In SA Rugby magazine’s second instalment of a series on black rugby legends, GARY BOSHOFF looks back on the career of former SAARB, Saru and Kwaru lock Temba Ludwaba.
As I drove up to Temba Ludwaba’s house in New Brighton, Port Elizabeth, I was greeted by one of the most admired rugby players in South Africa. The conversation I would have with him gave me new insight into the history of black rugby and the colossal impact he had on the game.
Ludwaba was born into a rugby culture, as his father, Joe, and uncle Abe were serious rugby players for the local Spring Rose RFC in Cradock. It was his uncle who inspired him the most.
‘He would always find time to pass and kick the ball to me and I would be responsible for polishing his boots and the ball. You see, in those days we used to polish the ball too,’ Ludwaba says with a laugh.
When he was 12, his family moved to Port Elizabeth and settled in New Brighton, where he attended Pendle Primary School. It was here where one of his teachers, the late Eric Majola (father of Khaya and Mongezi), encouraged him to join Spring Rose.
While at Cowan High School, Ludwaba played flank, but at the club he would play scrumhalf, with Eric at flyhalf.
However, flank became his specialised position at Spring Rose (New Brighton), where he excelled in the local Eastern Province African Rugby Board (Eparb) league. This was during the height of apartheid, when rugby was rigidly demarcated along racial lines between the South African Rugby Board (Sarb) of Danie Craven, the South African African Rugby Board (Saarb) of Grant Khomo, the South African Rugby Union (Saru) of Abdullah Abass and the South African Rugby Federation (Sarf) of Cuthbert Loriston.
In 1965, Ludwaba was selected for the Eparb team and the following year for the national Saarb team. As a ‘national African team’ they would play ‘Tests’ against the Saru and Sarf national teams on an annual basis. Between 1966 and 1968 he played in two such matches.
A major shift came in 1969, when a squabble at the annual Saarb tournament in Umtata resulted in a split. The Eparb pulled out of Saarb and joined Saru in 1971.
The new union was known as the Kwazakhele Rugby Union (Kwaru).
With formidable players like Ludwaba (flank and lock), Bomsa Nkohla (No 8), Wallace Xotyeni (scrumhalf), Norman Mbiko (scrumhalf), Peter Mkatha (flyhalf) and Wilfred Kovu (tighthead prop), the Kwaru side made an immediate impact.
In 1972, they played in one of the most famous SA Cup finals, at the Green Point Track Stadium in Cape Town. While Kwaru lost to an impressive Western Province side, the game is also remembered for Ludwaba’s massive 75m penalty kick.
The hard, tough man that he was, he moved permanently to lock at the age of 34 and went on to play representative rugby for Kwaru until he was 40. Ludwaba was still playing when the Watson brothers joined Kwaru during the highly volatile mid-70s.
‘I used to drive into Port Elizabeth to pick up Colin Snodgrass, Michael Ryan and a few other white players who wished to train with us,’ he recalls. ‘However, the immense pressure put on them by the security police resulted in them pulling out after a few weeks. It was only Cheeky and Valence who stayed.’
I probe Ludwaba about a controversy that has clouded his career since the infamous 1974 SA Cup final against WP at the Adcock Stadium in Port Elizabeth. The match was abandoned because he allegedly sat on the ball after a penalty was controversially awarded to Province. The home crowd responded violently.
Ludwaba says he was vindicated during the subsequent Saru disciplinary process, when Cassiem Jabaar testified that he and Ludwaba were sitting next to the ball, awaiting the outcome of a discussion the referee was having with the captains, Salie Fredericks and Wilfred Kovu.
During this volatile era, Ludwaba was a staunch All Blacks supporter and regarded Colin Meads as the benchmark for locks. He was also acutely aware of the achievements of Frik du Preez, who played under Craven’s Sarb.
‘There was lots of talk about these great players,’ says Ludwaba. ‘I dreamed of playing against them, but because of apartheid it never happened.’
Ludwaba also had high regard for players like Jabaar, Fredericks, Clive Thomas, Yusuf Davids and Randy Marinus (featured in last month’s issue of SA Rugby magazine). He says the SA Cup matches against Western Province, Tygerberg and Eastern Province were his most memorable.
LIFE AFTER RUGBY
Ludwaba is thankful for what rugby gave him and the doors it opened. He worked for 18 years as a game development officer for the Eastern Province Rugby Union and before that as supervisor for the Ford Motor Company in Port Elizabeth.
Rugby remains a central part of his life. The 73-year-old grandfather volunteers for the Nelson Mandela Bay Youth Rugby Zone programme in New Brighton, where he coordinates the coaching and recruitment of U12, U13, U15 and U16 boys.
Like many former players from the non-racial era, Ludwaba questions the direction rugby has taken over the years and finds it hard to hide the tinge of bitterness in his voice: ‘Who really owns rugby? Why have we been pushed aside? Rugby development worked much better when development officers worked in the communities to promote rugby. Why did Saru stop this?’
Julian Smith, a former Tygerberg and Saru captain, regards Ludwaba as one of the most talented and revered players he played against.
‘He had an imposing and intimidating physique – very tall, muscular and athletic – combined with excellent skills,’ Smith says.
‘He was a menace on attack, tireless on defence, and very effective in executing the basics in the lineouts and scrums. He also had the ability to play intelligently off the ball and with ball in hand, creating and exploiting space.’
Smith praises Ludwaba for his ‘promotion of non-racial sport and his commitment to the struggle for democracy in spite of a very hostile political environment’.
His accolades aptly capture the character and talent of Ludwaba, the boy from Cradock who became a leader and a South African rugby legend.
– This article first appeared in the May 2017 issue of SA Rugby magazine.