It was a bitter struggle, with many setbacks - and victories that seemed depressingly tiny at the time.
But this struggle was always meant to be long-term. It always is when stones come up against bullets, and when the main weapons of the oppressed are minds grimly determined to shake off the yoke of oppression.
So, okay, then we got to 1994 - and political emancipation....
“We have non-racial sport”, our new leaders told us.
Mandela wore a Springbok jersey.
Everyone sang Shosholoza.
“There’s nothing to stop South Africans from playing for their country,” we told our children.
“Hip, hip, hooray,” we sang as we sunk another glass of champagne (or grape juice).
And then Salie Fredericks, one of the greats of the struggle for non-racial sport, dies - and the hypocrisy shines through. The people running rugby scramble to say something inspiring about him. But what? They don’t know him, you see. They’ve never bothered to find out about him, and others like him.
Oh yes, how about: “He was like a black Frik du Preez”?
The Supersport commentator, who announces there’ll be a minute’s silence for Fredericks, can’t even get his name right: “Sally Fredericks,” he says first time round.
Do we have non-racial rugby in this country? (For the purposes of this article I’m using rugby as an example) Absolutely not!
What we have in rugby is a pipeline to the traditional white rugby schools - Bishops, SACS, Wynberg Boys, Paarl Gymnasium and Paarl Boys High, in the Western Cape - through which a small, manageable number of black players are squeezed.
Interestingly, there will be those among the number who will eventually end up playing at provincial, super or international level, who will be first to criticise the concept of having a minimum number of black players in a squad.
But, hey, let’s park that argument for now.
Here’s my point: in South Africa presently there are four million children living in absolute poverty. This means four million who can’t even dream of playing any code of sport for their country. What they will be dreaming of is for something to eat.
And if they are able to get their hands on some food, it will be of negligible nutritional value. They’ll grow up with brittle bones and diminished mental capacity.
The chances are they will live in areas where gangsterism thrives and bullets fly, and where fields are strewn with broken glass from dagga pipes - and where the only grass is the grass that fills the pipes, the contents of which will be inhaled into sick lungs.
Is this the foreword to the non-racial sport so many people fought and sacrificed for? I’m torn, I tell you.
Yes, I’m thrilled when Wayde van Niekerk breaks world records - or some laaitie from the townships shines on the football, cricket or netball stage. But the fact is so much that should have been done has not been done. So many promises have been made and glibly broken.
* Dougie Oakes is the group political editor for Independent Media.