The first sports in Stellenbosch

by 'nDromer | Local News

As early as the 1800s a variety of sports were practiced in Stellenbosch, according to Dr. Danie Craven in Stellenbosch's 300 year commemorative book (with F. Smuts).

The sports practiced by the early pioneers (from the time of Adam Tas) mostly comprised of hunting, playing cards, billiards and later horse racing, although children were surely seen playing ball games on the Braak, flying kites or playing 'kennetjie' (does someone know this game?).

Organised sports such as rugby, tennis and cricket started in Stellenbosch around the 1860s.



The first public sports field in town was actually the Braak. In 1865 an appeal was made to the municipality to create a cricket pitch on the Braak;

"requesting to have the use of a part of the ground on Adderley Square [die Braak] of about 12 yards broad and 25 long in order that they may have the same turfed and leveled" (p. 444, drie eeue)

Football league matches were played on the Braak for some time, but the field was only properly marked out for rugby in 1885 when rugby posts were planted on the Braak (made from trees growing near the river).



Cricket was the first sport in Stellenbosch to yield a springbok player. The town's cricket club was founded in 1866 and the members mostly consisted of students from the theological seminary or the Gimnasium. Club matches were primarily played against Somerset-West, Bishops and SACS (South African College Schools, the oldest high school in the country).

Nico Theunissen, a cricket played but also fond of football and athletics, became Stellenbosch's first springbok in 1888, when in 3 matches played against M.C.C. (Marylebone Cricket Club) Theunissen took 34 wickets. After the tour he was announced as best bowler in South Africa.

There were a few years of controversy regarding the Braak as sports field. Apparently it was this very Theunissen that caused its final decline when during one game he accidentally hit one of the windows of Mr Bastiaanse's pharmacy (today the site of the post office) and broke a number of medicine bottles.

Cricket and rugby on the Braak was banned and practices moved to the Vlakte, a piece of land more or less where the Engineering faculty is today. The Coetzenburg sports grounds was established around 1919 when the property of a certain Mnr Pieter du Toit was procured for the development of rugby in Stellenbosch. The neighbouring farm Coetzenburg as well as parts of Welgevallen were later added. In town, the historical farm Bergzicht was used for sports (Klein Libertas Theatre was also built there), eventually becoming the Van Der Stel sport grounds



The early Stellenbossers played a sport closer to football (a mix between rugby and soccer) than rugby. Rugby was only introduced in 1878 (apparently the Stellenbosch team still beat the SA College in rugby the very next year). A.F. Markötter (oubaas Mark) was one of South African's great rugby personalities, coaching and advising the University's rugby club from 1903 to 1958.

To cater for sportsmen who weren't part of the university, a general Rugby club was founded in 1919, which after two years was renamed the Van der Stel rugby club. The club used the municipal sports field on the farm Bergzicht, where the fields are still located today, although they now also include a large variety of sports.

Stellenbosch rugby yielded many Springbok captains, including Paul Roos, Theo Pienaar, P.K. Albertyn, Danie Craven, Salty du Rand, Avril Malan, Abe Malan, Dawie de Villiers, Hannes Marais en Morné du Plessis. If you knew any of these figures, feel free to write to us!



Apart from cricket and rugby a few other sports were established around the 1880s. Athletics started in 1884 and hockey in 1898. Jukskei was apparently popular among the Boland farmers when on their vacation trips to the Strand or Blouwberg. Although the game was played informally, they were always dressed up in suit and tie (see photograph).

Apparently sporting equipment weren't always easy to acquire, and sports enthusiasts had to improvise. Some of the early tennis players didn't even have proper rackets:

Late prof. Du Plessis explains that when he came to Stellenbosch in 1882 there were only one proper tennis court in town, and this was the property of the Rhenish institute. Under leadership of the enterprising George Budler [...] a group of students pooled together and bought a ball - a precious, real tennis ball. For rackets there weren't money and they haphazardly assembled their own hitting apparatus from timber, forced to play on the self-made tennis court in prof. Marais's backyard at the back of the Theological seminary  (bl 445 Drie eeue A.M. Hugo, own translation)

For more info on sports in Stellenbosch feel free to visit any of the club houses at Markötter, Coetzenburg or Van der Stel.

Article: Y Coetsee 2017
Sources and photographs: Stellenbosch Drie eeue (1979).