the early 1970s, the White SACF thus faced the crisis of international
isolation for practicing apartheid in sport. In consultation with the
apartheid state, the SACF proposed the creation of an international
‘rebel’ two-week, 2,000km. amateur stage race between Cape
Town and Johannesburg which would include both foreign and local teams.
The big difference would be that the local teams would consist of both
Black and White riders. For Black riders, the SACF turned to the
SAAA&CF which provisionally agreed to field a team of its cyclists
from the mines. Thus, in 1973 when the first ‘Rapport Toer’
was to be held, for the first time in the history of South African
cycle sport, Black and White riders were scheduled to compete together
with official blessing. Black cycling was finally about to emerge from
the shadows of the mine dumps.
The White SACF’s idea behind the Rapport Toer was to demonstrate
to the UCI that it was sincere in its attempts to racially integrate
cycle sport in South Africa. However, the apartheid government was
adamant that Black and White cyclists could only compete in events
together in South Africa provided that it was an ‘international
contest’ and, to qualify as an international contest, an event
had to include a minimum of three foreign teams. This created a new
problem for the SACF since the foreign cycling nations were affiliated
to the UCI which had banned its members from competing against SACF
cyclists. How could this problem be surmounted? To do so, the SACF
organisers of the Rapport Toer turned to Basil Cohen for advice and
During the 1960s, in the course of building Deale & Huth up into a
major lightweight cycle dealer in South Africa, Basil had travelled
extensively in Europe, most notably in France and Italy, to establish
trade links with major manufacturers of lightweight machines and
equipment. In the process, he had developed ties with key players in
the European cycling scene of the day, including team sponsors and
suppliers. To quote from the Cohen biography (p.12):
The government conceded (to the idea
of the Rapport Toer) but only on condition that at least three overseas
teams would have to take part. The tour organizers knew that there was
only one person who could achieve that, namely Basil. He flew to Europe
and with his connections there, Basil got an Italian and two French
teams to participate in the first Rapport Toer…
When the field finally lined up in Cape Town in October 1973 for the
start of the first Rapport Toer, it included not only the three foreign
teams and several White South African teams but also a team of Black
mine workers. Each team consisted of four riders together with support
staff and each team wore kit emblazoned with the logos of local
sponsors. The Black team was sponsored by ‘Clover’, a
national dairy, and its riders were John Moding, Richard Moteka, Abie
Oromeng and Elias Ramatele, managed by George O’Brien and
assisted by George Shabalala.
The 1973 Rapport Toer was won by the Italian, Pierre-Luigi Tagliavini.
South African Alan van Heerden won the points title and John Moding of
the Black team put in a tremendous climbing performance to eventually
share the King of the Mountains title with the White South African
rider, Mike Carey. Moding had previously won several of the annual
Potchefstroom to Johannesburg (Soweto) races including the last one to
be staged in the early 1970s. Overall, the Black riders acquitted
themselves well, ensuring the presence of a Black team in all
subsequent annual Rapport Toers during the 1970s. The veteran British
ex-Tour de France rider, Arthur Metcalfe, who won the second Rapport
Toer in 1974, remarked in this regard:
It was a good race …
comparatively flat overall but hard fought with a high standard of
competition. I had written off my chances after six days, but with
three days to go with two stage wins I took over the yellow jersey. Of
the South Africans I was particularly impressed by Van Heerden …
The Bantu (Black) team, too, were all very strong and with a bit more
know-how would be quite a force.
Arthur Metcalfe’s comments as reported in Cycling, 26 October, 1974.
Basil with Arthur Metcalfe, 1974 Rapport Toer winner.
Metcalfe was a member of a shadow ‘England’ team in the
1974 race which included fellow Englishmen Alan Mellor and Pete
Edwards. The team rode in the strip of sponsor ‘Quagga-Trek
Petrol’ and finished third overall in the team race. Its riders
were subsequently suspended by the BCF for participating in the rebel
event as were the ‘Mum for Men’-sponsored team of Scots
riders of whom John Curran won two stages in the 1974 Toer. Other
foreign teams that took part generally escaped sanction by their
national cycling bodies and Portuguese squads went on to dominate the
race in the 1970s.
In the 12 years from the inception of the Rapport Toer in 1973 through
to 1984, a total of some 25 Black cyclists participated in the annual
event. The most successful were John Moding who won the King of the
Mountains in 1973 and the first Black cyclist to win a stage was Jack
Ntseou in 1979. He won the 194 km. stage 7 between the Verwoerd Dam and
Bloemfontein by 19 seconds in 4:44:08 (average speed 41kph) after a
solo breakaway. Several Black riders participated in a number of
Rapport Toers, with Ntseou holding the record of seven successive
finishes between 1974 and 1981. He failed to finish only in 1978 and
his highest overall finish was 16th in 1977. Abie Oromeng participated
in five successive races (1973-1976) and John Moding in three (1973,
1976 and 1980).
