Cape Town site reminds of past divides

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CAPE TOWN - Cape Town's Green Point stadium stands on a common where football has been played for 150 years and where the beauty of the site belies a painful history of racial segregation played out on its pitches.

The $600 million stadium, one of South Africa's largest, will host eight World Cup matches including a semi-final, and the city hopes the new landmark will be a lasting reminder of a tournament which helped forge unity in the rainbow nation.

"Fields of Play" an exhibition by Cape Town's District Six museum traces the history of football at Green Point common and the fate of some of the clubs who trained there as Cape Town grew from a colonial outpost to a booming city before apartheid's Group Areas Act tore its social fabric apart.

The first football match at Green Point, which sits between Table Mountain and the ocean, was played by a team of British officers against Cape Town civil servants in 1862.

Interest in football grew and in 1869 a local newspaper the Cape Town Argus printed a set of rules for football provided by the British Garrison. Amateur football associations sprung up, but membership was restricted to racial categories, reflective of the segregation which classed people as African, coloured, Indian or white.

Correspondence included in the exhibition details how teams would apply to use training pitches on the common, with the best ground reserved exclusively for white teams, while black teams were often limited to land barely suitable for football.

Faded photographs show the teams posing proudly in their strips and the enthusiasm with which they were embraced by their local communities.

In 1950 South Africa's apartheid government passed the Group Areas Act which assigned different racial groups to different areas, prohibiting black and coloured people from central areas and strictly regulating movement.

Tens of thousands were displaced from the centre of Cape Town and forced out to townships in the Cape Flats. Clubs such as the Sea Point Swifts, based in Sea Point a little way down the coast from Green Point, found themselves forcibly relocated.

While some of the amateur clubs which used to train at Green Point preserved their identity after being forced out to the townships others folded, deprived of their members and the communities which had supported them.

Other clubs found it all but impossible to arrange games, due to the laws preventing them from traversing certain areas.

Cape Town locals have flocked to World Cup games, and the city's Portuguese community for example was delighted at being able to watch Portugal thrash North Korea 7-0 at Green Point.

Nevertheless there was also strong opposition to the building of the World Cup stadium at Green Point, with some arguing one of the stadiums close to the townships - considered by many the true home of football during apartheid, should have been developed into a World Cup venue. 

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