Ashwin Desai

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Professor Ashwin Desai
Professor of Sociology at the University of Johannesburg

Ashwin Desai is Professor of Sociology at the University of Johannesburg. Among his books on sport are Blacks in Whites: A Century of Cricket Struggles in KwaZulu-Natal (co-authored); Race to Transform: Sport in post-apartheid South Africa (edited); Reverse Sweep: A Story of Cricket since apartheid; Wentworth: The Beautiful Game and the Making of Place. He is currently working on photographs of Black rugby in Grahamstown that stretch back to the 1880s.







‘….to write new pages in the book of history’ (C.L.R. James): Lessons from researching the
story of Black rugby in Makhanda.

In this paper I want to talk about the research process in the making of a forthcoming book
entitled ‘Linebreakers: The rugby playing sons of Makana and Stuurman‘ (co-authored with
Ashwell Adriaan). The roots of black rugby in Makhanda (Grahamstown) begin at the back
end of the nineteenth century with the formation of Winter Rose quickly followed by Lily
White. The narrative centres on some 200 photographs that span over a hundred years. It
was an incredible personal journey as I returned to Makhanda where I had studied and lived
for much of the 1980s. In the telling of this story, we cover the innovative and imaginative
ways the colonial game was appropriated. At once fascinating and humbling is how players
and administrators thought about race and the building of a non-racial ethos within and
beyond the playing fields. In the era where there is all the rage about decolonising the
curriculum, about reading the archive against the grain, we must also get on with the task of
sowing our own fields of grain, planting mustard seeds 'the least of all seeds but when it is
grown, it is the greatest among herbs, and becometh a tree, so that the birds of the air
come and lodge in the branches thereof” (Matthew, 13).

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