Jack Ntseou, aged 35, in the 1976 ‘Tour of the Wineland’ stage race in the Western Cape.
In 1975 he finished third in the event. In 1976 he suffered a broken
wrist but still finished the race in the middle of the field.
Ntseou became the most celebrated Black cyclist in South Africa because of his impressive palmarès:
Represented his home country, Botswana, at the 1974 Christchurch
Commonwealth Games: participated in eight successive Rapport Toers
first Black cyclist to win a Rapport Toer stage (in 1979, winning in a solo break by 19 seconds); as a veteran,
finishing third in his age group in the Veterans World championship in St. Johann, Austria in 1985.
Records are incomplete but the following 21 black riders
competed in Rapport Toers between 1973 and 1984 (details for 1978 and
1983 were not found)
References The decline of Black cycling in South Africa in the 1980s
In the late 1970s the White SACF succeeded in convincing the cycling
section of the Black SAAA&CF to merge with it. This move was
largely prompted by the UCI’s insistence that South African
cycling needed to have a single, racially integrated governing body
before it could be considered eligible for readmission to the world
body. The organisation which had run Black cycle sport for decades thus
suddenly disappeared without trace. In the process, its structures of
dedicated officials, administrators, event organisers, team managers
and coaches rapidly disintegrated and the vibrant sport associated with
these collapsed. To quote from the Cohen biography (p.13):
Basil says that it is sad that after
the SACF opened up sport to all races in the mid-seventies, the black
community became demoralized. ‘The black cyclists were left to
sink or swim. There was no guidance or coaching; no support structures
to replace previous private and individual initiatives. The Federation
could have capitalised on all the stadiums and what the mines had done,
but it simply didn’t happen’. After having spent a lifetime
supporting and promoting black cycling and having seen it flourish in
the sixties and seventies … (he) witnessed it decline in the
Despite all the SACF’s numerous attempts and strategies to win
readmission to world cycling, it was not until apartheid was totally
abolished in the 1990s that South African cyclists were welcomed back
into the international cycling fold.
By then, the halcyon days of Black competitive cycling on the
velodromes of the gold mines and on the road in events like the Rapport
Toer were over. However, it remains an integral part of South
Africa’s history of 20th century cycle sport which deserves to
fully acknowledged, remembered and honoured.
Beneke, Mark, Gary Beneke, Tim Noakes and Mary Reynolds (1989) The Lore of Cycling. Cape Town
: Oxford University Press.
Broes, Igor (2014) Basil Cohen South Africa’s Mr Cycling.
Burns, John (1976) South Africa … Where Now?
. Supplement to International Cycle Sport Magazine.
Cycling. 26 October 1974.
Jowett, Walter (1982) Centenary: 100 years of organised South African cycle racing.
Pietermaritzburg: South African Cycling Federation.
Learmont, Tom (1990) Cycling in South Africa. Sandton
: Media House Publications.
O’Toole, Sean (2013) ‘Apartheid was the spoke in SA riders’ wheels’
. Mail & Guardian, March 3-14 2013, p. 18-19
Author Igor Broes was a
club mate of Basil Cohen’s at Northern Wheelers CC in
Johannesburg and a close friend. Igor was a top rider in his own right
who was the SA national 25 mile junior road TT champion in 1967 and the
national senior road champion in 1968. He figured prominently in many
major South African road races of that era. Following a serious track
racing accident and with heavy work demands he prematurely ceased
racing for several years but returned to ride the 1975 Rapport Toer. In
the early 1980s his brother Ivan sponsored the highly successful
‘Aticon Construction’ professional team in South Africa
which included Rapport Toer winners Alan van Heerden and Robbie
McIntosh. Igor now lives with his wife, a leading triathlete, in the
state of Texas in the USA.
In 2011 I had the pleasure
of meeting with Basil Cohen when he and his wife, Adele, were
holidaying at Umhlanga Rocks on the KwaZulu-Natal north coast. We spent
a sunny afternoon ‘talking cycling’ on the patio of their
hotel. Basil subsequently completed a lengthy questionnaire I compiled
concerning Black cycling, providing many further details. I frequently
contacted him thereafter to clarify specific issues. He
promised to let me have a rare copy of his biography. Sadly, Basil
passed away before he was able to do so but his widow, Adele, made good
his promise in early 2015.
In my experience, Basil was a true ‘cyclist’s
cyclist’– he loved everything about the bike, the sport and
the pastime along with all cyclists, regardless of their race or creed.
The Portuguese riders who
won the Rapport Toer in the 1970s were Fernando Mendes (1975),
Venceslau Fernandes (1976) and Marco Chagas (1978). The first South
African winner was Robbie McIntosh in 1977.