(Published - 28 March 2019)
The University of the Western Cape (UWC) was established in 1960 during a period laden with political turmoil. It was a university established to accommodate "coloured" people wanting to pursue a tertiary qualification. Albeit that this institution only received its university status much later, the foundations laid to build this beacon of hope remained the same.
"No normal sport in an abnormal society" - a term coined by the legendary anti-apartheid activist Hassan Howa - was aptly used by every sporting person opposing the segregation of sport. During the institution's formative years many used sport, specifically rugby, as a means to rally against the apartheid government.
The UWC Rugby Club, formed in 1965, had to use the Port Jackson bush near the sports field as makeshift locker rooms. Patrick Mettler, who was one of the first UWC RFC players, has fond memories reflecting back to the 1960s.
“We had a special bond,” says Mettler proudly. “The hardships that we faced as a growing team were very challenging, yet we endured, and this made us stronger as a unit.”
Mettler remembers the monstrous boot of the late flyhalf, Kosie Welman. “Kosie could kick us out of trouble, because we weren’t the biggest of forwards.” Welman, Mettler, Eddie Geduld, Dawie Isaacs, Greg Voigt and George Fredericks are some of the stalwarts from this period.
Former Western Province Rugby President, Tobias “Tobie” Titus, who was the first non-white Western Province Rugby Football Union President, played for UWC in the 60s and 70s. “Oom” Tobie took to sport administration when he started playing for UWC.
“We didn’t have much support from the University’s administration in those days,” Titus recalls. “A portion of our registration fees had to be used to fund sport. The formation and establishment of UWC RFC was of utmost importance not only for the sport itself, but also for what it represented - a non-white university rugby team.”
Titus fought hard against the segregation of sports and the blatant imbalance that existed under apartheid laws. Titus, years later in 2007, had to cast the deciding vote to give the Varsity Cup tournament the endorsement from the South African Rugby Federation. Titus' plea to the founders of Varsity Cup, even at that stage (2007) nearing his retirement from sport administration, was to ensure that they provide a platform to equalise the playing field. Years later in 2012, the founders of the tournament kept their promise and established the Varsity Shield.
Whites players competed, under apartheid laws, in the Federation League structure, while those who refused to play under the apartheid laws competed under SARU. Tygerberg, where UWC was a registered club in the league, was one of the strongest Unions within SARU. The SA Cup was the equivalent of the Currie Cup for non-segregated rugby. This competition was a source of prestige and honour for everyone associated with SARU, the SA Cup - pride of non-segregated rugby.
Philip October was the chairman of UWC RFC from 1987 until the early 2000s, and resumed the position at the end of 2009. October played during the tumultuous period in South Africa, 1985-1989. He played under the leadership of the Gary Boshoff and Nicky van Heerden.
The very thing that the apartheid government used to disrupt and dismantle, became the catalyst for forming a strong bond. Players like Paul Treu, Deon Davids, Irvin October, John Dempers. Donovan ‘Skippa’ Schippers - and so many other club rugby stalwarts - walked the corridors of UWC RFC during the 80s.
Political pressure started mounting on apartheid-based sporting organisations to abolish the sporting laws that segregated sport. The fight that UWC had been engaged in for many decades prior to 1992 (when unification took place), cannot go unmentioned. The likes of Prof Adam Small, Prof Jakes Gerwel, Dr Danny Jordaan, Prof Julian Smith, Oom Tobie Titus, Gary Boshoff, Philip October and so many others resisted and stood firm in their beliefs. Many UWC alumni fought to lay the platform that allows the modern UWC student - but with greater relevance to this article, the rugby player - to enjoy the fruits of this hard labour.
UWC rugby club played in the lowest league in the Western Province Club Rugby Union.
Skippa was one of a handful of UWC players, alongside Irven October and John Dempers, who played for the club throughout the 90s.
Philip October and former UWC Director of Sport, Ilhaam Groenewald, recruited current Southern Kings head coach Deon Davids. Davids was the coach who led the side into the WP Super A. Juan-Paul Kellerman, along with players like Charlton van Jaarsveld, Carlo Jacobs, Trevor Herman, Clement Trout, Jimmy Baloyi, Adrian Herman and many others, was part of the club that stood the test of time. Kellerman and Trout are still actively coaching at the club.
In 2012, UWC joined the newly formed Varsity Shield, a second-tier South African intervarsity competition. Davids coached the side until 2013, when former Bok coach Pieter de Villiers took the reins. De Villiers coached the side until the end of 2015.
Current Director of Sport, Mandla Gagayi, and October, set out to recruit Rugby World Cup winning winger, Chester Williams.
Williams won the Varsity Shield in 2017 and 2018. The team produced the likes of Blitzbok debutant Kurt-Lee Arendse, current Stormers scrumhalf Herschel Jantjies, and former Junior Bok, Lyle Hendricks.
In 2019, UWC made history becoming the first black university to join the ranks of Maties, UCT, Tuks, Pukke and UJ in the Varsity Cup. The side recorded their maiden Varsity Cup victory by beating UJ 29-17 at the UWC Sports Stadium in Round 7 of the competition.
This week, UWC’s Alumni Relations Office is hosting a Gala Event which aims to honour present and past rugby players. The University will celebrate 60 years of existence in 2020, and this event is a good platform to bridge the gap between past and present heroes. The event has aptly been themed, “Standing on the Shoulders of Legends”. The legacy forged by UWC heroes of the bygone eras has left an indelible platform upon which the rising stars of tomorrow can build and shine.