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Fagmie Solomons: 'If you play there they will burn down this house’

By Liam Heagney
Fagmie 'Fluffy' Solomons at his Bo-Kaap home

Talk about striking it lucky two Tuesday afternoons in a row. The first Tuesday, this rugby correspondent was fortunate to escape with just a facial cut to the nose and a few scratches to the knees when seated in the front seat upstairs on a bus passing the Donnybrook rugby ground in Dublin.

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A tree that overhung the road caused a collision which resulted in a couple of windows smashing inwards and dispersing hundreds of tiny glass fragments that could have caused far more serious damage than was the case. Phew.

Seven days later, Cape Town was the location for lucky strike two, a very different kind of spontaneous good fortune. Ahead of the start of the World Rugby U20 Championship, we had pitched up outside Motherland Coffee on St George’s Mall for a jet-lag-curing walking tour of Bo-Kaap, the former racially segregated area on the slopes of Signal Hill that is now known for its brightly coloured homes and cobblestoned streets.

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Although a multi-cultural neighbourhood, nearly 57 per cent of its population identify as Muslim. In recent times, according our freewalkingtourscapetown.co.za guide, gentrification has become a dirty word as the properties have risen in value, but so have the property taxes and this cost has forced some of the locals to sell up and move out.

Having paused to watch the live demonstration of on-street, back-of-the-trailer cutting of freshly caught snoek fish, the next part of the tour took us up Dorp Street where we encountered an elderly gentleman sitting out in the afternoon winter son.

With a wave of the hand, he asked the tour guide if he wanted to bring his dozen-strong group into his No83 house to gain an insight into Bo-Kaap life. The answer was yes and what transpired was quite the throwback in time. It turned out that the welcoming host was rugby royalty, none other than Fagmie ‘Fluffy’ Solomons. He was the ridiculously talented rugby player and cricketer whose back story was a tale of unrealised potential lost to the cruel effect of apartheid.

He emerged in the late 1970s as a dual sports star for Western Province but the restricted circumstances of that time meant he could never fully live the dream of performing at the highest level. The closest he came was when he was approached by a representative of Danie Craven from the South African RU to join the then whites-only Springboks national team under a special dispensation offer.

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He decided that the sacrifice, being seen to turn his back on the black community, wasn’t worth the consequences and he instead had to wait until 1987 to skipper a multi-ethnic South African team featuring Alistair Coetzee in a 72-3 Test win over Namibia.

Seemingly it’s about only every two months when the walking tour strikes it lucky with Solomons, now in his late 60s, being around to host a group of visitors and his front-of-the-house bedroom is a monument to sporting history with a gallery of personal accolades and cherished memorabilia adorning all four walls. Last week, he spoke for 12 minutes non-stop, taking us through his life and times. Here is his extraordinary story in his own words:

My father was a musician, could play any instrument and a guitar man. Could play saxophone, compose songs. And then at two years old, when I started to grow, my mother tried to force me to the musical route and I preferred the balls. So when I got to two years old my brother stuffed a sock with newspaper and then we played in that alley. So we played rugby, soccer, cricket.

When I started to go to school, this is me as primary school captain – this was 1970 (pointing at a picture). So the reason I was captain there was because I wasn’t good at rugby, I was the most handsome guy.

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This was high school again (pointing at another picture). I always wanted to become a teacher right up to grade seven… But then when I was 15 I was in the first-team both rugby and cricket for the community. So that focus was taken from education away to sports. Then, at 17 years old, I was in the Western Province rugby and cricket team.

In 1977, I was sponsored by Adidas. I was the first non-white who was sponsored by Adidas. So Morne du Plessis, the ex-Springboks captain, was sponsored by Adidas and he brought in a factory (personalised) boot. So in 1980, my name was on the boot (shows another picture).

That year, Dr Craven sent a representative here to this very house, in this very room, to offer me black and white: a house in Constantia to play rugby and cricket for the whites because there was a tour to, I can’t remember, I think it was New Zealand for the Springboks.

We never had agents in those days. Parents were the agents, so they said to me, ‘If you go play there you will have a nice house in Constantia but then they will burn down this house’. So in other words I won’t be welcome back here to the community.

So yeah, I had established a UDF (United Democratic Front local group) so I spoke at rallies because I was leader of the community. Who remembers the start of the 1976 riots (in Soweto)?

I spoke at rallies and the policemen came here, knocked on the door three, four o’clock in the morning and said, ‘If you love your sport you will leave that, do you understand? Do get involved in politics’. But there are no regrets about the past.

From there, we didn’t have money to travel. I played no normal sport in an abnormal society. That was our logo during those years. We had no money so we couldn’t tour or go anywhere. But in 1987, the Namibia government sponsored us with I think 20 tickets.

