An Obituary of the anti-apartheid campaigner Chris de Broglio
Chris de Broglio, who has died aged 84, contributed substantially to South Africa’s expulsion from the Olympic movement in 1970, a pivotal moment in the demise of apartheid.
A champion weightlifter, De Broglio was dedicated to fighting racism in sport and was, with Dennis Brutus, a founder member of the South African Non-Racial Olympic Committee (San-Roc). As Nelson Mandela subsequently told me, the success of the sports boycott campaign was vital. It boosted the freedom struggle at a critical time in the early 1970s when internal resistance had been crushed.
De Broglio was born in Mauritius, to Maurice, a civil servant, and his wife Suzanne. He got into weightlifting as a teenager, having been seriously ill as a child. His parents never found out what was wrong with him, and after a year in bed he recovered, but he remained smaller and shorter than a brother who was only 18 months older than him. He took up weightlifting as a way to build his strength and physique.
Migrating to South Africa to study accountancy, he came into contact with institutionalised discrimination in sport for the first time. South Africa was the only country in the world that excluded “non-white” sportsmen from selection for national teams. He met other weightlifters, including Precious McKenzie, who were being discriminated against. He found it unjust that black and white weightlifters could not train or compete with each other, and decided that needed to be challenged.
From 1950 to 1962 he was South African weightlifting champion and he competed in the World Championships in Sweden in 1958 and Vienna in 1961. He became secretary and then chairman of the Natal and Transvaal Weightlifting Associations, where, in defiance of fellow white sports officials, he helped multi-racial weightlifting organisations. When, in 1954, he organised a multi-racial championship in Durban, the whites-only federation threatened him with expulsion.
By the early 60s De Broglio was working as southern Africa manager for Air France, and he arranged for the chairman of San-Roc, John Harris, to leave the country without the knowledge of the security police to lobby a meeting of the International Olympic Committee (IOC). This resulted in South Africa’s exclusion from the 1964 Tokyo Olympics. In 1965, Harris became the only white anti-apartheid campaigner to be executed after he participated in the bombing of a whites-only area of Park station in Johannesburg, which killed one person and injured many others.
In 1963 San-Roc had achieved South Africa’s suspension from world football. The security police put De Broglio under surveillance and threatened his employers, forcing him into exile in London, where in 1966 San-Roc was recreated, operating out of the basement of a hotel leased by De Broglio, the Portman Court in Marble Arch.
The IOC old guard were prevented from reversing South Africa’s suspension from the 1968 Mexico Olympics, when De Broglio organised a mass boycott by most African and Asian countries. By now San-Roc’s leaders – mainly De Broglio and the charismatic Brutus – were regular attendees at meetings of international sports organisations, from football to athletics.
When I was a 19-year-old anti-apartheid activist, De Broglio, with Brutus, became something of a mentor, pushing me to take the leadership of the Stop the Seventy Tour campaign, in which I had expected to be a foot soldier when it was launched in September 1969. Soon its non-violent direct action, including hotel protests and pitch invasions, laid siege to the 1969-70 Springbok rugby tour. The De Broglio family home in Twickenham, not far from the rugby ground, was a distribution point for tickets for demonstrators to invade the pitch.
Threats to wreck the summer 1970 cricket tour, coupled with a San-Roc-initiated boycott by African, Asian and Caribbean countries of the Edinburgh Commonwealth Games, forced the tour’s cancellation. Within months, white South Africa was expelled from most international sport, but San-Roc’s work continued to hold and extend the boycott. By the late 1970s white rugby and cricket officials were trying desperately to get it lifted. In 1987 that desperation led De Broglio to help organise the historic meeting between ANC officials and leading Afrikaners, held at Dakar, which helped pave the way for the final defeat of apartheid and the creation of the new South Africa. He was awarded the Olympic Order in 1997 in recognition of his action against racism in sport and in defence of the Olympic Charter.
De Broglio spent his final years in Corsica, giving up the gym onlyat the age of 80. He remained gregarious, with an infectious sense of humour, and was an accomplished cook.
He married June Von Solms in 1954; she died in 1982. He is survived by his second wife, Renee, whom he married in 1988; by the six children of his first marriage; and by 11 grandchildren and five great-grandchildren.
• Marie Christian Dubruel de Broglio, weightlifter and anti-apartheid activist, born 14 May 1930; died 12 July 2014
This obituary was originally published on theguardian.com, you can read it here