By Mo Allie
South African Rugby lost a giant when Salie Fredericks passed away on 7 July 2017, just a month before what would have been his 74th birthday.
The fact that Fredericks’ outstanding qualities as a leader and player were universally recognised by all who played with and against him, particularly when personal bias plays a role in defining greatness in sport, speaks volumes about the esteem in which he was held.
Unfortunately, the abhorrent system of apartheid which forced sportsmen and women to play within the confines of racially classified organizations dictated that his talents could only be appreciated within South Africa’ formerly disenfranchised community.
Fondly known as “Lippe”, not because he had thick lips but rather because they would often be cut or swollen after a bruising game, Fredericks’ career spanned the transition between racially classified unions within the black rugby community through to the non-racial era occasioned by the establishment of the SA Rugby Union (Saru) in 1966, following the demise of the SA Coloured Rugby Football Board (SACRFB).
Born on 10 August 1943, Fredericks grew up with four brothers and five sisters in their modest home in Lee Street, District Six, an area known for its sporting and cultural vibrancy. It came as no surprise that from an early age Fredericks immersed himself into the sporting culture that surrounded him.
After initially favouring cricket and soccer, the young Fredericks joined the powerful Roslyns club in 1959 even though his father, Ismail was a member of Hamediehs.
Educated at St Phillips Primary in Chapel St and the renowned Harold Cressy High School, Fredericks started his rugby career as a flyhalf on the streets of District Six.
“When I left for England in 1961 Salie already showed signs of a future rugby great and so it turned out to be,” said Goolam Abed, a close friend from their childhood days and who was forced to leave the country to realise his potential by signing to play rugby league for Leeds.
In an interview with former Saru lock Gary Boshoff for SA Rugby magazine shortly before his passing, Fredericks credited Gus Jacobs, an athletics coach at the now defunct Hewat Training College, with teaching him the importance of fitness, flexibility, breathing and speed in rugby. Fredericks believed those skills and abilities ultimately gave him the edge over his peers and teammates.
Everyone who crossed his path on the rugby field concurs that despite not having the biggest physique, Fredericks had an intimidating presence on the field, one that commanded respect from both teammates and opponents.
After making his debut as a 19-year-old at PE’s Adcock Stadium for the then WP Coloured Rugby Board against an Eastern Province side that included the legendary Eric Majola, Fredericks became a fixture in the Green Point Track-based union until his retirement in 1978.
He went on to become a figurehead in non-racial rugby between the 1960s through to the 1980s when he branched out into coaching and management.
The young lock rose quickly to the top in the ranks of the former SACRB, gaining selection to the national team for the 1963 ‘Test’ against the South African African Rugby Board (SAARB) at the Adcock Stadium, the bastion of non-racial sport in Port Elizabeth.
In 1967 he was appointed captain of both the Western Province Union and Saru’s national team. He retained the WP captaincy until his retirement in 1978 and was national captain until 1974.
His much-feared blue and white hoops side won the Rhodes Trophy in 1969 and the newly-established SA Cup for three consecutive years between 1971-1973.
“Salie was a great captain and leader. I played under him in the Saru team in 1968 in the ‘Test’ against the SA Africans in New Brighton. He had the respect of all players and the opposition,” said Jowa Abrahams who played as eighth man for City and Suburban RFU.
As a retired and much-admired player and student of the game, Fredericks was asked to coach WPU in the 1980’s. He translated his success to his new role, guiding the Green Point Track-based side to three SA Cup successes – in 1985, 1987 and 1989.
As one of the leading lights in Saru, Fredericks spurned several lucrative offers to align himself with Cuthbert Loriston’s SA Rugby Federation who, along with the all-white SA Rugby Board, sought to legitimise ‘normal sport’ in the mid-1970s.
In 2014 he lost both his legs due to diabetes and also suffered a massive stroke a year later, confining him to a wheelchair. He leaves behind his daughter Ilhaam and son Luqman.
*With acknowledgement to Dr Omar Esau (lecturer in the Faculty of Education at Stellenbosch University and Radio 786 Sports Presenter) and Gary Boshoff, former Saru lock.
On 11 July 2017 on the SuperSport TV Show, Phaka, former Saru winger Desmond Booysen (regarded by many as the King of Wings) said Salie Fredericks was the best player he had ever seen. He had no doubt that Fredericks would have lead the national team if it wasn’t for apartheid.
Temba Ledwaba said Frik du Preez would have been number four in the pecking order behind him (Ledwaba) and Salie Fredericks as Springbok locks – Angelo Arendse wrote on his FB page IMAGES of SARU LEGENDS