Middleton fought fire with words

2015-07-06 11:55
Norman Middleton in his younger years.

Norman Middleton in his younger years. (Supplied)

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FORMER Pietermaritzburg resident Norman Middleton, who died in Cape Town last week, has been remembered as one of South Africa’s fiercest fighters for non-racial sport during the apartheid years.

The World War 2 veteran, trade unionist, anti-apartheid activist, sports administrator and politician was remembered as a natty dresser, good friend and an unsung hero of the struggle.

Middleton, who died aged 94, was born in Sophiatown and moved to Pietermaritzburg when he was 10. In 1940, after finishing school, he signed up to the army.

After serving in World War 2, Middleton returned to Pietermaritzburg and began working at Eddels shoe factory, where he became an active member of the Leather Workers’ Union, eventually becoming vice-chairperson.

He was one of the founding members of the Coloured Labour Party formed in 1950 and went on to form the Natal Council of Trade Unions with other unionists.

Middleton went on to become a Member of Parliament after South Africa’s first democratic elections. He was 78 at the time.

Sports Veterans Association chairperson Bryan Rupram said Middleton had risked his life for the betterment of sport in South Africa. “Norman fought fire with words. He spoke for the people and never minced his words. He was constantly hounded by the police and had his passports taken away for his position in the fight for non-racial sport,” he said.

Rupram lauded Middleton’s leadership qualities and role in unifying people through sport.

“His strong leadership qualities and zest to knock down the barriers around sport in the country is what led the soccer federation to become a strong organisation. He has left behind a true legacy,” he said.

Middleton is recognised as one the leaders of non-racial sport in South Africa. He became president of the South African Council of Sport (Sacos) and president of the South African Soccer Federation.

In 1974, he was to attend a Fifa meeting in Frankfurt to present his federation’s case for the expulsion of the all-white South African Football Association (Fasa) from the international football body.

The government told him he could get a passport only if he gave a written undertaking not to do anything to prevent South African sportsmen from taking part in international sport. He refused to accept a passport with strings attached, only receiving one in 1982.

“Norman stuck to his principles and those of the federation, which was ‘One cannot play normal sport in an abnormal society.’ He gave South Africa hope,” said Rupram.

Former colleague Babs Sithapersad, who served as vice-president during Middleton’s term as president of the soccer federation, described him as a gentleman of the first order. “Norman was a hero of the sports struggle. He was a gentleman of the first order and a man who never lost his cool,” he said.

Sithapersad said he was “highly disappointed” when “no one considered Norman’s contribution” after South Africa achieved freedom.

“Being the man that he was, he always took things on the chin and carried on with life. He was a very valuable friend to have, who always made time for me when he was in Pietermaritzburg,” said Sitha­persad.

One of Middleton’s four children, Donald, said the family hardly saw their father when they were young, but made up for the time when they were older. “After he retired — for the sixth time — we all spent more time together. That was the sacrifice he made for his country,” he said.

Donald, who followed in his father’s footsteps of trade union work and sports administration, said his father was his greatest inspiration, laughing as he remembered his father’s impeccable dressing.

“He would dress better than me. He always had on name brands and would walk around with his leather jacket,” smiled ­Donald.

Funeral arrangements will be announced this week

Read more on:    pietermaritzburg

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