HISTORY OF THE GAME IN SOUTH AFRICA
The game was first played in South Africa over 100 years ago. In the 1890s, Australians working as miners in Transvaal played Australian Football and organised a successful competition. The game was also played in South Africa during the Boer War, when a large contingent of Australian soldiers were on service there, some of whom being former league players.
Evidence of the game’s early existence in South Africa comes in the form of a trophy held at the Australian Gallery of Sport at the MCG. The trophy was awarded to the Commonwealth Football Club, the premier team of a South African Australian Football competition (1905).
The growth of the game stalled at around this point. The most obvious explanation is World War I, but there is little available historical evidence in Australia tracing the game beyond 1905.
In 1997, the North West Province of South Africa had a party representing the province in boxing at the Arafura Games in Darwin. They witnessed a game of Australian Football and were very impressed with the sport. So impressed that on returning from South Africa reports of the game quickly filtered through the Department of Arts, Culture and Sport of all the 9 provinces.
Later that year, a contingent of Army Defence personnel, led by Major Marty Alsford, played exhibition games and conducted coaching clinics in an attempt to introduce the game to South Africans.
During the tour Alsford was flown to Cape Town to brief the nine provincial heads of Sport and Recreation Departments on the game. They officially endorsed Australian Football as ‘the new sport for the new South Africa’.
Just five months later, in February 1998, the first AFL pre-season match was played outside Australia, at the Newlands stadium in Cape Town. Brisbane defeated Fremantle 18. 17 (125) to 16. 7 (103) before an enthusiastic crowd of 10,000 people. Archbishop Desmond Tutu tossed the coin at the start of the game.
An under 16 South African team competed in the Jim Stynes Cup in Canberra in September 1998. In October 1998, the Adelaide Crows conducted coaching clinics for about 2000 under-privileged children in South Africa.
Further, in September 1999, level 3 coach Mark Motlop travelled from Darwin to the North West Province to conduct football and coaching clinics.
Brian Dixon brought on board several organizations including the North West Province Department of Sport and Recreation and the North West Academy of Sport. He also facilitated a relationship between the AFL and Australian Volunteers International (AVI), which sent an Australian Football Development Officer, Dale Alsford, to South Africa in July 2001. Dixon was appointed the inaugural Chairman of Footy South Africa.
The South African national senior team, the ‘Buffaloes’, competed in the 2002 International Cup in Melbourne. Footy South Africa, together with the AFL and AVI, appointed an Executive Officer, Steven Harrison, in September 2003.
The Australian Convicts visited South Africa in January 2005, playing 3 matches in Potchefstroom, Mafikeng & Soweto. Footy South Africa was renamed AFL South Africa in 2006.
The South Africa Lions, originally known as the ‘Buffaloes’, competed in the 2002 International Cup in Melbourne.
The Lions have been a powerhouse in international footy, and the results at the International Cup have, until recently, been impressive.
2002 – 11th
2005 – 8th
2008 – 3rd
2011 – 5th
2014 – 4th
2017 – 9th
The quality of the national team has been greatly reduced by the lack of matches in South Africa in recent years. Moving forward, it is vital that regular matches are held once again.