manner that provides a first-hand account from players, managers, and organizers that any country would be lucky to have as part of its history. It allows him to take the reader on a journey of football from the colonial era up until the time just before the first African World Cup. While Alegi does his best to provide a place for sports in the context of politics and society in South Africa during the chronological chapters of the book, readers will do well to have a medium level of knowledge of South African history to get the most out of this work. While it can be an enjoyable read for a football fan with no knowledge of the South African story, those who look to benefit the most from reading this study are academic scholars focusing on sport or South Africa. With a third of the book devoted to the bibliography, notes, and index, the book will certainly serve those looking to continue scholarship in this area. Although the lack of a singular narrative and the plethora of personalities throughout can make it feel disjointed from a casual reader’s point of view, I believe the match highlights and anecdotes of the difficulties facing the nascent football associations will be of interest to the football world as a whole.

While the book focuses on South Africa, it provides information on the Fédération Internationale de Football Association (FIFA), the government in Pretoria, and the use of sport as public diplomacy tool. The way international sporting bodies impact social and political development can be given a South African perspective through Alegi’s narrations of the fight by non-white football associations to see South Africa expelled from FIFA and Confédération Africaine de Football (CAF). The politicization of sport in South Africa and the Union Government’s response (or in some cases their instigation) should give those looking at the intersection of sport and politics more data to use. How sport can be used to affect policy change or promote ideologies can clearly be seen in the efforts of the South African Soccer Federation’s (SASF) campaign for multi-racial sports associations to be recognized by international sporting bodies rather than the white-only associations, which had been accepted into FIFA and the international organizations of cricket and rugby. For a historiography of apartheid Laduma! provides a discussion of the origins of the sports boycott against South Africa, beginning with the expulsion of the white-only football association from FIFA in 1961. Football was now fully ingrained in the politics of high apartheid from this time on, and Alegi shows how this struggle led directly to the formation of a professional league, the South African Soccer League. He calls this the most important force in the country until the Soweto Revolt in 1976, due to the connection the league formed with black popular culture and the anti-apartheid movement.

As a prediction, Alegi states in closing that the primary benefit of the FIFA World Cup will be the delivery of emotional benefits to the people of South Africa rather than the economic and branding bonuses professed by the Local Organizing Committee, FIFA, and the South African government. The prediction is nearly identical to the conclusion reached by Kuper and Szymanski in Soccernomics. If Alegi constructed this belief through his own significant and wide ranging research in primary sources and sporting background, this overlap gives weight to the finding, and thus is of greater importance to leaders seeking to use sport as a political tool.

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