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South Africa and the 'Offside' exhibition

As an organisation specialising in harnessing the global appeal of football to unite people regardless of race or other differences, it seemed right for FURD to play a part in celebrating the staging of the 2010 World Cup finals in South Africa - the first time the tournament has been held in Africa.

Assisted by travel grants from the Department for Trade and Industry, FURD director Howard Holmes and Kick it Out director Piara Powar developed links with the British Council and District Six Museum (D6M) in Cape Town, South Africa. The idea was born of creating an exhibition documenting the footballing links between South Africa and Britain and the effects that racism, the apartheid system and other forms of discimination have had on South African footballers in both countries from the 19th century to the present.

FURD’s role in the project was to research and document the history of South African footballers who’ve played in Britain – a history that stretches back to the late 19th century. The research, written by FURD's Resources and Information Worker Ruth Johnson, Howard Holmes and football historian Phil Vasili, uncovered many fascinating and shocking stories. The resulting text has been brought to life by the artists and designers at the District Six Museum using a comic-book style designed to appeal to young people as well as older people on a nostalgia trip!  The display includes a series of life-size cartoons of key players, some of them dangling from the ceiling and towering over the visitor.

The exhibition sets the players’ stories against the changing social and political situation in both countries, particularly in relation to their attitudes towards race. As we learnt that South Africa has supplied more footballers (about 130) to England than any other country beside France and the Netherlands, it became a much bigger project than we at first expected.

The exhibition, titled ‘Offside: Kick Out Ignorance – Football Unites, Racism Divides’, opened in time for the World Cup finals in June 2010 and will remain on show at the museum for a year.

'Offside' looks at racism and other discrimination in football, highlighting the fact that it is still an issue. Its themes, therefore, are wider than those highlighted by our research. It includes the story of Eudy Simelane, former captain of South Africa’s women’s football team and a lesbian, who was gang raped and murdered in a homophobic attack in 2008 (highlighting an alarming trend in South Africa). It also highlights the case of Noko Matlou, another female footballer who, on her debut for South Africa, was made to undergo a physical examination by the referee after the opponents, Ghana, questioned her gender.

The District Six Museum

The District Six Museum acts as a focus for the memories and lessons of the apartheid era. District Six used to be a vibrant multiracial neighbourhood. However, in 1901, black residents were forcibly removed from the area after an outbreak of bubonic plague, and in 1966 it was declared a whites-only area under the Group Areas Act brought in by the apartheid regime in 1950. 60,000 people were forcibly removed to townships on barren outlying areas aptly known as the Cape Flats, and their houses in District Six were flattened by bulldozers.

The Museum is a well known part of the Cape Town tourist trail and was very busy throughout the World Cup. 

It is not just a museum, however, and we were struck by the similarities between their work and ours. It started off as, and remains, a focus for campaigns for justice, compensation and rehousing by former residents of District Six, and acts as a community centre where former residents can keep in touch with each other. It also has a resource centre which cares for archive material, including a large collection of oral histories, and assists with enquiries about the area and the apartheid era. They are involved in a lot of educational work with young people, including inter-generational work with former D6 residents, international exchange projects and digital media projects. We're keen to develop further links between the projects in future.

Supporting resources

A number of resources have been developed to make some of the research and exhibition content available to a wider audience:

A portable version of the exhibition is now available to hire from FURD. It takes the form of 63 A3 posters, around half of them containing text and half containing the illustrations of players. It is not necessary to display every single poster for the exhibition to make sense.

Our full research paper is now available to borrow from the FURD library, or can be downloaded from this page.

A summary of the research, with some of the cartoons, is available as a fold-out poster within FURD’s 2010 Unity newsletter, and also available as a pdf from this page.

We have a few paper copies of a 4 page comic created by the D6M which uses a black player and a white player to illustrate the differences in players’ experiences highlighted by the exhibition. The back page consists of a number of suggested discussion points. A pdf is available from this page.

The District Six Museum has set up a blog for visitors to comment on the exhibition. See link from this page. Some of the exhibition panels can also be viewed from this blog page, via the link from the blog to the Flickr page.

More photos from our trip and the exhibition can be seen on the Football Unites, Racism Divides Facebook page - see link from this page.

The Museum presented us with several books about District Six, its history and residents’ stories, which can be borrowed from our library.

The District Six Museum is working on further supporting materials including a catalogue for the exhibition.


Feedback from visitors

'Thank you for reminding us how far we have come and how far we still have to travel. You have captured some untold narratives for future generations. Congratulations'.


'Congratulations to the District Six Museum for their superb exhibition which fairly displays women in sport'.

'Really cool like the comic'.

'Fantastic display, very interesting. Good luck with the campaign'.

'Great museum and lots of important information for people to reflect on'.

'What a fantastic exhibition. Once again the evil of apartheid is felt and the relief and gratitude of freedom is tangible. Africa unite - say no to xenophobia!'

'Fantastic charting of the history. Hope it gets the coverage and interest it deserves'.

'Simply think about what Africa has given to football and then you won't even question racism any more'.

'The World Cup has given us one thing that money can't buy, and that's unity'.

'As a historian of South Africa who has published extensively on the history of soccer, I was deeply impressed by 'Offside'. It is extensively researched, intellingently written, and lovingly presented. The District Six Museum and its British partners (especially Football Unites, Racism Divides) are to be commended for highlighting the intersections between sport and society, for encouraging deeper discussions of diversity, difference, inequality, and injustice, and for advancing the democratization of South African museums'. (Peter Alegi, review in The Public Historian, volume 33, number 3 (Summer 2011), pp 154-157).



Offside exhibition (Click for full size pop-up)
Offside exhibition
A group visiting the Offside exhibition (Click for full size pop-up)
Visitors taking in the giant comic book at the Offside exhibition
Paul Elliott speaking at the Offside launch (Click for full size pop-up)
Kick It Out ambassador Paul Elliott speaking at the Offside exhibition launch
A part of the Offside comic book (Click for full size pop-up)
Part of the Offside comic book
Darius Dhlomo (Click for full size pop-up)
Darius Dhlomo, who got changed in a cupboard when he first played in Europe, as he wasn't allowed to change with white people in South Africa

Related news

Sharrow United fly the flag in South Africa Sharrow United fly the flag in South Africa
28 June 2010
Football against apartheid Football against apartheid
21 June 2010
Offside exhibition opens in Cape Town Offside exhibition opens in Cape Town
17 June 2010
Offside: South African footballers in the UK exhibition Offside: South African footballers in the UK exhibition
7 June 2010

External links

Link to an external website Cape Argus newspaper
Link to an external website District Six Museum
Link to an external website Facebook 'Football Unites, Racism Divides' page
Link to an external website Offside blog
Football Unites are not responsible for the content on external websites


Offside Comic Book
comic A4 final.pdf (0.28Mb)
South African footballers in Britain poster
FURD_UNITY 10_BACK.pdf (0.90Mb)
South African Footballers in Britain research paper
South African Footballers in Britain research paper.doc (0.60Mb)
All content, unless otherwise stated, is copyright of Football Unites, Racism Divides.