In those days there was only one flight to Namibia (every week) so we had to stay there for the whole week and because I am a halaal, I had to eat fish for the whole week because I couldn’t eat other food.

Here you can see Allister Coetzee, the ex-Springboks captain (pointing at a team photo from the tour). I was his captain. He was my scrum-half. I played nine and 10 at both Western Province and national level. But I was fly-half there because he was my scrum-half. That was my career in top-class sport spanning from ’77 to ’89 sponsored by Adidas.

Then I was honoured by the local community. As you can see I was Fluffy. When we played cricket in the streets, they couldn’t bowl me out and when I bowled I took the wickets. When I played soccer I scored the goals, and when I played rugby I scored the tries.

An elderly gentleman watching us called me ‘Fluffy’. No one responded but at the end of the game, he called us together and said you will be called ‘Fluffy’ because you are like Fluff. They can’t catch you, they can’t tackle you… so this was honoured by the local community.

This one, as you can see, we have posters on the poles for Cape Argus, Cape Times so this was honouring the community, the non-racial community for sacrifices made.

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And then there is this honour, sorry for delaying you. Three guys got this one: ‘South African rugby honours you for your dedication and service to rugby in South Africa’. Francois Pienaar got it because he won the 1995 World Cup. I got it. And another, sorry for the word, a black guy from Eastern Cape (Siya Kolisi), the three of us got these awards for service to rugby and this wonderful game.

This next one was living legend for different codes of sport and I was chosen as the top rugby player for the non-racial era spanning from 1962 to 2019. Then I must come to what I am doing now, I am currently coaching privately but not for money, I do it for the love of the game so I specialise in position coaching of the basics of positions as a backline player.

This son of mine, Ebrahim, he was at a predominately Muslim school, so Morne du Plessis arranged a rugby match, the juniors to play against Sacs private school (South African College High School). So then he was the player of the match and the sportsmaster wanted to see me. He offered him a bursary at Sacs.

Then the next year we arranged a cricket game and he scored 68 not out and won the game and the sports master once again wanted to talk. So he got a bursary when Percy Montgomery was in matric at Sacs and then I accepted the bursary for him. So he got free education at Sacs. It’s all about education now.

This other son of mine, Abdullah, the same thing happened to him. He was discovered by Wynberg Boys at the time Jacques Kallis was doing the matric. He did grade eight and had to quit rugby for cricket because he also played U13, U15 and U18. So he also got free education.

Then two years ago, my grandson was captain of a Western Province XV as you can see. They saw videos of him and St Joseph’s, a college in London, offered him four months to come and play for them. He got a bursary from Oxford University for five years of free studies, but we said no. He wanted to do his matric year, so he is now doing his final year at Sacs. We will assess that and will decide if he will go to England. Then the final one, this young lady [his granddaughter], she was selected for the Western Province U14 hockey team.

Currently what I am doing is motivational speeches in drug-infested areas. As an alternative to gangsterism and drugs, we were offered sports and music. What I’m saying is we sacrificed for the liberation of this country and when I do motivational speeches in these areas, the message I want people or parents to take home is the money that you earn should facilitate your children’s education and that is the way forward. It will be a financial struggle now but long term it will create a better society.

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People ask me what is the secret of your success and I say any person, if he is sincere in his intention, then you will always be successful and the bottom line of being successful is you believe. That is the main thing.

The other day I was chatting with a Zimbabwean, he was complaining and complaining about money and I said to him, ‘Do you realise you sit here, you ask me now to go to loo the toilet?’ I said to him, ‘There must be somebody that is doing miracles for us to be able to relieve when you have a problem’.

And he said yeah, that is so truthful. We all have our blackspot but at night when you go to sleep, you have to thank somebody and when you wake up in the morning there must be somebody that you wake up for or gives you life.

So in other words, especially when you see a person who is very generous in the community, people come for food, for water, for blankets; if we have t-shirts, clothing, we give what we have. That is how our parents reared us. No money. You get billionaires who have billions but they haven’t got the happiness.

The message is especially for the youngsters. Like last night I went to see a family because the children don’t have time for the parents and the parent is 80. Somebody came to fetch and said, ‘Could you speak because of your sporting allegiance over the years?’

I got there and I shed tears. I said imagine, ‘All that you possess, that money, that house, that car belongs to that man lying there, that is your father’. That is what our way of life teaches us. I am sorry for keeping you. Sometimes I just do it [have talks about his life], it’s especially for the youth.

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1 Comment
M
Michele 18 days ago

Thanks so much for giving this to us in his own words. Very special!

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