The first Soccer Clubs in Durban were founded in the early 1880’s and by 1886 four Indian soccer clubs were in existence. In 1903 a South African Indian Football Association was founded.
As the African workforce expanded, so also did football in the African locations, as well as among Africans at their leading (mostly mission) schools. Among the first African clubs were Wild Zebras at the Ohlange Institute, Shooting Stars at Adams College and Natal Cannons at the Inanda Seminary.
By 1910 there were at least seven soccer clubs in and around Durban. In 1916 they formed the Durban and District Native Football Association (DDNFA), the first major African football organisation in the country.
John Langalibalele Dube, who in 1900 had founded the Ohlange Institute and in 1912 became the founding President of the then South African Native National Congress, later re-named the African National Congress (ANC), played an important role in the early history of football in Natal. Dube launched the Ilanga Lase Natal newspaper in 1903 which survives to the present day. From its first year of publication Ilanga regularly covered the local soccer competitions and often wrote about the Ohlange Wild Zebras FC which was formed in 1901.
Dube’s neighbour at the Phoenix Settlement outside Durban, Mohandas ‘Mahatma’ Gandhi, similarly promoted football in his non-violent campaign against racial discrimination. Gandhi came to South Africa in 1893, setting up the Natal Indian Congress (NIC) the following year. While in South Africa he did much to create a culture of passive resistance against racial injustice. He was also actively involved in local Indian affairs and this included football. Around 1913, not long before his return to India, he organised three football teams in Natal. He had a photograph taken of him and other NIC leaders with two of the Indian teams, nicknamed ‘The Passive Resisters’.
Chief Albert Luthuli, President-General of the ANC from 1952 until his death in 1967 and Nobel Peace Prize laureate, was also closely involved in soccer. As a national political leader Luthuli was particularly drawn to football as it brought African mission-educated elite together with African migrant and non-migrant workers. In his autobiography – Let My People Go – first published in 1962, he noted that “what has attracted me as much as the game [itself] has been the opportunity to meet all sorts of people, from the loftiest to the most disreputable”. In addition to his involvement in national politics and traditional governance, Luthuli was a prominent football administrator. After serving for many years as Secretary of Adams College’s Shooting Stars, in 1929 he became Vice President of the Durban and District Native Football Association, the first of its kind in South Africa. Three years later he was instrumental in uniting the Natal and Transvaal associations under the South Africa African Football Association (SAAFA), of which he became Vice-President.
Tor Sellstrom. 2010. Football for Liberation and Peace in Africa: South Africa, Algeria and Ivory Coast , in ‘Playing for Peace’ Special Issue, June 2010, pp 6-15.
Amy Pastan. 2006. Gandhi: a Photographic Story of a Life. London: DK Publishing, 2006, p. 43.
Albert Luthuli. 1984. Let My People Go. London: Fontana Books, 1984, p. 35.