By Abubaker Abrahams
“The values my father lived are in all of us. He never regarded himself as unique or especially talented.” These were the heartfelt words of the son of Cape Town’s famous rugby legend Salie Fredericks, in paying tribute to a son of the Muslim community, and whose death leaves a huge void in the Cape rugby fraternity. Community members came together on Sunday to honour the rugby icon at a memorial service held at CPUT.
The former Saru captain, affectionately called ‘Lippe’ in his rugby days, passed away on 6 July. Fredericks had suffered from diabetes and had both legs amputated. Many rugby greats attended the memorial service in honour of the revered rugby player.
Salie was an exceptional lock in non-racial rugby in the 1960s and 1970s and played in over 200 games for Western Province and nine games for the Saru national team between 1963 and 1974, with his last match at Athlone Stadium in September 1974. He was considered by many as one of the greatest rugby players ever to come from our shores.
Luqmaan Fredericks, the son of the late Salie Fredericks, had fond memories of his childhood around the icon.
“I never saw my father play rugby. His playing career ended just as I came into this world. So while I never saw the man do his stuff on the rugby field, I grew up experiencing a few of his coaching methods,” said Luqmaan.Salie Fredericks was viewed by many as a person who had a warm heart and a “people’s person”, which Luqmaan echoed in his speech.
“He had a way of greeting complete strangers as if he had missed their presence all his life. We always had people at our home. People loved to be around him,” he recalled.
Community members in attendance only had praises about a man they called a “gentle giant”.
“He was such a motivator and had superb leadership qualities…. what a great mentor. There have been many greats who represented in the rugby union at the highest level but for me personally Salie was one of the giants,” said Fagmie Solomons from WP Rugby.
“Salie was everything for WP at the times he was there… he came to us and he said to us, ‘whatever happens we are not going to stop this game’. This government can’t stop us from playing,” said friend, attorney and community activist Igsaan Higgins.
Former SARU rugby player Ismail Schroeder said their friendship dated back to the 1950’s. The two were opponents on the field, but good friends off the field.
“He was a tactician. When we played, he would analyse you before you go to the field,” he said.
“People always said Province had dirty players. But I doubt that he ever used his fist. He was a clean player.”
Before walking onto the field, Salie inspired the team players to do their best.
“His policy was that failure did not form part of his structure. You need to have determination to succeed,” added Schroeder.Former Saru player, Faiek “Blatjang” Hendricks worked with Salie during his club rugby days. Despite his towering figure, Salie was friends with all the Cape rugby clubs and all of the teams players respected him.
“He could walk into every club on a Friday night…and they would stop what they were doing. He was a great man, soft hearted and very soft spoken. He had a heart of gold,” said Hendricks.
Organiser of the event, Igsaan Higgins said the event was a small gesture to pay tribute an “unsung hero”.
“In our community we have many people that do great things and when they die, we bury them but we do not really know what that person achieved or what they meant to the community. And you go to a janazah and you hear all these anecdotes and different sides to the deceased’s personality. So this is a small step in paying tribute to our icons.”While local community rugby players look to emulate the legacy left by Salie Fredericks, his son Luqmaan says his father was completely oblivious of his impact.
“He came from humble beginnings and tried to live his life true to the traditions of his faith and his community. He was full of life, love and gave selflessly of himself to others. He truly was our Gentle Giant and we are happy that he was able to be of service to his community. He has left deep footprints for us to follow,” he said. VOC